The Packard Twin Six Mystique

The car that put Packard on the map as a leader in fine-car manufacturing.
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The Packard Twin Six was also offered in custom design with modifications by Packard or specialty designers.

The Packard Twin Six was also offered in custom design with modifications by Packard or specialty designers.

More than 35,000 saw the light of day from May 1915 to the end of the fabled run in 1923. That was the era of the Twin Six Packard, which unquestionably set the company on the track for success as the leading fine-car maker. That wasn’t true only for the American market, but worldwide through a vast and strong network of distributors and dealers in key large cities and lands.

There were three Twin Six generations, so to speak, during that time. Each was designated as a “series.” The First Series 125 and 135 (from introduction through 1916) reflected the approximate wheelbase of the two sub-models for the sole senior range that Packard targeted. Some adjustments to the motor design were manifested for the Second Series Twin Six (1917), and a few more improvements for the third Series (1918-1923). Most buyers preferred the 135-in. stretch with its fine niceties on fit, finish and appointments that placed it a notch above the 125-in. wheelbase version. Bodies were skinned in aluminum with white ash wooden frames. Prevailing color was Packard Blue with cream-yellow wheels, plus striping. Plating was done in nickel. Weight of the large cars ran from 3900 to nearly 4400 lbs. These were no lightweights!

Henry B. Joy, who re-launched Packard after its move from Warren, Ohio, to the metropolis of Detroit, departed as top exec as the Twin Six was gaining its hold on the luxury market. Alvan Macauley succeeded Joy. It’s been said that Joy wanted to negotiate a deal with Nash to buy Packard, but his voice soon became a noisy gong among Packard board members who out-voted the notion.

Honestly, the Twin Six established Packard’s prestige at a pivotal time in company history. As such, it set the company’s pattern in the luxury car field as provider of a top-quality motorcar available nowhere else in its configuration and power. It was, to say it simply, the tops!

It didn’t take more than a cursory look at Packard’s Twin Six success by competitors to realize they had better get in the same boat with a similar design. Thus, in 1917, Packard’s competitors in the twelve-cylinder race included the Austin 12 (389.5-cubic-inch displacement delivering 39.68 hp), the Hal of Ohio with the same engine strength, the Enger (33 hp), the Haynes (356.5-cubic-inch displacement with 36.3 hp), and the National (338 displacement, 36 hp). Packard’s power plant topped them all with 424 cubic inches and 43 hp.

By 1920, some car makers in the luxury field held to older motor designs of greater displacement than Packard’s Twin Six. McFarlan of Connersville, Ind., counted its yearly production in the tens. A bit more than a hundred units per year being profitable enough, given the body-making branch of the company that supplied body units to the likes of Auburn, Cole and few other brands as an outgrowth of McFarlan’s carriage-building days.

The McFarlan six-cylinder motor was more than 572.5 cubic inches in displacement and delivered 48 hp. Packard’s original competitor, Winton, was also powered by a massive six (524-cubic-inch displacement delivering 48.6 hp). The Locomobile boasted a prestigious output like the Winton. These were outdone by the Pierce-Arrow of 824 cubic inches delivering 60 hp. There was plenty of gallop in those sixes!

As an aside, Cadillac — with its marvelous V-8 engine — was not priced in the same range as Packard and its main competitors. The rising star known as Cadillac was priced $500-$1000 below a Packard Twin Six and thus was classified to a different category by the industry. Cadillac was listed as a full price-step below Packard in the $3000 to $3499 range.

The market in twelves shrank by the year, such that Haynes and the Packard Twin Six were the only ones in America to continue the offer. In 1923, Packard was alone in that effort.

If the price of gasoline was a deterrent for a buyer that year, the Twin Six delivered 12 miles per gallon while the Packard Single Six for that year (a lesser-priced companion model) obtained 17 mpg.

The Twin Six was not the most expensive of domestic luxury cars, according to industry statistics from 1923. Packard’s boss model sold in the range of $5240 to $5400 unless special ordered to a custom body design or built with other special features. The McFarlan — with its big six — cost between $6300 to $9000. Newcomer Lafayette was priced from $5500 to $5700, but was soon in the grave. Duesenbergs generally sold for $6500 to $8800. The Dorris automobile, nearing its end run, was costly at $5750. The Daniels was priced as high as $7650. Brewster models went up to around $7,000, a top-level Locomobile would set you back as much as $11,000, and the Springfield Rolls-Royce bit the wallet for as much as $13,500. Thus, Packard was rubbing shoulders with the “big boys” and seemingly doing them one better with its in-depth sales campaigns that made it seem the Twin Six was the only car for serious luxury buyers to own.

No question, the Twin Six placed Packard up front as an innovator, an industry leader and as a great overall producer of one of the land’s greatest cars.

Not inclined to ride on reputation alone, Packard was to have several more decades of success including the return of the Twin Six/Packard Twelve designations during the 1930s. Its final models were able to stretch the Packard mystique over nearly a full six decades, an achievement all of its competitors failed to accomplish.

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