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1932-1939 Packard Twelve

1932 Packard Twelve

When the 1932 Packard Twelve models were announced to Packard distributors and dealers in Detroit on June 17, 1931, word leaked out about the upcoming new Twin Six.

In January 1932, Packard rejoined the multi-cylinder race with an all-new 455.5-cid V-12.
I­n January 1932, Packard rejoined the multi-cylinder
race with an all-new 455.5-cid V-12.­

The result, as noted by Packard expert Robert E. Turnquist in his excellent book, The Packard Story, was that "Its re-introduction caused such excitement among the well-to-do that the news was flashed across the ticker tape on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange."

On January 9, 1932, at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City, Packard formally debuted the Twin Six on two wheelbases -- a long 142.5 inches and a longer 147.5 -- priced from $3,650 for the two/four-passenger coupe to $4,395 for the Convertible Sedan.

The equivalents in today's money run $150,000 to $175,000, but that wasn't all. The bare chassis -- $3,150-$3,450 depending on wheelbase -- could be fitted with a wide variety of custom bodies, raising the final tab to Rolls-Royce levels.

Packard's News Service, for its part, chimed in that the Twin Six " ... enters that exclusive and limited production field where the last word in motoring luxury is demanded and where prices are correspondingly higher."

Still, the Twelve's price range was $500 to $1,000 below the rival Cadillac Sixteen's, which Packard easily outproduced throughout 1932-1939. On the other hand, prices were higher than for the Cadillac Twelve, which on paper might have been considered its chief rival (and did sell slightly more copies than Packard's Twelve from 1932-1937).

The public, however, tended to view Packard as at least the equal of the Sixteen, such was the car's gilt-edged reputation. Unlike 1916, Packard had not trumped Cadillac's latest effort with more cylinders, but with its superb classical styling and long dominance of sales in the luxury field.

It is significant that after the Packard Twelve was introduced (shipments began in April), Cadillac Sixteen sales dropped through the floor, totaling fewer than 1,000 cars between 1932 and 1939. Meanwhile, Packard sales not only weathered the Depression, but increased rapidly as the economy recovered, scoring a profitable 1,300 sales for the Twelve in 1937 alone.

In 1932, although the top end of the luxury market amounted to only about 22,000 units, Packard took a 35.6 percent share, compared to 16.9 percent for Cadillac. Combining LaSalle and Cadillac upped General Motors to 32.2 percent, still less than Packard.

That "classical styling" just mentioned deliberately maintained the formal Packard look, particularly in the trademark grille recognized by nearly everyone. Early efforts at streamlining were showing up, however, with the cars being slightly more rounded.

As Packard stepped tentatively into the "modern" world, its advertising/public relations people tried to set the tone: "as modem as an architectural design by Frank Lloyd Wright," "as modish as Matisse in painting," and "as recent as Debussy in music." The transition to more streamlined styling would be evident throughout the decade.

The Ninth Series was notable for the introduction of the famed "Pelican" hood ornament, chosen most likely because that bird was also found on the Packard crest. Designed by the firm's styling department -- after a contest in which young artists vied to create a new ornament, but didn't bring acceptable results -- it was soon nicknamed the "Cormorant."

Indeed, Packard itself called it that in the late 1930s, then reverted to pelican in 1949, and reaffirmed that in a 1953 management meeting. The ornament endured in various forms through the mid-1950s.

Also available was the Packard DeLuxe Emblem, nicknamed "Flying Lady," and many large Packard distributorships even offered Lalique of France glass ornaments. Because Packards left the factory with a plain cap, it was the buyer's choice as to what type of ornament would grace his or her car.

To follow the Packard Twelve story into 1933, continue on to the next page.

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