Classic Car Story Index
Packard Twin Six Engine

Packard Twin Six Engine

In 1915 Woodrow Wilson was half way through his first term as president of the United States, "Typhoid Mary" started an epidemic, Houdini escaped from a straight jacket for the first time, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote, Alexander Graham Bell made the first long-distance phone call to Thomas Watson, Babe Ruth hit his first home run, the first stop sign appeared in Detroit and the Packard brothers produced one of the first V-8 engines for use in an automobile, known as the "Twin Six".

James and William Packard were college graduates and successful businessmen who owned the Packard Electric Company in 1898 when James decided to go into the automotive business. He talked William and a friend, George Weiss, to invest $3,000 each and after several attempts to build a quality vehicle the Packard Motor Car Company came to be in 1901. Quality was to be their trademark and when their 1903 "Model K" failed to meet that standard they bought them all back to be destroyed.

1920 Packard Twin Six

1920 Packard Twin Six

By 1915 most automobile engines had evolved from one-cylinder to two or four cylinders, Rolls Royce and other luxury car makers offered sixes, and the Packards came out with a V-12. It was the first of its kind and referred to as a "Twin Six" because it looked like two six-cylinder engines set at a 60 degree angle to each other. The engine was designed by Jesse Vincent who had worked for the Hudson Motor Car Company and would go on to design the famous "Liberty" engine used in World War I aircraft. The engine had a 424 cubic inch displacement with a top speed of 3,500 rpm, high performance for the time. A three-speed manual transmission was connected to 37 inch wheels and the torque was so high that drivers rarely had to down-shift.

1932 Packard Twin Six

Packard Twin Six

The engine was a huge success and sales had skyrocketed to 100,000 vehicles by the following year. One of them most famous buyers was Russia's Czar Nicholas, who had one outfitted with skis. As a result, other Russian nobles bought Packards as well and they were soon being copied by Russian auto makers.

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By 1920 Packard had reverted to a straight six-cylinder flathead engine to reduce costs and followed that with a straight eight-cylinder engine in 1923. Meanwhile General Motors and Chrysler were developing V-8 engines with better horsepower to weight ratios and in 1955 Packard reverted to the V-8 design.