White Elephantitis

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100

A TWIN-SIX FROM DETROIT

ROLLS-ROYCES are encountered round almost evly corner but Packards are seldom seen, at all events in England. So when Major Charles Lambton, versatile motoring enthusiast, said he was going on safari in the backwoods of Wiltshire and mentioned that Packard-stalking could be painlessly arranged, I was keen to go.

The object of this expedition to Castle Combe, still licking its film-set wounds, was not solely concerned with one of America’s best and biggest automobiles. Major Lambton had with him his Type 37 Bugatti and his H.W.M.-Jaguar single-seoter. Nick Williamson was testing his Cooper hill-climb hybrid; an intriguing combination of B.M.C. engine with H.R.G. head, a VW gearbox with Canadian internals, Lola suspension and Brabham wheels, and arrived in his Mercedes-Benz 230SL. David Good was in the hunt, with an A.C. Cobra. None of these can be regarded as white elephants. So I concentrated on Major Lambton’s V12 Packard, which can—albeit a well-trained, although by no means staid, elephant, ideal for carrying passengers. . . .

I am not a Packard expert, but I think this is a Seventeenth-series car, built around 1938—about the last year of the modernised “Twin-Six,” which Packard introduced as early as 1915, reintroducing it in 1931. It is typically trans-Atlantic, yet dignified, although perhaps scarcely attractive by English standards. This particular l.h.d, specimen carries a Packard 7-seater limousine body; it is a lot of motor-car. . . .!

Sitting on the accommodating cloth-upholstered front benchseat, the mahout sights along an impressively long tapering bonnet, partially through the very big 3-spoke steering wheel. Unlike British luxury cars, this Packard has wood decor only round the frame of its divided vee-screen and for its door cappings. It has, however, circular instrument dials on its metal facia. For some reason not apparent to me, the speedometer reads in kilometres, up to 160 k.p.h. There is an ammeter (labelled “Battery”) and a water thermometer (not working) combined in one dial, another dial combines gas level and oil-pressure readings, the latter gauge going to 80 lb./sq. in. and normally indicating a healthy 60. One of these big uniform-size dials is the clock, its face numbered 1 to 12, another is the heater/defrost control, and centrally what looks like yet another dial is simply a “Packard Twelve” motif. The outer dials incorporate indicators for the various lighting arrangements, characteristically labelled “Park” —”City”—”Drive”—and “Pass.” As I didn’t go elephant-stalking after dark I was spared the necessity of working this out. . . .

A line of substantial plated knobs below the facia put on the lamps, control the quiet starter, light your cigar and set the throttle, the ignition-key inserting between them. Flanking the aforesaid dials are small, lockable, metal-lidded cubby-holes.

Clutch and brake pedals are set high from the floor, in contrast to the r.h. treadle accelerator. Cranked back and rising inches higher than the seat cushion is the very long central gear-lever, controlling a 3-speed and reverse gearbox.

The outstanding aspect of this great white elephant is ease of control and highly impressive top-gear-acceleration. The steering is firm and extremely light, so that one wonders why modern cars of less avoirdupois need power assistance. It is geared 3¼ turns, lock-to-lock, after a moderate amount of sponge has been taken up, transmits shake only over abnormal pot-holes, and has very effective come-back action that spins the wheel through the chauffeur’s fingers. Couple this with a typically easy ball-gate gear-shift and the fact that the 7.2-litre, 87½ x 107-mm., V12 engine does almost everything in top cog, accelerating cleanly and quickly from two m.p.h. to 60 m.p.h., and it will be appreciated that driving this enormous Packard is a pleasant and unhazardous operation, especially as the hydraulic brakes are unobtrusive but quite reassuring. The chassis has i.f.s.

The side-valve 60° Packard Twelve engine effectively fills the under-bonnet space, all being seen, if not exactly laid bare, when the bonnet sides, each of which has three horizontal heat-extractor doors and is released by turning a single handle, are lifted. This fine power unit has alloy heads, hydraulic tappets, and a downdraught Stromberg EE3 carburetter feeding via a 4-branch inlet cluster to the inside of the vee. The exhaust rnanifolding is likewise within the vee of the cylinder blocks, an offtake twisting outwards at the back of each block. Ignition is by a huge Autolite distributor and separate coils for each bank of cylinders, firing to-mm. sparking plugs. Dual belts drive the cooling fan and dynamo, and on the n/s are found the dip-stick, nonchalantly inscribed “oil,” and the OIL FILL orifice.

The long bonnet extends from the windscreen to the high shapely radiator, which carries no nameplate or badge, although a “Packard Twelve” plaque at the back of the car signifies this to be one of the great twelve-pot Packards and not a common Six or Super Eight. When the Twin-Six Packard was reintroduced on June 17th, 1931, it caused quite a sensation, the news being recorded on the ticker-tape of the New York Stock Exchange. It had as sales competitors the Auburn, Lincoln and Pierce-Arrow V12s. Packard soon dropped the “Twin-Six” tag, in favour of Packard Twelve, in case Madison Avenue thought the new model a re-hash from 1924, last year of the old twelve-pot Packard engine.

The Twelve engine was run-in after assembly for an hour driven by an electric motor. It then ran for. six hours under its own power, then dynamometer tests occupied another 75 minutes. The engine was then installed and the car driven for 250 miles on the Packard Proving Grounds. If all was well, a certificate of approval was issued to the car. This model lasted for eight years, and 5,744 were built. It has been said that never again would there be built in America a car of true elegance and supreme quality. On the eve of war in Europe Packard Twelves were bought by King Gustav V of Sweden, the White House, George M. Cohan, Nathan Orhbach and many of the film-star colony.

The Twelve must have been imported into this country in very small numbers. It was, I believe, listed here only from 1934 to 1936 and was not shown at Olympia until 1935, when the chassis was priced at £1,450 (the Rolls-Royce P3 chassis cost £1,850), and the annual (h.p.) tax was £42 15s., the R.A.C. rating being 56.7. In view of its kilo-speedometer and possibly its l.h.d., I think Major Lambton’s car may originally have been sold on the Continent. Its engine was recently overhauled for him by J. C. Denne, Packard specialist, of Sidcup.

Major Lambton’s specimen, in process of restoration, has a luggage boot, behind which is a luggage rack, presumably for the chauffeur’s belongings. It is interesting to find the big quarterlights opened and shut by crank-handles, as on certain of the better-planned modern cars. The occasional seats stow discreetly away in the division, the wheels are shod with 7.50 x 16 Dunlop Fort tyres, the brake lever is a very accessible l.h, trigger under the dash, the plated headlamps are Aerolux Marchals. When the doors are opened lights illuminate the running-boards. Direction-flashers have been fitted as an aid to threading the monster through modern traffic tangles. The radiator carries what looks like a quick-action filler cap, but, like some Rolls-Royces’ “Silver Ladies,” it is a dummy, the filler being on the header tank. I was a little disappointed not to be proceeded by a Packard mascot, of which there was a Choice of “Wings,” “Flying Lady,” “Daphne (or Adonis) at the Well,” or the “Cormorant.” The De Luxe “Flying Lady” emblem would be correct for the Packard Twelve. . . .

A new fan had to be made for Lambton’s car and its wide blades intrude on the otherwise whisper of sound from an engine that, at a conservative estimate, develops 175 b.h.p. The gears have grown noisy, but one seldom uses them. A faint rattle somewhere astern is the new silencer fouling the o/s rear spring. Otherwise, this Packard Twelve is a practical, very quiet, extremely commodious car. The elephant was suffering from indigestion while I was exercising it, due to fuel starvation no doubt caused by dirt in the tank, or too many buns. It asked for frequent pauses to regain its breath, so cruising speed was kept back to 50/60 m.p.h. But I shall long remember that effortless and extremely quick acceleration in top gear, and the roll-free road-holding and light steering which made driving this enormous limousine almost as easy as pushing along in a Mini. It treated Chippenham’s narrow one-way streets with disdain and, being thus mounted, I was interested to see that Marlborough is prepared to turn out its police and divert traffic from A4 on behalf of the Fair, where perhaps they, too, were in charge of a performing elephant. . .

The Packard’s owner also possesses. a 1936 Super Eight in splendid order, which he is compelled to sell, He speaks of the Twelve’s petrol thirst as six m.p.g. in town work, improving very appreciably on long runs. Not endowed with the affectation of sumptuousness that characterised English luxury cars of the same era, and less elaborate to drive, for it scorns a r.h. 4-speed gearchange, ride and ignition controls, etc. (although ride control was fitted to earlier examples), the Packard Twelve is nevertheless the epitome of roomy opulence and silent travel, and a rare animal into the bargain.