The V12 engine occupies a unique place in pre-war American technological progress, and although the V12 and its long banks of spark plugs are mostly a memory, the attraction lives on.
Innovative minds at Packard designed and built a V12 engine in 1916, the “Twin Six,” which is widely regarded as the first V12, and 23 years later Packard released its last V12.
Because of the complexity and cost to build a V12, the company limited production to special orders from customers who appreciated the engine’s smoothness, tremendous power and distinctive sound.
The V12, also manufactured by other luxury car builders, was well suited for the large, heavy and lavish cars of the pre-war era. The engine length was also the main factor in designing the long, flowing hoods that characterized this era of automobiles. The engine could run slower than powerplants with fewer cylinders, which prolonged engine life.
These engines are a rarity. Packard built only 446 of them in 1939, and 17 of those engines were installed in the even rarer Packard 1707 Victoria Convertible, which was unveiled at the 1939 National Auto Show at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. Parts of that auto show were televised by Philo Farnsworth, who many attribute as the inventor of television.
The Victoria Convertible is one of the rarest of all the V12 Packards. Of all the Packard dealers at the time, only one in a hundred had ever seen one.
Now, hundreds of automotive admirers will have that opportunity.
From the Tom Crook Collection, and previously among the automobiles belonging to a well-known and respected collector, the 14th Victoria Convertible produced in 1939 is available at No Reserve at the 2012 Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale (Lot #5006.1).
Sold on Aug. 5 of the tremulous 1939 for $5,232 — enough to purchase 10 Fords — and still bearing the factory VIN tag, the car was recently restored to show quality condition and has earned multiple awards, including the Antique Automobile Club of America’s “National First” and “Premier” awards.
The car is finished in a sparkling black with a matching high-quality convertible top and sits on a generous 134” wheelbase. The interior is done in red leather seating and door panels with burl walnut woodgrain on the instrument panel and door tops to provide a luxurious look.
Equipment includes desirable options, among them the $240 column shifter, side mirrors and a radio mounted on the firewall with a push-button dashboard-mounted dial. The radio antenna is a functioning part of an extremely special hood ornament that generates even more rarity for this already rare machine.
The Cormorant mascot antenna is worth several thousands of dollars in today’s market, if one can be found. “I’ve only seen three of them in all these years,” said Crook, who has been consigning cars with Barrett-Jackson for 35 years.
Mechanically, the Victoria Convertible is equipped with a synchromesh three-speed standard transmission and is easy to handle with Packard’s mechanical leverage in the steering system.
Packard’s 473cid V12 produces 175 horsepower with a stroke long enough to generate torque strong enough to propel the 5,570-pound car from a rolling start at 3 miles an hour to 30 in a brisk 8.5 seconds using only the high gear.
Less than a month after this Victoria Convertible was delivered to its first owner, history took a hand in Packard’s V12 production when Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, beginning World War II.
Packard, which had built airplane engines after World War I, returned to building aircraft engines. Licensing the Merlin from Rolls-Royce, Packard built the engine for the P-51 Mustang, ironically known as the “Cadillac of the Skies.”
Packard also built the 1,200 horsepower V12 marine engine used for PT boats and some of Britain’s patrol boats, though it was not the same engine used in Packard cars.
Many consider the Packard V12 Victoria Convertible, produced from 1932 to 1939, to be one of the finest automobiles built by Packard and one of the most significant creations of the classic car era.
— By Richard Gray