1932 Packard Model 905 Dual Cowl PhaetonSOLD
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Estimate: $450,000-$650,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $462,000

Model 905. 160bhp, 445.5 cu. in. modified L-head V12 engine, single Stromberg dual downdraft carburetor, three-speed manual transmission, semi-elliptic front and rear leaf spring suspension with live axles, four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

The Packard Motor Car Company was well-established as a manufacturer of prestige cars by 1915, its record of owner satisfaction demonstrated by adoption of the slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One.” But its record as builder of four and six-cylinder cars was about to change, as a new engine was introduced in May of that year.

Called the “Twin Six,” it was a 60-degree V12, with two blocks of six cylinders set on an aluminum crankcase. Designed by chief engineer Jesse Vincent, it displaced 424 cubic inches and developed 88 horsepower. Motor Age enthused that “Never before have the principles of high-speed motor design been applied to a touring car engine of so large a size as this new Packard. It needs but little handling to realize that the result is not merely encouraging, but in excess of all possible expectations.” Offered as the sole engine for 1916, it came in two wheelbases, 125 and 135 inches, and a myriad of body styles priced from $3,050 to $5,150. It outsold the nearest luxury competitor, Pierce-Arrow, by four to one in its introductory year, and nearly eight to one the next.

Variations on the Twin Six were Packard’s only offerings through 1920, when a lighter and less expensive car, variously referred to as Single Six, Light Six or Series 116, joined the line in September. Only slightly less costly than the Twin Six, it was more economical to run and less ostentatious. Its objective was lower cost of manufacture, in a time when aircraft engine contracts had ended and Packard had to seek its fortunes with automobiles alone, although production economies proved elusive. Drawing much from experience with Vincent’s Liberty aircraft engine, the Single Six was cast en bloc and sat on an aluminum crankcase. At 242 cubic inches it was barely half the displacement of the Twin Six, but made 52 bhp. Production immediately dwarfed that of the larger car, reaching 26,000 in 1922, by which time two wheelbases were offered.

Lessons learned from the Single Six were applied to the 1924 product line. Gone was the Twin Six, replaced by a straight eight. The Single Eight, as it was called, was a sturdy nine-main-bearing unit, a basic form that would serve Packard for thirty years. Jesse Vincent conceived the new eight not as two fours mated end-to-end, but as one four in the middle of another, all cast en bloc. This resulted in a then-unusual firing order, but much reduced vibration. Crankshaft throws at the ends were at 90 degrees to those in the middle. Lighter by 350 pounds than the Twin Six, it developed ten percent greater horsepower and 20 percent better economy. Four-wheel brakes, the first on a Packard, were standard. Sales in the first year topped 8,000, better than any Twin Six since 1917.

The Six, however, continued to enjoy better sales than the Eight, right through the banner year of 1928, during which more than 50,000 Packards were sold, an all-time record. For 1929, Packard put all its bets on the straight eight, offering four sizes of cars with two sizes of engines, the larger of which came in two stages of tune. The “hotter” of the two, designated Speedster, Model 626, and available as a phaeton, roadster or sedan, developed 130 bhp and was capable of 100 miles per hour.

Nineteen twenty-nine was a banner year for the U.S. auto industry, total vehicular production exceeding five million units for the first time. “Black Tuesday,” the October 29th stock market crash, didn’t have much effect because it was late in the year. It was well into 1930 before the effects on new car sales were fully felt. Packard, however, had experienced some erosion already, 1929 sales slipping below 48,000. For 1930 they were barely half that, and in 1931 ebbed below 13,000.

With that in mind, Packard’s approach to 1932 appears curious. Seemingly throwing caution to the wind, a greatly expanded model range greeted visitors to the National Automobile Show in New York on January 9th. The Standard and Deluxe Eights were more or less holdovers from 1931, though two inches longer model for model. A new entry-level car was introduced, however, the Light Eight, Model 900.

Not much smaller than other Packards (two inches shorter than a Standard Eight) it was indeed lighter, tipping the scales at 3,930 to 4,115 pounds – compared to the larger car’s 4,317 to 4,735. More importantly, it sold for $1,750 to $1,795, a good $700 less than comparable Standard Eight body styles. Of distinctive appearance, with a unique “shovel nose” radiator grille, it looks attractive even today, but sales were disappointing, fewer than 7,000 before production was discontinued at the end of the year. More of a problem than its lackluster popularity was the car’s cost to build. Packard quality had not been skimped, and $1,750 left scant room for profit, too little to have been made up on volume, even if sales had miraculously improved.

If the Light Eight was the right car at the wrong time, the other new Packard, at the top of the spectrum, was a real enigma. In a time of deepening austerity, Packard brought out a new Twin Six on two wheelbases, Models 905 and 906 measuring 142.5 and 147.5 inches respectively. The only similarity to the earlier Twin Six was the name.

The new car was powered by a 445.5 cubic inch V12, making 160bhp at 3,200 rpm. Designed by Cornelius Van Ranst, whose credits included the Cord L-29, the V12 was originally intended for a front-wheel drive Packard, a project that proved stillborn. The engine, however, survived, transplanted to the chassis of the Deluxe Eight. A narrow, 67-degree vee, it was of unusual configuration with valves nearly horizontal, actuated by hydraulic tappets. The combustion chamber was partially in the block, giving rise to the description “modified L-head.” A Stromberg dual downdraft carburetor (the first downdraft on a Packard) fed it fuel, which was supplied by a Stewart-Warner pump. The transmission had only three speeds, but by mid-year all Packards would be so equipped. The earlier four-speed gearboxes were not really required in cars that seldom required shifting. Packard claimed a top speed “in excess of 85 mph,” but the Twin Six was reportedly capable of 100 in all body styles, which ranged from plebeian sedans and coupes to “Individual Custom” bodies, six of which were by Dietrich. Each car came with a Certificate of Approval signed by a Packard engineer, attesting to a 250-mile break-in run after which all necessary adjustments had been accomplished.

In retrospect, the introduction of a marquee motor car in the depths of the Depression may seem like sheer lunacy, but there was a certain logic to it. Development of the engine was substantially complete before the crash, and the rest of the car was based on the Deluxe Eight, so there was little additional cash outlay required. Moreover, multi-cylinder cars were plentiful in the marketplace, as Cadillac had introduced V16 cars in 1930, V12s in 1931, and archrival Pierce-Arrow had a twelve in the works for 1932, as did Lincoln. Struggling Marmon, moreover, had staked its fortunes on a V16 in 1931, which would prove its undoing. Not to have fielded the Twin Six would have put Packard at a severe disadvantage with those who could still afford a luxury car and didn’t mind flaunting it. Ostensibly, the profit margin on such a car could well justify its manufacture, but prices, body for body, were only $100 to $150 above those of the Deluxe Eight. In that respect, the Twin Six was a real bargain. Too much of a bargain, it turned out, for when sales proved to be mediocre – only 311 of the 905s and 238 906s were built in the model year – prices were raised by $500 across the board.

Packard continued to build V12s until 1939, the engine enlarged to 473 cubic inches in 1935. Only in 1937 were more than 1,000 made in a single year. The Twin Six name was retired after ’32, the cars thereafter called simply “Twelve.” Salvation of the Packard Motor Car Company came in the form of the small One Twenty model, introduced in 1935. With prices starting under $1,000, it sold nearly 25,000 units in the first year and 55,000 in the next, by which time profitability had returned to the company.

The Packard presented here is a dual-cowl Sport Phaeton, Body 581, Chassis 900363, initially priced at $4,090. Unusually for a senior Packard, it does not have sidemount spares, but carries a single tire at the rear, rather than the more customary close-mounted exterior trunk and auxiliary luggage rack.

900363 was purchased in 1992 from the McGowan brothers in Branford, Connecticut. In a recent conversation, Bobby McGowan recalled the car when it arrived in their shop as being an outstanding original car, complete and solid.

Mr. McMullen then sent it to Chicago-area craftsman Fran Roxas for a complete restoration. Mr. Roxas recalls the exceptional condition of the body, saying “we didn’t have to replace single piece of wood”, and noting that even the expected repairs due to corrosion were minor.

It was painted in Aztec Olive, a correct 1932 color, with professionally-applied light green double pin stripe. The interior is upholstered in light tan leather, and the car has a tan canvas top and matching tire cover for the rear-mounted spare, both of which are tailored to fit. The interior is flawless, the wood grain dashboard and instruments are in excellent condition, as is the wood grain door trim. The car is fitted with double whitewall tires, a Pilot Ray center-mounted driving light and twin spot lights.

The engine is painted in correct Packard green, and the drivetrain, engine compartment and undercarriage are meticulously detailed. It runs perfectly, and is capable of cruising at highway speeds, or tractably idling across a golf green to accept an award. The car received First in Class honors at Pebble Beach in 1993, as well as Most Elegant Car designation. It has been judged consistently at 100 points in Classic Car Club of America competition, earning successively Junior, Senior and Premiere awards. It achieved First in Class at Meadow Brook Hall, Eyes on Design, and Willistead Concours d’Elegance in Windsor, Ontario, and a Premiere Award at Hickory Corners in 2002, yet, has never been to a Packard club meet.

The Sport Phaeton is stunning, and unusual in its lack of sidemounts. It will be welcome in other concours venues, and is eligible again for Pebble Beach, where it should show as well as it did in 1993.

Reference Number 8713

as of 4/18/2007

Car 1932 Packard Model 905 Dual Cowl Phaeton
VIN 900363 
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