1932 Twin Six

Perhaps the Packard Motor Company would never have existed if James Ward Packard hadn't been insulted by another car manufacturer!

James and his older brother John were electric light bulb manufacturers and business was fairly good. James was able to afford one of the newfangled horseless carriages and he chose one from a manufacturer called Winton. It was not the best purchase he had ever made.

Having collected his new car Packard tried to drive it home but it broke down. He had to persuade a local farmer to lend him some horses to tow it to his house. From then onwards it needed constant servicing and he complained bitterly to Winton, writing numerous letters of complaint. Winton told him, in effect, that if he could do better he should build a car himself. Packard was not the type to take an insult lying down; he contacted a major Winton investor called George Lewis Weiss and persuade him to back him financially. To add insult to injury he also lured away Winton's plant superintendent, a gentleman named William Hatcher.

In that same year – 1899 – the first Packard car was made. One of the first was bought by a very wealthy gentleman named Henry Bourne Joy, who was most impressed by it. He passed the word onto a number of his equally wealthy friends and soon Packard had plenty of capital available and the backing of some very influential people. The future looked rosy.

There were many small car manufacturers in America at the time aiming at the most economical end of the market (although 'economic' was a relative term; cars were still expensive in real terms compared to today) but Packard aimed at the top of the market, producing cars that competed directly with top European brands such as Mercedes and Rolls-Royce. By 1912 the company was the first in the world to introduce a 12 cylinder engine and by the mid to late 1930s their cars outsold every other luxury car manufacturer in the American market.

The stock-market crash came, however, in 1929 followed by a deep financial depression. Selling luxury cars became very difficult and many manufacturers resorted to cutting their prices and building more economical models. Packard decided to do the exact opposite; their competitors Cadillac, Duesenberg and Buick were still selling luxury cars so the decision was made to make the finest car in America – the Packard Twin Six.

This was to be the most lavishly opulent (and expensive) car that they had ever created and when it made it's debut in 1932 at New York's Roosevelt Hotel it caused a sensation, with the news even broadcast by tickertape across the stock exchange.

The smooth running 7.3 litre V 12 engine developing a then massive 160 brake horsepower which could push this luxurious car to 100 mph and it had enough low-down power to comfortably carry even the most lavish bodywork; in common with most luxury cars of the era buyers could specify just about any sort of custom-built body they wished and there was no shortage of coachbuilders to oblige them. This of course meant that the final price of a car could be stratospheric.

Was it such a good idea to introduce a very expensive car onto the market at the height of a world recession? The fact was that the 1920s had been a very profitable time for Packard and so they had plenty of money in their warchest, and they may have been content to lose a little bit of it if it meant driving some of their competitors into the ground. That's how business works sometimes.

In the end a very creditable 549 Twin Sixes were built; ample proof that even in the depths of the worst recession in living memory there were still people around with money to burn.