The Roaring Twenties brought a social upheaval that transformed society. Staid conformity was replaced by daring individuality. The Jazz Age ushered in new standards of behavior and modernism in which the automobile took a central role, conferring mobility and freedom upon the post-World War I youth who enthusiastically adopted it.
In the feverish closing years of the Twenties, when fortune and fame were seemingly the entitlement of a generation showered in riches from a booming stock market, automobiles acquired a new, sporting look. Powerful open two- and four-seat roadsters and convertibles supplanted the somber, sedate motor carriages of the past. A horsepower race ensued, as intense in the 1920s as it would be in the 1950s following the next world war.
Packard, securely positioned in its luxury niche, was late to the horsepower party but enjoyed a singular advantage in its engineering chief, Col. Jesse Vincent. Vincent, developer of the Liberty V12 aircraft engine, appreciated performance and freely experimented with modified versions of Packard’s Inline eight cylinder engine and chassis. In 1929 his ideas were incorporated in the Model 626 Speedster with a highly modified Custom Eight 385cid engine in the 126 1/2” short wheelbase Standard Eight chassis. It was Packard’s answer to the performance challenges from Cadillac and others at the end of the Twenties. It is believed that Packard built only about 70 Model 626 Speedsters.
It was followed in 1930 by the 734 Speedster that combined a special 134 1/2” wheelbase chassis, a modified 385cid Packard Inline eight of either 125 or 145hp depending upon the customer’s choice of cylinder head, four-speed transmission, high speed rear axle, finned brake drums and special lightweight, narrow bodies (boattail runabout, 2/4 passenger roadster, convertible Victoria, phaeton and sedan). The narrow, streamlined bodies were exclusive to the 734 Speedster series. Their reduced wind resistance gave these exclusive sports cars 100+ mph performance, as demonstrated by Transatlantic solo flight pilot Charles Lindbergh at Packard’s Detroit Proving Grounds, where he clocked a speed of 109 mph in Col. Vincent’s 626 Speedster prototype.
Produced for just one year, only 113 are believed to have been built, but the 734 Speedster has become a legend among Packard collectors as well as anyone who appreciates performance, quality and style.
With so few built and readily available components, several exceptionally well-built Speedsters have been built over the years, including this beautifully presented example with chassis number 184029 and engine number 184015. The narrow Speedster body is blue with a light blue accent complemented by dark blue leather upholstery and a beige cloth top.
Chrome wire wheels carry white wall tires with dual sidemount spares with mirrors and beige cloth covers. It also has Pilot-Ray driving lights, a radiator stoneguard and “donut chaser” radiator mascot. Restored in the mid-80s, it is a 1988 AACA National First Prize winner and its cosmetics have been redone to show car standards more recently in the current very attractive livery. Its engine features the ribbed exhaust manifold characteristic of the 734 Speedsters.
A legend among collectors, this 1930 Packard 734 Speedster Boattail Runabout offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience some of Packard engineer Col. Jesse Vincent’s finest work and the exhilarating performance of well over one hundred horsepower with gobs of low-end torque in a lightweight, streamlined, tightly suspended Jazz Age sports car.
A lovely, fast Packard, it will be a proud addition to any tour, event or show and reward its driver and lucky passenger with the unusual opportunity to experience a Packard sports car.
— By Rick Carey