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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Packard  (Part  1 2)

Packard   Part 2: 1915-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

Skillful design of auto power plants led this company to succeed in aviation and tank engines.

The introduction of the First Series Packard Twin Six, in 1915, not only set a new precedent in automobile engine design but led the company directly into the field of aviation power units. The Twin Six was a 60 degree V-12 with two banks of six cylinders--the first such engine ever offered by an American firm and the first in the in­dustry to use aluminum pistons. Despite its 12 cylinders, the new car was 500 pounds lighter than the preceding 548 Series Six-Cylinder Model (which had earned the title of “Boss of the Road”) and--strangely enough--developed 20 hp less. In performance and flexibility, how­ever, it was far superior. Some 3,600 First Series Twin Sixes were sold before the Second Series was introduced in 1916.

Meantime, Jesse G. Vincent, Packard’s chief engineer, designed an improved racing version in the fall of 1915 that packed a terrific wallop. Weighing only 817 pounds, this engine produced 110 hp at 3,000 rpm and was used by Ralph De Palma to set several new track records. A second experimental Twin Six followed, known as the “905” because of its 905 cubic-inch piston displacement. This one developed 240 hp at only 2,400 rpm for a weight of 979 pounds, and with it De Palma set a new world’s record of 149.87 mph at Daytona Beach on February 12, 1919--the highest land speed ever achieved by man up to that time. He later also established a road record of 93 mph at Santa Monica, California, with the same car.

But it was the passenger car V-12 engine that led to development of the Liberty motors, widely used in airplanes in World War I.

The year 1915 was notable also for Packard’s $150,000 contribution (pledged by telegraph) toward the construction of the $10,000,000 Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco. Henry Bourne Joy, then Packard’s president, was greatly taken with this project--brainchild of an Indianapolis Packard dealer named Carl Fisher--and due in part to his efforts the “Coast to Coast Rock Highway” was made usable in time for the 1915 San Francisco Fair. Joy realized Fisher’s dream by traveling the new thor­oughfare to San Francisco in a Packard Twin Six, and federal aid to the states authorized by Congress in 1916 resulted in the rest of this great highway being quickly paved.

The Second Series Twin Six, announced Sep­tember 1916, featured removable cylinder heads, the cost of which was reflected in a $450 price raise--the touring car of the new series costing $3,050. Production of this model, offered in 13 body styles, reached 10,645 units, while sales were four times greater than the previous year. South America, until then almost an exclusive market for European cars, now began demanding Packards and the company set up representation in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and other cities.

In April 1917, Alvan Macauley, who had suc­ceeded Henry B. Joy as Packard’s president, offered the firm’s manufacturing experience to the govern­ment. Some $400,000 had already been spent in developing the “905” Twin Six engine which was to outshine 83 types of airplane motors then being worked on by the British and French. The government accepted and the creation of the Packard Liberty Engine (so named by an admiral) took an unbelievably short time. The idea was conceived May 21,1917; plans were drafted by June 4; parts were machined ready for assembly on July 3; and the first Liberty engine was completed and test-run July 23. Six days later it was installed in an air­plane which subsequently broke the Amer­ican altitude record.

Between September 4, 1917, and Feb­ruary 9,1918, Packard made at least a thousand detail changes while nursing the new engine through its growing pains; while of the 13,574 Liberty engines turned out by four automobile manufacturers up to No­vember 11, 1918, Packard built 6,500--more than any other company involved.

During 1918, Packard’s World War I commitments caused a heavy cut in pleas­ure car production; only 2,741 Twin Sixes being built, against 5,930 trucks--a modest total of 8,671 vehicles.

The following year, close-coupled open bodies gained favor with the public and Packard stylists gave this fad popular ex­pression in a “cloverleaf” creation that was well liked. Although truck production rose further to 6,668 units, the Twin Six--sole Packard passenger car then manufactured--found 3,589 customers.

Greatly increased traffic in 1920 called for a new car that was lighter, more maneuver-able, without sacrifice of flexibility. Pack­ard’s answer was the Model 116 Single Six with a 116-inch wheelbase, produced in four body styles with a price range of $2,350 to $3,350. This sleek automobile of compact dimensions had a six-cylinder, L-head engine that developed 54 hp and met the needs of motorists so satisfactorily that production snowballed during the next three years. Over 1,000 Single Sixes sold in 1920; 6,374 in 1921 and 13,433 in 1922.

Warren G. Harding, first U.S. president to ride to his inaugural in an automobile, did so March 4,1921, in a Packard Twin Six, and that same year Cornelius Vanderbilt gave the press something to write about when he drove his 1916 Twin Six from New York to Seattle in 154 hours running time. This car already had a two-year World War I record on the Western Front with Vanderbilt’s father, commander of a regiment of U.S. Army Engineers. It also had been stolen and driven countless more miles.

May 1922 saw the introduction of an im­proved model known as the Single Six-126, resulting from public demand for more body room and additional power. Offered with a choice of two wheelbases--126- and 133-inch--the new Single Six produced 61 hp and sold 14,123 units in 1923.

That year marked the passing of William Dowd Packard, one of the company’s two brother-founders and a leading figure in the industry. But Packard engineers, never idle, had by then a new Single Eight ready for production, and this was introduced in June 1923. This car was designed to replace the Twin Six which lacked the simplicity and lighter weight demanded by more pro­gressive motoring tastes. The eight-in-line L-head engine of this car had a nine-bear­ing crankshaft with an ingenious system of throws for better balance, and power output was 84 hp. Two wheelbases of 136 and 143 inches were available, and four-wheel brakes were included as standard equip­ment for the second time on any American production car. Other novel Packard fea­tures for that year included a built-in stop­light signal, automatic windshield wipers, ball bearing steering knuckles and optional bumpers front and rear.

These refinements appeared also on yet another new model introduced December 1923, and known as the Packard Six-226, with the same size engine as the Single Six-126 model. At this time, some 40,000 Pack­ard owners were proving the need for a flat rate system related to parts and repairs, and thus was created the Packard Stand­ardized Service Operations and Charges set-up, effective on a nationwide basis.

Following World War I, Packard made a number of aircraft engines for both the Army and Navy and also built the engines of the Shenandoah, first of the Navy air­ships, a craft later lost through structural failure. A Packard “1500” engine built in 1923 was used on Army and Navy pursuit planes, and a Boeing-66 powered by this unit then claimed the distinction of being the fastest standard fighting plane.

In 1924, one of the Navy PN-9 planes equipped with two Packard 600 hp engines established seven world’s records and 20 American records for flying boats carrying heavy loads. That year, Packard also built the first engine designed only for Army tanks.

Detail improvements were made in 1924 and 1925 to both the Single Six and Single Eight, the former being known as the Six-326 and the latter as the Eight-236. Both cars were offered with built-in chassis lubrication and an oil rectifier; both had stronger, slightly heavier frames. Too, de­tails came in for attention in the nine styles of body work available on each chassis, and complete equipment was made standard as a merchandizing innovation for 1924. This included bumpers and various accessories previously listed as “extras.”

In line with intensified sales promotion, prices of the closed models were cut to equal those of the open cars. For instance, the phaeton, coupe and sedan on the Six-326 all cost $2,585--a smart move aimed partly at determining true public pref­erence between open and closed cars. At the same time, the Packard Phaeton be­came the first American car to offer a swanky English Burbank top built for creaseless, easy folding.

As a result, Single Six sales for 1925 were double those of the former year, while total sales of 32,125 units were highest.

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