1939 Packard Twelve Coupe

Packard’s legendary twelve-cylinder cars are among of the most desirable and respected of all pre-war American classics. From 1916-1923, the “Twin Six” established Packard’s leadership in the luxury automobile market, and after a hiatus for the model, a new twelve-cylinder Packard returned in 1932 to take on Cadillac’s headline-grabbing V-16, Lincoln’s V-12, and other manufacturers joining the multi-cylinder race. 1939 marked 40 years of Packard production, yet sadly it also marked the final year for Packard V-12 production. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, buyers began to drift away from the large, extravagant custom bodies that dominated the segment for so many years. So when faced with slumping sales and rising costs, the expensive V-12 was dropped with only 446 examples leaving the famous Detroit plant in the final year.

As before, the 67-degree V-12 displaced 473 cubic inches and produced a very healthy 175 horsepower, far superior to Lincoln’s output and just ten shy of Cadillac’s mighty V-16. It is often said that the power and sublime smoothness of the Packard V-12 is what inspired Enzo Ferrari to use the same configuration in his cars… an anecdote that may never be proven but is certainly believable once you experience the silken nature of the great Packard engine. For 1939, no fewer than fourteen body styles were offered in the factory catalog, and the chassis offered in two wheelbase lengths, the 1707 (134 inches) and the 1708 (139 inches). Vacuum assisted brakes and even a vacuum assisted clutch made for easy, light operation. So while the Packard Twelve is a big, grand car, it is surprisingly pleasant and hugely enjoyable to drive.

This 1939 Packard 1707 Twelve wears handsome and desirable 2/4-Passenger Coupe coachwork from the factory catalog (style number 1238) coming to us most recently from the hands of a long-term owner who has cared for it over the past forty years. The previous owner recalls finding the car through a classified ad in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s, and upon seeing it for the first time, he was surprised to find it remarkably correct, unrestored and unmolested. It had apparently been kept in the seller’s family for many years prior and had clearly been cherished. A deal was done on the spot and the new owner went on enjoy his lovely Packard Twelve for the next four decades. In 2010, a high-quality mechanical restoration was performed by Steve Messenger of Just Packards in Napa, California. Finished in Packard Maroon, this lovely coupe still presents today in very good order, with straight, properly aligned panels and high-quality paintwork. The body is beautifully stylish, with full, curvaceous fenders, a swept-back radiator grille and a streamlined profile. No range-topping model would be complete without the right accessories, and this car delivers with its grand Cormorant mascot, dual Trippe Light spot lamps, body-colored steel sidemount covers, and a matching body-colored Packard trunk in the rear. It is also equipped with a rumble seat for two occasional rear passengers as well as a golf-bag door. Exterior brightwork is in very good condition overall.

Inside the two-passenger cabin, one finds excellent upholstery in a period appropriate striped-pattern broadcloth. Beautiful wood trim adorns the door caps, and the dash is wood-grained paint on steel as original, with a lineup of clear and well-presented original instruments. Chrome plating on the interior fittings is good, with some appearing in very good original condition. Seats, door panels and other soft trim, such as the gray wool headlining, remain in excellent order, showing the car was used lightly and carefully since its restoration. The same goes with the maroon leather trim on the rumble seat.

The engine bay and undercarriage are clean, tidy and very well-presented. While in the care of Just Packards, the engine was fully rebuilt at considerable expense. Since then, this Packard has been lovingly cared for and maintained in fine order. The engine presents in clean and well-detailed condition with correct Packard-green engine paint and black accessories. As a 1939 model, it retains the correct original column-shifted manual transmission, which now sends its power through an updated “high-speed” rear axle, which was a factory option.

This very rare, handsome and desirable Packard Coupe has clearly been cherished throughout its life. The attractive, high-quality restoration has only mellowed slightly since completion, and the car has been used for the occasional tour, yet seldom shown. It remains a very fine choice for AACA or CCCA shows, yet is also a wonderful automobile for an enthusiast to enjoy the splendor of a Twelve-Cylinder Packard on CCCA CARavan tours or similar events.

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