Packard 906 Individual Custom Twelve Twin Six 2069 Sport Phaeton by Dietrich

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906 Individual Custom Twelve Twin Six 2069 Sport Phaeton by Dietrich





The decision to move the V-12 upscale came quite late, after Packard’s Ninth Series (1932 model year) cars had already gone into production. There was no time to develop a new body or chassis, so the V-12 was simply installed in the existing DeLuxe Eight chassis. The pre-production Twin Six shown at the New York Auto Show in January 1932 was little more than a DeLuxe Eight with the prototype V-12 under the hood.

The last-minute substitution presented a number of problems. First, the V-12 had a smaller displacement than the big eight and it was much smaller than the multicylinder Cadillacs — hardly acceptable. Second, the 12-cylinder engine, intended for a smaller, lighter car, didn’t have the torque to propel the heavier DeLuxe Eight body with any verve. To compensate, it was bored out to 3.44 inches (87.3 mm), all the block safely allowed, and then stroked to 4.0 inches (101.6 mm), bringing displacement to a more robust 446 cu. in. (7,300 cc). The extra displacement didn’t greatly improve horsepower, now quoted as 160 hp (119 kW) at 3,200 rpm, but it increased torque to 322 lb-ft (435 N-m), better suited to heavier cars.

The bigger engine required more cooling capacity than the straight eight did, which posed a new problem. Ideally, the V-12 should have had a bigger radiator, but there was no room, nor was there time to modify the bodies to accommodate one. As a stopgap, Packard engineers gave the existing radiator a thicker core, increased the coolant capacity by 75%, and added an expansion tank, a novelty for the era. The Stromberg DDR-3 carburetor was traded for a Bendix-Stromberg EE-2, while a single Auto-Lite distributor replaced the prototype’s twin units. Van Ranst’s zero-lash valve adjusters, meanwhile, were exchanged for Cadillac-style hydraulic lifters, which cost Packard a royalty of a penny an engine.

Since the Sixth Series in 1929, Packard had used a four-speed transmission, rather than the customary three-speed. This was not a close-ratio or overdrive gearbox; the extra gear was an additional low, for use on rugged terrain. It was not particularly useful — the standard low was too tall while the shorter gear was really too low for anything but stump-pulling duty. Midway through the Ninth Series, Packard phased it out in favor of a conventional three-speed transmission, now fitted with Earl Thompson’s “Silent Synchro-Mesh,” which Packard licensed from GM at a cost of $1.25 per gearbox.

All Twin Sixes used the three-speed transmission, coupled with “Finger Control Free-Wheeling,” a vacuum-operated automatic clutch that automatically disengaged when the accelerator pedal was released, reengaging when the throttle was depressed. Since relatively few Packard owners drove their own cars, it was not particularly popular and it could be troublesome. It reverted to option status with the Tenth Series in 1933 and disappeared after that.

The production Twin Sixes were not the performers the prototype was, although they were speedy enough. With the optional high-speed axle (4.07:1), the lighter open cars could just crack the 100 mph (161 kph) mark. The limit for heavier closed bodies with standard gearing was about 87 mph (141 kph). Fuel economy averaged around 9 mpg (26 L/100 km), about what you’d expect with curb weights approaching three tons.

Considered as a car, the Twin Six was superb: quick, refined, solid, and relatively easy to drive, despite its ample bulk. Considered as a Packard, it exemplified the breed — classy, superbly built, and impeccably detailed. As a piece of sheer showmanship, however, it fell a little short. Although it was about as fast as Cadillac’s Sixteen, which had both similar power (165 hp/123 kW) and comparable displacement (452 cu. in./7,413 cc), the Packard V-12 couldn’t quite match its sense of awe. The short-lived Marmon Sixteen, meanwhile, trumped both Cadillac and Packard in power and sophistication. Its 491 cu. in. (8,044 cc) V-16 had overhead valves, an aluminum block and heads, and an impressive 200 gross horsepower (149 kW). That the Twin Six was a very fine automobile was undeniable, but it could only be considered the ne plus ultra in a narrow, conservative sense.

Although the new Packard Twin Six was announced in January 1932, the first cars weren’t delivered to customers until April. It was available in 12 standard body styles, plus nine “Individual Custom” models, four built in-house, five assembled by the coachbuilder Dietrich, Inc. Prices ranged from $3,650 for a Model 905 coupe to just under $8,000 for the most expensive All-Weather Town Car Landaulet. The standard-bodied cars were priced competitively with the Cadillac Twelve; the Individual Customs were more expensive than any catalogued Cadillac Sixteen.

If the new V-12 had appeared before the Crash, it would probably have been a great success, but by 1932, the Depression had dealt a crippling blow to the luxury market. Packard lost $2.9 million in 1931 and $6.8 million in 1932. Total sales for the Ninth Series were down to 11,058, less than a quarter of Packard’s 1929 volume. The Twin Six accounted for only 557 of those sales, not helped by a mid-year price increase of $500. Sales of the Individual Customs were particularly disappointing.

Fearing that the Twin Six name might confuse customers as to the car’s actual cylinder count, Packard decided to rename it “Twelve” with the Tenth Series, which was introduced in January 1933.

The name of Dietrich is always closely linked to coachbuilt Packards of the late twenties and early thirties, partly because many carried this nameplate, and also, since many of them were the more spotting types, a high proportion of them survive.

Raymond Henri Dietrich started his career as an apprentice draughts-man with Brewster & Company and went on to found LeBaron with his co-worker Thomas L. Hibbard. He left that firm in the spring of 1925 to set up his own custom-body firm in Detroit with financial backing from the Murray Corporation. At the time, the latter was a newly formed merger of several independent body builders who numbered Lincoln and Packard among their better customers. Edsel Ford had been instrumental in persuading Dietrich to add his name to the group, but before long Packard became his largest customer.

When the Dietrich factory was first set up in Detroit, many of the bodies bore a strong resemblance to designs he had conceived for LeBaron. Soon he developed some new ideas in convertible bodies and these became a major portion of his work, although he still turned out some town cars, limousines and other more formal types.

With the onset of the Depression, some differences on policy developed and Ray Dietrich left the firm, but it was continued as a subsidiary of Murray for a few years. Many of the bodies from this period had been designed by Dietrich or bore traces of his influence. Others, using his ideas, were adapted to standard Packard bodies built at the Murray plant.

After Ray Dietrich left about the end of 1930, the separate plant occupied by the firm was closed, and production of Dietrich bodies transferred to the Murray plant. By 1933, some of the earlier Dietrich designs or adaptions of them had become the standard Packard convertible models. Bodies of the same design but with more elaborate interior finish were made alongside the standard models, and carried the Dietrich nameplate and of course higher price.

This arrangement continued through 1936, when the last Dietrich bodies were completed. Actually a few were mounted on 1937 chassis, introduced towards the end of that year.

Ray Dietrich himself continued for some years as an employee of or consultant to various automobile companies.

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