1932 Packard Twin Six V12 Sport PhaetonSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $1,750,000 - $2,000,000

$1,650,000 Sold

Specifications:
Model 906. 160bhp, 445 cu. in. side valve V12 engine with Stromberg downdraft carburetion featuring automatic cold start, three-speed synchromesh transmission, solid axle and semi-elliptic leaf spring front suspension with shaft drive
with hypoid live rear axle with
semi-elliptic leaf spring rear suspension and four-wheel adjustable vacuum assisted brakes. Wheelbase: 1471/2"

The Packard Twin Six

In 1932, the Great Depression’s grip on America and its burgeoning automobile industry tightened into a stranglehold. Packard still stood at the top of the luxury market, but its future, like that of its competitors both domestic and foreign, was tenuous. Response to the economy’s torment was slow throughout the auto industry, and the course that Alvan Macauley had set for Packard during the flush years of the late twenties was at first pursued resolutely.

It is ironic that the greatest creations of the Classic Era came during the depths of the recession. Although Packard was in excellent financial health, the company ultimately became concerned about the devastating effect of the Depression on sales in the fine car segment. Packard’s response was to redouble its efforts, meeting the threat from Cadillac and Lincoln with the V12 Twin Six – and a range of spectacular custom bodies.

Despite Packard’s success in providing high-quality chassis for custom coachbuilders, Macauley advocated bringing custom coachbuilding in-house, and 1931 was the year his plan was implemented. His logic was impeccable – Packard’s body-building capabilities were second to none, and the quality of its in-house work was equal to, if not better than, independent coachbuilders. Better coordination between chassis construction and custom coachbuilding, upgrading the styling and trim of cataloged bodies, and economies of scale would allow Packard to increase margins and operating efficiency.

Behind this change, Packard brought its full technical, managerial and financial power to bear on the dramatically different market of America in Depression. Development of the lower-priced Light Eight was rushed ahead while its polar opposite, the new Twin Six V12, was aimed at the pinnacle of Packard clients, those captains of industry and finance whose assets were sufficiently vast to be immune even to the effects of the Depression. Both debuted as Ninth Series 1932 models, announced on June 23, 1931.

Dietrich, Inc.

One of the most respected designers of the classic era, Ray Dietrich was also one of the most influential. Dietrich began his career as a designer at Brewster in New York. More than just a coachbuilder, Brewster was the Harrod’s of coachbuilding, catering to America’s leading families – many of whom had patronized Brewster’s for generations in what was known as the carriage trade.

Young, bright, and talented, Dietrich’s skills were put to good use at Brewster. As a young man, however, he dreamed of more – he wanted his own company. He developed a fast friendship with Tom Hibbard, another Brewster designer, and together they began to spend their free time planning a venture together.

Unfortunately, one day in 1920 Brewster learned of the plan, and summarily dismissed the pair. Forced to implement their plan sooner than expected, they were long on ideas but short on money. They decided to spend what little they had on a first-class location, and soon they were operating at 2 Columbus Circle, a prestigious New York City address.

They named the new company LeBaron Carrossiers because Hibbard was something of a Francophile, and they both agreed that the name sounded sophisticated. One of the interesting things about the new venture is that they chose to concentrate on design – and didn’t even have a fixed relationship with a coachbuilding firm.

After a slow start, projects began to be awarded to the talented pair, but it was proving difficult to earn a living without the profits of body building. At about this time, the owners of the Briggs Body Company made a proposal – they would trade shares and merge the companies. In effect, LeBaron would become the design arm of Briggs, while LeBaron would have the control – and profits – that came from building bodies. The deal was consummated in 1923.

Just before the Briggs deal, Hibbard and Dietrich were approached by Ralph Roberts, a talented designer who wanted a job with LeBaron. In the end, they decided not only to hire him, but make him a partner as well – though his responsibility would be for business management, as the firm already had two designers.

At about the same time, Tom Hibbard went to Paris to look into the feasibility of establishing a European base of operations for LeBaron Inc. While there he formed a friendship with fellow American designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin, and the two decided to create their own Parisian firm, and Hibbard and Darrin was born. Hibbard cabled Dietrich to give him the bad news.

In the meantime, Ray Dietrich had met Edsel Ford at the New York Auto Salon. The two hit it off together, and what was to become a lifelong friendship was born. In the meantime, Lincoln became LeBaron’s biggest customer, designing production bodies as well as limited-production series customs for Lincoln chassis.

Eventually, Edsel Ford decided he wanted to integrate the design and coachbuilding business more closely with Ford’s operations, and he encouraged Murray, Ford’s largest body building firm, to approach Hibbard and Dietrich.

Roberts didn’t want to take the step, concerned about their partners at Briggs. While Dietrich seemed to share his concerns, after a visit to Murray in Detroit, he decided that he couldn’t ignore the opportunity and cabled Roberts to tell him that he was leaving LeBaron to form Dietrich Inc., which would in effect become the design arm of Murray, with Dietrich owning 50% of the company.

There, his smart and elegant designs attracted the attention of Packard management, and as a result, Packard became one of Dietrich’s best customers. Lacking an in-house styling department, Packard incorporated Dietrich design cues in later production cars. In fact, after 1933, all open Packards carried Dietrich body tags, recognizing the influence of Dietrich’s work.

The Sport Phaetons

Dietrich Inc. still built a few custom bodies for the senior Packards, and these special cars – known today as the
“V-windshield custom Dietrichs” have come to epitomize the ultimate in classic styling. Every line is exquisite, starting with the graceful v-windshield, continuing with the Dietrich trademark beltline, and finishing with a superbly crafted top that makes the car look as good with the top up as it does down.

It has been said that design excellence is as much about the details as it is about the vision, and that is certainly true of these remarkable Sport Phaetons. Packard’s standard open cars were built on the 142” wheelbase, while the Dietrich Individual Customs were mounted on the longer 1471/2” chassis. This longer chassis allowed a better balance of the proportions of the body, with a roomy passenger compartment situated behind a long, graceful hood – and ahead of a unique and striking tapered tail with a smartly integrated trunk.

One of the most fascinating features of the Sport Phaeton body is the mechanism that activates the rear windshield. After raising the windshield from its hidden compartment, a pair of side wings swing out and hook to mechanisms recessed into the rear doors. Once raised, passengers can enter or leave the rear compartment easily and gracefully, while the side windows swing effortlessly out of the way.

Most collectors prefer the lines of the ’32 Twin Six Sport Phaetons to those of the 1933 models (no 1934s were built), primarily because of the more graceful, classic sweeping fender line. It is also true that the larger 18” wheels, particularly in chrome, give the car a presence and regal stance that distinguishes the Twin Six from the later Twelve chassis.

The lack of surviving records makes it difficult to be certain how many of these lovely sport phaeton bodies were built, but many historians feel that it was not likely more than twelve cars. Today, only seven remain, of which just five were built on the prestigious twelve cylinder chassis. Of these five, only two were crafted in 1932.

The example offered here is, therefore, one of the two surviving on the Twin Six chassis. The other has been part of a prominent long-term collection for many years, and is unlikely to ever be offered for sale. In addition, two examples on the DeLuxe Eight chassis survive, and three examples on the 1933 Twelve chassis remain, all of which are part of long term or museum collections.

It is clear that these cars seldom trade, and this is believed to be the first time the coveted 1932 Twin Six has ever been offered at public sale. Consequently, RM Auctions advises interested parties to examine this offering closely as it is likely to be many more years before another such opportunity arises.

The Twin Six: Out of Africa

Although the original owner of body #5494, the example offered here, is not known (Packard records having long since been destroyed), it is apparent that the car was well loved, as it was updated in 1938 by fitting the graceful original Twin Six sport phaeton body on a brand new 1938 Packard Twelve chassis.

In order to do this, the upper cowl and windshield assembly were fitted to the new 1938 cowl. At the same time, a more modern “torpedo” style rear body section was grafted on, and a set of up-to-date, pontoon-style Packard fenders were fitted.

Although there is no proof as to the identity of the shop that carried out the work, later inspections during restoration revealed exceptional workmanship. A persistent rumor credits the work to Inskip in New York, and a tantalizing photograph may provide proof. Printed on page 153 of John Webb deCampi’s book Rolls Royce in America, the photo shows a new 1938 Packard Twelve chassis on the floor of the Inskip workshop, clearly in the process of having a different body fitted to it.

In any event, the owner – possibly the original one – is believed to have been in the service of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, and accepted a posting to South Africa in the late 1930s. Accordingly, the Packard was shipped there, where it was to remain until 1967 or 1968, when its whereabouts came to the attention of long time classic car enthusiast Jim Hull during a trip to Johannesburg. Hull brought the car back to the U.S., and enjoyed his unique Packard Custom Dietrich for many years.

Meanwhile, the only other surviving 1932 Twin Six Dietrich Sport Phaeton (Body #5493) was in the hands of Dick Dewey, a well-known Packard enthusiast at the time. Noted collector Bob Bahre of Oxford, ME had tried unsuccessfully for many years to buy the car from Dewey, believing it to be the only survivor.

Thus, when Bahre learned of the existence of the Hull car, he quickly negotiated its purchase. As it happened, Bob owned a very low mileage 1932 Packard Twin Six chassis carrying rather antiquated 1920s Fleetwood coachwork that had been installed by its original owner in the period – further evidence of the propensity of Classic Era owners to change favored bodies, just as the owner of the example offered here would do in 1938.

Bob saw the chance to fulfill his dream of finally owning a ‘32 Twin Six Dietrich Sport Phaeton, and arranged for Beaver, a well respected restorer at the time, to return the Twin Six Sport Phaeton to its original form by installing it on his exceptional 1932 Twin Six chassis. In the process, Beaver carefully reversed the “updates” that had been carried out in the late 1930s.

Significantly, #5494’s original Dietrich body tags have remained on the car, and the production sequence confirms that this is the last of the two sequentially numbered survivors. Twin Six production began about mid-year, and the two surviving Deluxe Eight cars have low body numbers, while the two Twin Sixes have higher numbers. This, of course, is consistent with events at the factory, where eight-cylinder Custom Dietrich production ceased with the introduction of the Twin Six.

After Beaver had completed the wood and sheet metal work, but before the restoration could be finished, Dick Dewey approached Bob Bahre, finally willing to sell his car (Body #5493), on the condition that Bob trade him the car under restoration at Beaver (Body #5494) – plus a cash difference. Bob didn’t want to sell the “Out of Africa” car but agreed to the deal on the condition that if Dick ever sold it, he would have right of first refusal.

A deal was struck, and Dick took delivery of the unfinished Sport Phaeton. He completed the remaining work – mainly paint and final assembly – and began to drive the car extensively on tours and events. During this time, it became one of the best known Dietrich Sport Phaetons, as Dick drove it everywhere, putting tens of thousands of nearly trouble free miles on the car.

Five or six years later, in the early 1990s, the Sport Phaeton was starting to show its age, and once again, Dick went to see his friend, Bob Bahre. Bob exercised his right of first refusal, and traded Dick a lovely 1932 Super Eight production phaeton plus cash difference to reacquire his beloved Twin Six Sport Phaeton, Body #5494, the last one built.

Having acquired the only other Twin Six Sport Phaeton, Bob had in effect cornered the market in these fine cars. He began to make plans to freshen his new acquisition, but before he could start work, the vendor approached Bob about selling one of his Twin Sixes. Initially, he refused, but several months later – and with ever increasing offers – the vendor was finally able to persuade Bob to part with the car.

Shortly after taking possession of the car, he decided that a car of this caliber and importance should be restored to the highest levels, and accordingly he delivered the car to RM Auto Restorations in Canada where a no-holds-barred restoration was undertaken. Even though the car was running well, considering the amount of driving Dewey had done, he insisted that a complete mechanical restoration be performed. As a result, every system, from brakes to suspension, steering, electrical, and driveline components was meticulously disassembled and renewed to factory specifications.

The objective was nothing less than a Pebble Beach win, and consequently, dozens of colors and leather samples were evaluated before the car’s elegant dark violet – a shade that looks navy blue in all but the brightest light – was chosen. The leather was custom dyed to a taupe color that proved a striking complement to the paint. With all the other details attended to, the moment of truth arrived at the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance, and it was there – in its debut showing – that the car was awarded the Gwen Graham award for Most Elegant Open Car – a prize widely considered to be second only to Best of Show.

Subsequently, the Packard has earned its CCCA National First Place Senior award, as well as both junior and senior AACA awards. It has never failed to earn accolades every time shown, and stands today as a testimonial to both the restorer’s art, and the vendor’s relentless drive to achieve the ultimate in classic elegance.

The Opportunity

Packard was the leader in the fine car market during the Classic era. Packards offered unparalleled smoothness and sophistication, combined with superb design, inside and out. They were impeccably finished and exquisitely tailored. The vee windshield Custom Dietrich designs stood at the pinnacle of the Packard world then – just as they do today.

Any Dietrich Packard is something to be treasured, an icon that will reward its owner in many ways, from the thrill of recognition that comes with victories on the concours podium to the sublime experience of ghosting along, silently and effortlessly, through the crisp autumn air. Inevitably, as in any pursuit, even among the great, there is always a “best” – and for many Packard collectors, the best Dietrich of all is the elegant and graceful 1932 Twin Six Sport Phaeton.

This fascinating example may well be without fault; its stunning condition permits it to be shown at the most exclusive concours, while its mechanical readiness beckons to be driven. As the only such example likely ever to be available on the open market, it almost certainly represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and accordingly, we recommend it highly.

Reference Number 7113

as of 2/8/2007

Overview
Car 1932 Packard Twin Six V12 Sport Phaeton
VIN 900362 
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