Packard’s legendary twelve-cylinder cars are among of the most desirable and respected of all pre-war American classics. From 1916-1923, the “Twin Six” established Packard’s leadership in the luxury automobile market, and after a hiatus for the model, a new twelve-cylinder Packard returned in 1932 to take on Cadillac’s headline-grabbing V-16, Lincoln’s V-12, and other manufacturers joining the multi-cylinder race. 1939 marked 40 years of Packard production, yet sadly it also marked the final year for Packard V-12 production. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, buyers began to drift away from the large, extravagant custom bodies that dominated the segment for so many years. So when faced with slumping sales and rising costs, the expensive V-12 was dropped with only 446 examples leaving the famous Detroit plant in the final year. As before, the 67-degree V-12 displaced 473 cubic inches and produced a very healthy 175 horsepower, far superior to Lincoln’s output and just ten shy of Cadillac’s mighty V-16. It is often said that the power and sublime smoothness of the Packard V-12 is what inspired Enzo Ferrari to use the same configuration in his cars… an anecdote that may never be proven but is certainly believable once you experience the silken nature of the great Packard engine. For 1939, no fewer than fourteen body styles were offered in the factory catalog, and the chassis offered in two wheelbase lengths, the 1707 (134 inches) and the 1708 (139 inches). Vacuum assisted brakes and even a vacuum assisted clutch made for easy, light operation. So while the Packard Twelve is a big, grand car, it is surprisingly pleasant and hugely enjoyable to drive. This 1939 Packard 1707 Twelve wears handsome and desirable 2/4-Passenger Coupe coachwork from the factory catalog (style number 1238) coming to us most recently from the hands of a long-term owner who has cared for it over the past forty years. The previous owner recalls finding the car through a classified ad in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s, and upon seeing it for the first time, he was surprised to find it remarkably correct, unrestored and unmolested. It had apparently been kept in the seller’s family for many years prior and had clearly been cherished. A deal was done on the spot and the new owner went on enjoy his lovely Packard Twelve for the next four decades. Within the last ten years, a sympathetic, quality restoration was performed by AutoEuropa of California. Finished in Packard Maroon, this lovely coupe still presents today in very good order, with straight, properly aligned panels and high-quality paintwork. The body is beautifully stylish, with full, curvaceous fenders, a swept-back radiator grille and a streamlined profile. No range-topping model would be complete without the right accessories, and this car delivers with its grand Cormorant mascot, dual Trippe Light spot lamps, body-colored steel sidemount covers, and a matching body-colored Packard trunk in the rear. It is also equipped with a rumble seat for two occasional rear passengers as well as a golf-bag door. Exterior brightwork is in very good condition overall. Inside the two-passenger cabin, one finds excellent upholstery in a period appropriate striped-pattern broadcloth. Beautiful wood trim adorns the door caps, and the dash is wood-grained paint on steel as original, with a lineup of clear and well-presented original instruments. Chrome plating on the interior fittings is good, with some appearing in very good original condition. Seats, door panels and other soft trim, such as the gray wool headlining, remain in excellent order, showing the car was used lightly and carefully since its restoration. The same goes with the maroon leather trim on the rumble seat. The engine bay and undercarriage are clean, tidy and very well-presented. While some years have passed since it was restored, this Packard has been lovingly cared for and maintained in fine order. Packard’s final series twelve-cylinder presents in clean and well-detailed condition with correct Packard-green engine paint and black accessories. As a 1939 model, it retains the correct original column-shifted manual transmission, which now sends its power through an updated “high-speed” rear axle, which was a factory option. This very rare, handsome and desirable Packard Coupe has clearly been cherished throughout its life. The attractive, high-quality restoration has only mellowed slightly since completion, and the car has been used for the occasional tour, yet seldom shown. It remains a very fine choice for AACA or CCCA shows, yet is also a wonderful automobile for an enthusiast to enjoy the splendor of a Twelve-Cylinder Packard on CCCA CARavan tours or similar events.
In 1937, Packard produced a very respectable 122,593 cars, a number which they were rightly quite proud of. Of that total, however, a mere 1,300 left the famous Detroit plant with the spectacular twelve-cylinder engine. Period press accolades declared these later series Packard Twelves (1932-1939) as “the nearest thing to steam” such was their seamless, silken and relentless power delivery. The 437 cubic-inch V12 was a beautiful design, said to have inspired Enzo Ferrari to power his own cars with 60-degree V12 engines. Producing a full 175 horsepower, it equaled that by made by the mighty Cadillac Sixteen. By 1937, the Fifteenth-series Packard Twelve had gained independent front suspension adapted from the Junior models, as well as four wheel vacuum-assisted hydraulic brakes and a synchromesh transmission, making it one of the most satisfying of all pre-war Packards to drive, even by today’s modern standards. The 1932-1939 Packard Twelves are still considered by many to be among the finest American automobiles ever produced. Packard traditionally eschewed ornate, showy bodies in favor of sophisticated style and mechanical superiority, and the Twelve was no different. Of the approximately 5,800 examples produced, most were fitted with coachwork that was sophisticated and stylish, but erred toward the conservative side. But a few examples of the Twelve did manage to get into the hands of the more extravagant buyers and were fitted with flamboyant bodies, perhaps the best known among these was LeBaron. Inspired by the great 1934 Packard Twelve LeBaron Sport Phaeton, this striking 1937 Packard is a genuine 15th Series Twelve, wearing custom one-off coachwork and presented in stunning condition. This particular chassis was originally sold by Los Angeles dealer Earl C. Anthony, Inc. wearing limousine coachwork. Somewhere along the way, the limousine body was removed and never replaced. Many years later, the chassis was discovered on the East Coast, mechanically complete but missing most of the rear body. The car was purchased by a German collector, who commissioned the mechanical restoration as well as the design and construction of the gorgeous body it now wears. The car was handed over to Trevor Hirst Restoration and Coachwork in the U.K., where the chassis was carefully stripped down, and, alongside the engine, fully restored using many genuine parts sourced from American Packard experts. The owner drew his inspiration from the LeBaron Sport Phaeton which was an earlier design than his 1937 chassis, posing some issues with proportion and fit which were overcome using sophisticated computer-aided design, as well measurements taken directly from a genuine example in California. An intricate ash frame was built to support the skin, and the panels were crafted using traditional English coachbuilding techniques. Details such as the windscreen frames, door hinges and convertible top frame were engineered and hand built in Mr. Hirst’s workshop. The level of detail and quality of the craftsmanship is truly astounding, and in spite of the modern time line, this is a truly coachbuilt Packard in the most traditional sense. The expert workmanship shines via the beautiful and visually striking metallic indigo paintwork. The modern color suits the flamboyant LeBaron-inspired lines beautifully, and the carefully selected light cream interior provides a lovely contrast. It rides on a set of steel wheels with chrome beauty rings and chrome Packard Twelve wheel covers, which are mounted with wide-whitewall bias-ply tires for the proper road feel and handling. The chrome plating is executed to concours standards with the big bumpers, radiator slats and headlamps presenting in beautiful order. The interior is equally stunning, trimmed in high quality cream colored leather on the seats and door panels. Beautiful oatmeal carpets are bound in matching leather, and the fit and finish is excellent. The dash is finished to a very high standard in lovely light burl wood with an original Packard Twelve fascia housing modern instruments. The rear cowl hinges upward for easy access to the passenger compartment and the soft top is fully functional, covered with a dark blue canvas boot when folded. Mechanically, this car was built to be driven. It starts readily and runs strong, rewarding the driver with excellent road manners. The specification was enhanced with a large capacity fuel tank as well as a stainless steel exhaust system and the engine is properly detailed in correct Packard Green to original spec. It has been regularly used by the most recent owner and it is reported to be a thoroughly enjoyable car for touring. The quality of the construction and beautiful presentation would surely make it welcome in show events with new coachwork classes, or simply an outstanding and gorgeous machine to drive and enjoy with the whole family. Regardless of how you choose to enjoy it, this is a genuine Packard Twelve in excellent mechanical order wearing a stunningly beautiful body, hand built by a gifted craftsman at great expense.