SANTA MONICA, California — “Nice car!”
The shout comes through our passenger window, from the driver of an SUV so bland that I honestly can’t remember its make or model just seconds later. I give a friendly smile and a thumbs-up, while David Gooding, founder and president of Gooding & Company (and currently my chauffeur) politely thanks our admirer.
“Thirty-two,” David and I return in unison. To be more precise, the vehicle in question is a 1932 Packard Twin Six 906 convertible sedan and it’s one of a smattering of rare, important, not to mention valuable, cars to be auctioned at Gooding & Co.’s Scottsdale auctions this month. The light turns green, David slots the long, spindly shift lever down and to the left, releases the clutch and we’re off again, wafting in an eerily effortless manner down the road. The Packard’s “Twin Six,” single-carb, 446-cubic-inch V-12 engine gives only the faintest mechanical whirring to indicate the 160 horsepower it’s producing.
David tells me 1932 was the first year of the Twin Six engine (and the only year the engine would be given the Twin Six name) with very few produced due to the extra cost over the standard Straight-8. Nevertheless, the smoothness and refinement of the Twin Six under acceleration is something that has to be experienced to be believed. In fact, the dominant noise from the Packard is from the transmission, which whines with increasing pitch as we build speed.
“The four-speed transmission is a little noisier than the three-speed,” David tells me. It’s a bit rarer too, ordered primarily by those who wanted a low first gear for climbing steep hills and mountains. “I’m using second gear [from a stop] around town,” says David. This particular car’s first owner was famous actor and performer Al Jolson, the star of the 1927 movie “The Jazz Singer,” the first sound film that signaled the beginning of the end for the silent film era. I wonder if Jolson intended to climb many hills in his new Packard or if he simply ordered the more expensive transmission just because it was available.
We’re ensconced in the mild smells of leather and warm engine as we make our way around the seaside town of Santa Monica — home of Gooding and Co. and this car’s temporary residence until it makes its way by transporter truck to Scottsdale in a few short days to find a new home. Directly in front of us, two unique styling elements of this car’s custom coachwork are evident: the curved, wooden dash that wraps around the front of the cabin, speedboat style, shading the array of gauges beneath and the bent V-windshield that lends the sedan a rakish look. That V-shape is echoed in the Packard’s grille, headlight lenses and parking light. Meanwhile, the “open” sweeping front fender design is unique to this 1932 model year, with later years gaining more sheet metal to visually close the fenders, giving the car a heavier, less graceful aesthetic to many eyes.
This is one of just two V-Winshield Dietrich-designed Packard convertible sedans ever produced, both virtually identical in styling to each other. “Raymond Dietrich was the hot designer of the ‘30s,” David explains.
“He was a founder of LeBaron Carrossiers but he later set up his own firm and Packard was one of his top clients.” We move around the car, David pointing out other Dietrich touches like the “suicide”-style, reverse-opening doors – a design that makes settling into the large, luxuriously plush bench seats more graceful. “If you look at the standard-bodied car next to this one, it’s much more crude,” David says.
The Packard is a large car to be sure, but somehow, in the sheet metal it looks slightly more compact — less intimidating and more sophisticated — than photos would suggest. To me, the Packard seems more usable in today’s traffic than many other cars of this period. Perhaps that’s also due to more restrained lines than some of its contemporaries, even with its custom bodywork.
“Packard was one of the more revered and celebrated marques,” David suggests. “They were known to be more refined and elegant cars. A Duesenberg or Cadillac was more flashy. A Packard was understated luxury.”
David also mentions that the body style of this Packard opens this car up to many different configurations. “The nice thing about a convertible sedan is you have so many possibilities. You can make it a much more formal car by putting the division window up, you can make it an open car by putting the top down – the side pillars are removable. The top folds pretty flat, on the factory bodied cars the top doesn’t fold down as much. This is where the quality and the complexity of a Dietrich body are really evident.”
In the decades following Al Jolson’s ownership, this Packard passed through the hands of several prominent collectors and won Best in Class awards at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance twice — in 1963 and 2012, along with runner-up to Best in Show in ’63. Through the years, it managed to keep its original bodywork and powertrain and was restored in the early 1960s as well as in 2011, both in preparation for the aforementioned Pebble Beach events. No doubt the new owner will continue to enjoy and preserve this special Packard for future generations, but at a price significantly higher than the car’s estimated price of $8,000 when it was new in 1932. Gooding and Co. places an estimate of $1.6-2.0 million dollars on the car when it crosses the auction block in Scottsdale on Friday, January 20.
1932 Packard Twin-Six 906 Individual Custom Convertible Sedan
Cost New: $8,000 (est)
Value Now: $1,600,000-$2,000,000 (Gooding & Co. est)
Engine: 456-cid, 160-hp, OHV V-12
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Drive: Rear wheel
Front Suspension: Beam axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs
Rear Suspension: Live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs
Brakes: Drum brakes
Weight: 5,000 lbs (est)