1938 Packard Twelve Touring Cabriolet

Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, New York had a long tradition of fitting beautiful and exclusive coachwork to the likes of Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce, and Lincoln automobiles. Hermann A. Brunn’s German heritage shone through in the exquisite quality he demanded from his craftsmen, as well in his understated, Teutonic designs. Packard joined that list of prestigious manufacturers when they contracted with Brunn to design two bodies for the upcoming Sixteenth series, introduced in September 1937. These two bodies would be the All-Weather Cabriolet and the so-called Clear Vision Touring Cabriolet, both built atop the flagship 1608 twelve-cylinder chassis. The latter is a handsome design which first appeared on a Lincoln Model K used by the Brunn family as personal transport. It featured an enclosed driver’s compartment, division window, and an optional collapsible landaulet rear roof section. The most recognizable detail was the inclusion of a pair of tinted “Neutralite” glass panels above the windscreen, which allow the driver to better see traffic signals as well as providing a more open feel to forward compartment. Period literature suggests it would serve well as either a “limousine or owner-driven sedan.”

1938 marked the penultimate year for the legendary Packard Twelve, with the end of the custom bodied era soon to follow. Significant improvements to the Sixteenth Series included coil-sprung independent suspension and hydraulic brakes, introduced earlier on the Super Eight. The Brunn Touring Cabriolet was one of only three custom bodies offered on the 1608 chassis – two by Brunn and one by Rollston. This was a dramatic drop, as in years past, buyers had fifteen or more custom options to select from. To build the Touring Cabriolet, running chassis with soapbox driver’s seats were shipped from Detroit to the Buffalo workshop. In an attempt to save money, Packard required Brunn to use existing door stampings, which in turn had to be heavily reworked to achieve the level of fit dictated by the coachbuilder’s high standards. This level of perfection resulted in a net loss for on virtually every body they produced for Packard. It also drove the price of Touring Cabriolet up to an astounding $8,510; over $1,600 more than a similar Rollston-bodied 1608 and more than even the costliest sixteen-cylinder Cadillac. High cost, economic conditions, and changing tastes meant customer demand was light, and the Brunn Touring Cabriolet was built in minuscule numbers over the short time it was offered.

This 1938 Packard Twelve 1608 is the third of only four Packards to receive Brunn Touring Cabriolet coachwork that year. This car appeared on Packard’s stand at the 1938 Philadelphia Auto Show and was shortly thereafter acquired by Margaret Dorrance Strawbridge, the daughter of Campbell’s Soup Company founder John T. Dorrance. Mrs. Strawbridge was an aviator, sportswoman, and an active member of Philadelphia’s prestigious Radnor Hunt Club. Quite proud of her marvelous Packard, she kept it under her death in 1953, when it passed briefly to her husband. The second owner was Mr. Albert Sellers, who traded the car to Mr. Bernard Walsh, who kept it for the next 28 years. It would later join the world famous General William Lyon collection, where it remained until 2018.

Meticulously maintained during its tenure in the Lyon Collection, this grand Packard is in beautiful condition with a mellowed older restoration. The handsome Packard Maroon paintwork features a subtle gold pinstripe, with a contrasting cream-beige roof treatment. The paintwork, while older, remains in excellent condition, displaying clear reflections, fine detailing and strong panel fit. Similarly, the polished and plated brightwork is in excellent order and appears exceptionally well preserved. Appropriately for a flagship Packard, it is well accessorized with dual Senior Trippe Lights, Cormorant mascot, dual side-mount spare wheels with painted covers, Packard See-Rite Mirrors, and a trunk rack. Correct steel wheels with hubcaps and trim rings are shod with appropriate wide-whitewall tires.

The passenger compartment features high-quality gray fabric, with matching gray carpets and headlining. The materials appear well-preserved, and the cabin feels warm and wonderfully inviting.  The gauges, dials, and controls sit in the body-color dash which is capped with wood trim. Additional woodwork is found on the door caps and divider window panel and is generally sound with only some slight cracking evident in places. The opulent cabin is fully equipped for its period with a division window, factory heater, factory radio, Jaeger clock in the rear compartment, and a rearview mirror with a built-in altimeter, and an unusual gadget that approximates the distance of following cars by measuring their headlight separation. This car features the optional collapsible rear roof so passengers can bask in the sunshine as they waft along in comfort.

Vacuum-assisted brakes and clutch allow for effortless progress on the road, as this mighty Packard seems to shrink around the driver once underway. Having 175 horsepower on tap from the 473.3 cubic inch V12 certainly helps. The engine runs well and quite nicely presented, with the Packard green paint and porcelain black manifolds showing some signs of use since the restoration. The undercarriage is similarly tidy, likewise with some visible evidence of careful use.

This rare and impressive Packard is one of only a precious few bodied by Brunn between 1938 and 1939, making it an exceptional rarity. The desirability is further enhanced by fascinating history with one of America’s wealthiest families and a series of devoted collectors. It is a wonderful motorcar presented with an honest, beautifully matured restoration that makes it ideal for touring and use on road events.

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