Book Reviews, February 1966, February 1966
“The Packard Story,” by Robert E. Turnquist. 286 pp. 11 5/8 in. x 8 5/8 in. (W. H. Allen & Co., 43, Essex Street, London, W.C.2. 105s.)
With excellent histories of Rolls-Royce and Lanchester recently published, it is only right and proper that America’s leading luxury car, the Packard, should receive similar treatment. Published in New York last year, this big volume is now available here. It is nothing like so readable as Bird’s volumes, but does cover a vast amount of Packard history, if in rather a disjointed manner, and it also concerns itself with how these cars should be restored if they are to be accepted as “classics” in their country of origin, with plenty of hints and tips bearing on this—and a depressing tendency to harp on re-sale values.
The author served for 12 years as a Director and for six years as President of the Classic Car Club of America and is currently their Vice-President, his speciality being the Packard.
The book opens with the Second Series Eight and Third Series Six Packards, eschewing a dreary account of very early Packard history; thereafter each chapter covers a different Series of a make rivalled only by Cadillac and Lincoln as America’s top automobile. After chapter three each chapter covers one Series, from the Sixth to the Twentieth, the closing chapter being right up to date on recent Packard productions, to when Studebaker stopped production in 1962.
Particularly useful is the Appendix, which lists pictorially and by specification every model from the 1899 Model-A to the 1941 Twentieth Series car, the data panels including production figures for each model.
Although the photo-litho reproduction may not be entirely acceptable and some printing errors have crept in, this book is a most valuable addition to the growing list of one-make titles and it is certainly most copiously illustrated, including eight art pages in colour, one of which consists of a chart of the colour combinations applicable to the Ninth Series Standard Eight Model 901 Packard sedan when it was a new car. This is obviously included to benefit restorers and should be very useful, remembering that 1,305 different colours were available to American car buyers in 1935 (today the number is around 122). The book also has a very attractive dust-jacket.
It is interesting that in 1927 Packard outsold Cadillac by 3 to 1 and, according to Turnquist, “was the undisputed leader in the prestige field. In every corner of the earth it was recognised as the symbol of wealth and success.” Nevertheless, output was enormous by our standards, 50,000 in 1928, compared with 2,212 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1s over a five-year period. It is claimed that Packard had the World’s fastest concrete track for endurance and speed tests when it completed its 500-acre proving ground at Utica, Michigan, at this time—faster than Montlhery ?
Packard racing and aero-engine exploits are touched upon and, given patience, the reader can unravel minute changes in specification of the leading Packard models, while the names of specialist coachbuilders, Packard executives, famous owners and so on are a prominent aspect of the book, although research is rendered more difficult because there is no index, apart from chapter subheadings.
The author makes some controversial and some dubious statements, which at least add interest. For instance, he refers to the Bijur one-shot chassis lubrication system as being “still incorporated in the new Rolls-Royce,” whereas it was abandoned by R-R. 10 years ago and certainly doesn’t figure in the Silver Cloud or Silver Shadow, and says this “is responsible for the many classic Packards that are still running today,” whereas surely the oil-lines soon became blocked, rendering this system more of a liability than a long-life insurance ? There is also confusion in the author’s mind as to whether it oiled or greased the chassis components. Controversy may rage when Turnquist says of Packard going over to i.f.s. in September 1936 “this one change alone gave a riding quality that has never been surpassed, even in the modern Rolls.” He offers some interesting “firsts,” claiming that Packard’s Detroit plant was the World’s first reinforced concrete factory, that it was a Packard agent, E.C. Anthony of Los Angeles, who put the first petrol pumps at the kerb and the attendants in uniform, etc.
Comparison with other luxury cars, details of how Packards were built and tested, and discourses on the six different badges (which, we are told, are in the category of fine jewellery), the four different radiator ornaments, woods used for bodywork (which should interest those who took part in the recent Motor Sport correspondence about ash!), leather, paint (with a possible explanation of how metallic paint was discovered by accident), basketwork, etc., written as much for rebuilders as for historians, add to the book’s stature, although background history encompassing other makes is too sketchy to be of much value. The f.w.d. Twelve, the R.-R. Merlin engine contract, how Russia became heir to the Packard dies, experimental models, and the Studebaker-Packard merger all find a place.
Not many Packards survive in Britain, but the owners of those which do survive should not be disappointed in “The Packard Story.”—W. B.