1932 Packard Twin Six Sport Phaeton

Amidst the backdrop of the economic turmoil that marked the onset of the 1930s, several prominent American luxury car manufacturers grappled with the idea of introducing more affordable models to bolster their financial stability. In 1927, Cadillac had ventured into the mid-priced segment with the LaSalle, but over at its rival, Packard, discussions on offering an entry-level model were fraught with debate. The board of directors expressed concerns about the potential risk of diluting the prestigious Packard name or alienating their loyal, high-end clientele who cherished the brand's exclusivity. Simultaneously, dealers were clamoring for a broader product range to cater to a wider audience. The introduction of the mid-priced "Shovelnose" 900 in 1932 laid bare the complex relationship between the board and dealers. Within a single model year, the 900 was discontinued, underscoring the internal tensions.

Nonetheless, Packard remained steadfast in its commitment to serving its traditional clientele, offering a range of flagship models that exuded the same opulence and grandeur as ever. In 1932, in response to Cadillac's foray into the multi-cylinder realm, Packard revived its iconic Twin-Six model, which had been absent for nine years. The revived Twin-Six featured a remarkable 67-degree L-head V12 engine, delivering a robust 160 horsepower and 322 lb/ft of torque. While not as technologically advanced as Cadillac's overhead-valve Sixteen, the Packard Twin Six matched its power with unparalleled refinement and dependability. Accompanying this formidable V12 engine was a novel X-braced chassis, equipped with four-wheel vacuum-assisted brakes, a synchronized gearbox, and Packard's meticulous engineering of steering and suspension.

Few would contest the Packard Twin Six's standing as one of the finest production cars of its era. Prices ranged from $3,650 to over $7,000 for long-wheelbase models with Packard's renowned Individual Custom coachwork. In a prelude to the challenging economic climate of the coming years, only 549 fortunate individuals chose to invest in a Twin-Six. Today, just as when it was newly introduced, the Packard Twin Six ranks among the most coveted automobiles of the Classic Era, celebrated for its exquisite style and exceptional performance.

Raymond Dietrich’s reputation was beyond reproach among stylists of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and his designs provided welcome new ideas and concepts for Packard’s own coachwork. With the 9th series, Dietrich performed some of his best work; beautiful, elegant machines that made the best of Packard’s fabulous new chassis that was larger, more powerful and faster than any standard model that preceded it. In particular, the “Individual Custom by Dietrich” bodies, which were custom tailored for the flagship senior Packard Chassis (9th, 10th and 11th series) truly reflected the masterful talent of Dietrich. Though they could be purchased directly from a Packard dealer, they were hugely expensive, representing the most costly models available aside from true one-off custom coachwork. Each body was custom-tailored to the buyer’s wishes and in many ways they were the last truly custom Dietrich bodies, as later production cars wearing the Dietrich name simply borrowed styling cues from earlier Individual Customs.  Even after Dietrich’s ouster from the firm that bore his name, his influence was felt on Packard’s design catalog for many years to come, and Dietrich-bodied Packards continue to draw attention from collectors and enthusiasts for their impeccable, breathtaking style.

Our gorgeous featured Packard is a 1932 Twin Six wearing rare and desirable Individual Custom Sport Phaeton coachwork by Dietrich. The early records of Packard did not withstand the test of time, but historical documents confirm that body 5494 underwent a transformation in 1938. During this update, the original Twin Six sport phaeton body was mounted on a brand-new 1938 Packard Twelve chassis. This involved fitting the upper cowl and windshield assembly to the new 1938 cowl. Simultaneously, a more modern "torpedo" style rear-body section was incorporated, and contemporary pontoon-style Packard fenders were installed.

The owner, possibly the original one, presumed to be in the service of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, accepted a posting to South Africa in the late 1930s, leading to the Packard's relocation to that country. It remained in South Africa until 1967 or 1968 when it came to the attention of dedicated classic car enthusiast Jim Hull during a trip to Johannesburg. Hull brought the car back to the United States, and he cherished his distinctive Packard Custom Dietrich for many years.

Meanwhile, the only other surviving 1932 Twin Six Dietrich sport phaeton, body number 5493, was in the possession of Dick Dewey, a well-known Packard enthusiast at the time. Famed collector Robert Bahre, based in Oxford, Maine, had persistently tried to acquire the car from Dewey, believing it to be the sole surviving example. However, when Bahre learned of the existence of the Hull car, he swiftly negotiated its purchase. Significantly, Bahre also owned a low-mileage 1932 Packard Twin Six chassis with somewhat dated 1920s Fleetwood coachwork that had been installed by the original owner during that period. Bahre recognized the opportunity to realize his dream of owning a '32 Dietrich Sport Phaeton, thus he engaged the services of Beaver, a highly regarded restorer at the time, to return the Twin Six to its original form by mounting it on his exceptional 1932 Twin Six chassis. Notably, the original Dietrich body tags have been retained on 5494, affirming its production sequence as the last of the two sequentially numbered survivors.

Subsequently, Dick Dewey approached Robert Bahre, finally willing to part with his body 5493, on the condition that Bahre exchanged it for 5494, which was undergoing restoration at Beaver, along with a cash difference. Bahre was reluctant to part with the "Out of Africa" Packard but accepted the deal on the condition that if Dewey ever decided to sell it, he would have the first opportunity to reacquire it. An agreement was reached, and Dewey took possession of the partially completed sport phaeton. He completed the remaining work, primarily the paint and final assembly, and embarked on extensive tours and events with the car.

Some five or six years later, in the early 1990s, the sport phaeton began to show signs of aging. Dewey exchanged the car with Bahre for a 1932 Super Eight production phaeton, along with a cash difference. With the only other Twin Six sport phaeton in his possession, Bahre began contemplating a restoration, but before he could initiate the work, Mr. Lee Herrington negotiated the acquisition of 5494. Shortly after taking ownership, he commissioned RM Auto Restoration to carry out a no-holds-barred restoration. The objective was nothing less than securing a victory at Pebble Beach. After careful consideration, an elegant dark violet color was selected, complemented by custom-dyed taupe leather that beautifully enhanced the paintwork. During its debut appearance at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the car received the prestigious Gwen Graham Award for Most Elegant Open Car, a distinction considered second only to Best of Show. Following this accolade, the Packard earned the CCCA National First Place Senior Award, as well as both Junior and Senior AACA awards. The car subsequently came under the ownership of John O'Quinn and has been part of a distinguished private collection since 2012.

Every Dietrich-bodied Packard is a treasure, and the vee-windshield Custom Dietrich designs occupied the pinnacle of the Packard hierarchy then, just as they do today. Unfortunately, surviving records make it challenging to ascertain how many of these exquisite bodies were crafted, with most historians estimating the number at no more than a dozen. This example is believed to be one of only two produced in 1932. Such Dietrich-bodied Packards are a rare find, and it is likely to be many years before another such opportunity presents itself.


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