The Greatest Cars

Packard Twin Six

By Jack Nerad






Packard Twin Six Its memory is a bit dusty now and clouded by time, but there was an era when the word Packard had all the authority of the vaunted British marque Rolls-Royce. While Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds set out to make cars for the "common man," the Packard brothers, William Doud and James Ward, decided they would sell cars to men of uncommon wealth. Their plan made sense because, before they had even built their first motorcar, the Packards themselves were gentlemen of substance.

By the time the last decade of the 19th century rolled around, the Packard family had reached a comfortable, well-to-do status in the town of Warren, Ohio. Moving to what was then a small village in the 1850s, the Packard clan established a hardware store, lumber mill, hotel and an iron rolling mill over the course of the next 40 years or so, providing them with a decidedly upper middle class lifestyle.

One example of this was the fact that both sons of the Packard family, William Doud and James Ward, attended college. Forward-thinkers, they weren't content to simply maintain the family holdings. Instead they established the Packard Electric Company in 1890, jumping on what then was a growth industry. And grow it did, making their well-to-do lifestyle even more well-to-do.

Being well-heeled and forward-thinking, in 1898 James Packard got a hankering to own one of those newfangled "horseless carriages" that were getting so much play in the newspapers and scientific journals. He did a little research, then traveled to nearby Cleveland where he bought a Winton, a model built by one of the most celebrated auto makers of the day, Alexander Winton. Intrepidly, Packard took delivery of the car and immediately set out to drive the 50 miles back to his hometown of Warren.

Sadly for Packard but happily for the automotive world in general, the trip proved to be a nightmare. The Winton, considered by many one of the best cars of the day, overheated constantly and broke down repeatedly. By the time Packard made it back home he was covered with grease and madder than a scalded dog.

Soon thereafter, Packard took the car back to the manufacturer, and he had the temerity to suggest a number of improvements to the great Alexander Winton. Allegedly Winton replied something to the effect that he should build a car himself if he thought he was so smart. Well, watch what you wish for, Winton, because you just might get it.

So challenged, Packard decided he just would build a car, and he was darn sure he could build a better one than Winton had sold him. He got together with his brother William and a gentleman named George Weiss, and the trio invested $3,000 each to start a business to manufacture automobiles. In the beginning the enterprise was called the Automobile Division of the New York and Ohio Company, a subsidiary of the Packard's Packard Electric Company.

The first vehicle from the company was called, surprisingly enough, the Model A, and in many ways it was much better than the Winton that had so angered James Packard the year before. It was a buggy-style vehicle with a single seat, tall wire wheels, tiller steering, automatic spark advance and chain drive. Its one-cylinder, four-cycle engine produced 12 horsepower, which made it one of the most powerful engines of the era. It was priced at $1,200, and if you wanted additional seats and a surrey top, that cost an additional $100.

The new automobile was a success with the public, and quickly both the vehicle and the company evolved. The partnership between the Packard brothers and George Weiss was re-named the Ohio Automobile Company, and James Packard was elected president of the organization. At the same time, the Model A morphed into the Model B, which enjoyed a production run of some 49 cars and introduced the famed "Packard blue" exterior color.

In 1901 three Packard Model Cs were shown at America's first automobile show in Madison Square Garden in New York, and the following year the name of the firm was changed again to Packard Motor Car Company. At the same time, Michigan-based investors led by Henry B. Joy bought into Packard and within two years the main manufacturing plant moved from Warren to a new building in Detroit.

Despite its relatively short life, the company had already built a reputation as a builder of the highest quality, and that reputation was enhanced when a 1903 Model F was sent on a transcontinental journey from San Francisco to New York City to demonstrate the vehicle's durability. Drivers Tom Fetch and Marius Krarup completed the journey in 61 days, an impressive figure considering the quality of the roads at the turn of the century.

Packard was building momentum, but in 1903 it ran into a stumbling block. Its newly introduced Model K turned out to be a lemon. Rear ends broke; transmissions failed; driveshafts came apart; but to its everlasting credit, the company didn't simply let its customers suffer with the poor quality vehicles. Instead, it bought back virtually all Model Ks and scrapped them. Today only one of the hoo-doo cars is known to survive.

Luckily, Packard quickly got its quality house in order, and the firm became known for technical innovations like automatic spark advance, the "H" gearshift pattern, and a foot pedal accelerator. In 1904 the company introduced its famous radiator design and, remarkably, that design continued in use until Packards became no more than glorified Studebakers in the mid-Fifties. By 1910 Packard was acknowledged to be one of the finest automobile brands in the world, and it commanded prices to match that reputation with some models going out the door for considerably more than $5,000. Also by 1910 James W. Packard had ended his stint as president of the company, relinquishing those duties to Henry B. Joy, but not before he reputedly coined the enduring Packard slogan, "Ask the man who owns one."

As 1915 dawned, the Packard Motor Car Company was prepared to set the automotive world on its ear once again. In the first decade of the 20th century a power and displacement battle took place among the top-ranked automobile manufacturers. Power wasn't just important for the obvious reason of better speed and acceleration. High horsepower and strong torque also made the pre-synchromesh, manual-transmission cars much easier to drive. Single-cylinder engines gave way to twin-cylinders, followed quickly by four-cylinders. Then Rolls-Royce made an everlasting name for itself by being one of the first companies to bring to the market an in-line six-cylinder engine, a design with inherent balance advantages that resulted in smooth operation. But with Britain embroiled in World War I, Packard was ready to go Rolls-Royce one better or, more precisely, six better.

The top-of-the-line Packard model of 1915 was equipped with a V-12 engine that its builder referred to as the Twin Six, partly because the six-cylinders of the day had become so well-regarded in luxury car circles. The design of the engine was credited to Packard Chief Engineer Jesse Vincent, who previously served the Hudson Motor Car Company. Nearly concurrently with his engineering work for Packard, Vincent also became involved in the design of an advanced aircraft engine that was eventually named the Liberty engine, and the Twin Six Packard shows significant aeronautical influences, the most obvious being the use of aluminum pistons. The new pistons significantly lightened the reciprocating masses inside the engine, making for better horsepower.

The engine had a moderately large displacement of 424 cubic inches with a 60-degree angle between the two banks of cylinders. The crankshaft was fully pressurized, and the engine was capable of 3,500-rpm operation, diesel-like today, but high-performance then. Its key attribute was torque. Powering the 37-inch rear wheels via a multiple-disc clutch and three-speed manual gearbox, the engine's abundant and immediate torque made gear-changing a rare necessity. Some Packard aficionados claimed the first Twin Six could climb up to 12-percent grades in second gear at 30 miles per hour without missing a beat.

The American public went wild over the Twin Six, which they saw as further proof that the United States was the best car-building nation on Earth. When the car was first put on display, some dealers had to call in the police to handle the curious throngs wanting to see the wondrous V-12 engine.

Based largely on the unprecedented success of the Twin Six model, Packard production exceeded 100,000 units for the first time in 1916. But there was a bit of disconcerting news that year as well. Henry B. Joy, who had nurtured the Twin Six project, resigned soon after it became apparent that the new car was a hit. One of the guiding lights of Packard, he quit when the Packard board of directors failed to endorse his carefully constructed merger with Charles W. Nash, a builder of middle-priced cars of decent repute. Alvan Macauley took over as president, and on the wings of the Twin Six, Packard cruised through the Teens.

It was not so easy for some famous Packard customers. Russia's Czar Nicholas owned a Twin Six, specially outfitted so that in the winter the front wheels could be replaced by skis. The set-up failed to enable him to escape the Bolshevik revolutionaries who murdered him and his family in 1918.

The Czar's brother, Grand Duke Michael, was another Packard owner killed by the revolutionaries, but his Twin Six survived to win a Soviet-sponsored road race. Partly because of this, the Packard became a favorite of Russian leaders, and later Packard models were blatantly copied by the Communists.

As World War I began to cast its shadow toward America, U.S. industry began to cooperate with the federal government in preparation. Part of this cooperation was the completion of what was originally named the U.S.A. Standardized Aircraft engine.

Initially Packard competed with other companies to submit the winning design, but eventually Vincent collaborated with Albert J. Hall of Hall-Scott on the final product. Vincent, who eventually took a leave of absence from Packard to work for the war effort, was credited with the basic architecture of the V-12 engine, and he also specified that it would use battery ignition rather than a magneto. Hall is given credit for developing the direct-drive feature of the engine. By the end of World War I, more than 20,000 Liberty V-12 engines had been produced, 6,500 of them built by Packard.

After the end to the War to End All Wars, the Twin Six retained its popularity into the 1920s. But in 1920, Packard had introduced the Single Six, which was far less expensive to build, and when the company followed with the Packard Eight in 1923, the Twin Six was quickly put out to pasture. Still, it was a landmark that established the V-12 engine as the ultimate luxury-car powerplant.







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