From Point A to Point B: A Leisurely Drive in a Packard Six, 1912

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

From early in the history of the automobile (often called the “horseless carriage” in its infancy), Los Angeles quickly became a car-centric place due to the wide-open nature of its topography and suburban development.  Prior to 1930, the end of our interpretive era, there were many automobile manufacturers, though consolidation into several major companies was well underway.

One of the higher-priced luxury car makers of the period was Packard, which built larger vehicles with more horsepower, as well as with more amenities and features than most.  The company began in Warren, Ohio, northwest of Pittsburgh and southeast of Cleveland and was founded by mechanical engineer James Packard, who was inspired to build his own automobile after trying to convince an existing manufacturer Alexander Winton of the Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland.

Spurned by Winton, Packard enlisted his brother, William, and a Winton stockholder George Weiss to join him in the new enterprise, which yielded its first product in late 1899.  The firm was known for a few years as the Ohio Automobile Company, before rebranding as the Packard Motor Car Company in 1902.

In those first years, the firm aimed for the wealthier car buyer, of whom there were greater numbers with increasing assets as America’s industrial revolution and economic growth skyrocketed.  An early Packard sold for over $2,500 when other cars were much less expensive.

An advertisement for the Packard Six from the Tennessean [Memphis] newspaper, 10 March 1912.
The firm moved to Detroit, which was becoming the automotive manufacturing center of the nation and the world, in 1903 and quickly became known for its exports, as well as domestic successes.  By the end of the decade, Packard was one of the top car companies in the country with a 33-acre production facility and some 6,000 employees.  It was a major prestige automobile maker through the 1920s.

The Great Depression, as in so many areas of the economy and manufacturing sector, did tremendous damage to the automobile industry as many companies went out of business or merged with those with that could survive.  Packard held on because it had a sole production line and interchangeable elements between models.  It also ceased introducing new luxury models, introduced its first lower-priced vehicle, and kept costs down to navigate through the tough years of the 1930s.

After World War II, when consumer automobile production halted, Packard struggled, while pushing the mid-value cars and moving away from the luxury market and then did an about-face in the early 1950s, returning to a single high-end product to try and complete with Cadillac and Lincoln.  The gamble failed and a merger with another dying breed, Studebaker, was another misfire.  By the late 1950s, the last Packard was produced and the company was moth-balled.

Today’s “From Point A to Point B” entry seems highly appropriate, given that it is a Sunday and the best time to go out for a leisurely cruise in, say, our local mountains, would be during that “Sunday drive.”

The_Tennessean_Sun__Mar_10__1912_ (1)
An accompanying article to the above ad.

The image shows a sextet (there’re five persons in the vehicle, but, clearly, the sixth member of the group is snapping the photo!) of folks out for a drive in a touring car model in what has to be the mountains, given the bit of rocky chaparral landscape detected.

The car is a Packard 12-48, known more commonly as a Packard Six, because of its newly introduced six-cylinder engine that delivered a very impressive (by the standards of 105 years ago!) 48 horsepower and could hit a top speed of a stunning 80 mph.  The car made it from 0 to 60 in all of a half minute!

Other details of note:  the gas tank and a reserve tank were under the front seat; the headlamps used oil and side and tail lights used combinations of oil and electricity from a battery.  There were ten body styles, ranging from a couple to an imperial landaulet (which is like a limousine, but with the passenger section having a convertible top) and a wide variety of paint colors for a high degree of customization for the time.

Group In Parked Packard Model 12 48 Near Los Angeles 2013.27.1.1
This snapshot from the Homestead collection shows a sextet of folks in a 1912 Packard Six touring car parked along a dirt road in what appears to be mountains near Los Angeles.

The August 1911 edition of Suburban Life, a magazine marketed for the well-to-do, ran an article announcing the upcoming models for the 1912 year, including the Six, noting that it was “added to meet a demand for more power than is practicable in a four-cylinder car of universal utility.”  The piece concluded by stating,

If you want to know more about this car, “ask the man who owns one.”

The quoted phrase was the Packard motto and, of course, assumes that women were not likely to own this or many other automobiles!

As for value, a January 1912 issue of The Automobile, a trade magazine, listed the ten styles as ranging from $5,000 to $6,500.  The lesser-priced “30” touring and “18” town car series of Packards, went for $4,200 and $3,200, respectively.  The 7-passenger touring car shown in the photo sold for the lower figure of $5,000, a hefty sum for the time.  By contrast, the 2016 Collector Car Price Guide lists the ten models that, in the best of condition, fetch between $76,500 and $94.500.

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