Gear Head Tuesday – Packard’s Mid-50s V-12 Project

Gear Head

'57 Packard Twelve

A later-day idea for a ’57 Packard Twelve by “Harbor Indiana” developed from the Four Hundred four door hardtop planned for 1957.

The holy grail for Packard lovers is the resurrection of the V-12 engine. While the numbers of Packard Twelves (and the Twin Six) were never large, the Twelve was the benchmark for Packard prestige. In his drive to take Packard downmarket, George Christopher saw to it that the V-12 was killed off at the end of the 1939 model year. Many observers feel that it was a mistake to have done this as Packard’s share of this high end of the market had been increasing vis à vis arch rival Cadillac. Thus when dynamo James Nance arrived at Packard in 1952 and began pushing the development of the V-8 along with his quest to restore Packard’s position as THE luxury car leader, serious consideration was given to spinning a V-12 off of the upcoming V-8. Had the Twelve been re-introduced in the ’50s, no doubt the volume (as before) would not be large – but nothing would have restored Packard’s prestige as much as having a Twelve in the portfolio again – especially in light of the introduction of Cadillac’s Eldorado Brougham in 1957. Alas, as with so many things Packard tried to do in the 1950s, it was not to be.

Packard Product Planner Dick Stout (as quoted in Packard – A History of the Motor Car and Company and in the February 1962 issue of Packard Automobile Classic’s The Cormorant) described the proposed V-12 as follows:

“Essentially, it would be a 90 degree V-12, built on the new V-8 tooling. The manufacturing group proposed to do this by means of long blocks, bored first with eight cylinders, moved, and the added four bored. The crankshaft would have 30 degree split throws to permit in-step firing. Bore and stroke would be the same as the 320 cubic inch Clipper engine of 1955, for a resulting 480 cubic inch total … just about the same as the 473 cubic inch Twelve of 1935 to 1939 … “

“Engineering sources agree that despite stubborn rumors to the contrary, a reincarnated Twelve never reached the drawing board stage. Nance, however, took a personal interest in the program and Bremer kept him informed. The end of the idea actually came a little earlier than Stout remembered, at a meeting held on July 21, 1955. On August 1st Bremer wrote Nance that the minutes of the meeting noted “further consideration of the V-12 engine for the 1957 models will be discontinued, principally because of inherent workloads on Engineering the fact that available equipment cannot be practically utilized, thereby necessitating heavy capital outlays. Although I know you read the minutes of the meeting, I felt it important enough to bring this specific section to your attention, in view of your past interest …”

According to one source I have recently been in correspondence with about the Nance years, another important factor in the decision not to pursue the V-12 program was that it likely would delay the introduction of the V-8 had the V-12 program been pursued alongside the V-8 program.. The V-8 had to be in production for the 1955 models at all costs, thus making the V-12 project a non-starter.

What a pity that so many things went so wrong all at the same time for Packard! In the face of all that did happen, Nance and team did an amazing job of trying to right their capsizing ship.

'57 Packard convertible

A very nice rendering of the unbuilt ’57 convertible done in 2011 by Brad Leisure.

The roof falling in on Packard and Studebaker drove the company to accept a “deal” with Curtiss-Wright. The upshot of this was that Packard closed all Detroit operations the result of which was the infamous “Packardbakers” of 1957 and 1958. One of the few good things about the association with Curtiss-Wright is that Studebaker-Packard became the U.S. distributor for Mercedes-Benz. Many Studebaker and Packard dealers were able to survive by also selling Mercedes.

58 Studebaker-Packard ad



Hemmings asks:

You may be cool, but are you ‘Studebaker Cool?’

Studebaker Sceptre - front

The Studebaker Sceptre prototype designed by Brooks Stevens. Stevens believed in this concept so strongly that he personally paid for the production of the prototype.


Add yours →

  1. Gary Lindstrom 07/05/2019 — 14:40

    I question the comment about the Sceptre and Brooks Stevens. Years ago, when I spoke with Brooks Stevens, he told me that he “liberated” the prototypes, including the Sceptre, from Studebaker. That certainly would not be consistent with your statement of him having paid for them/it. I know that the Studebaker National Museum paid to get these prototypes, including the Sceptre, back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gary – That came from the Hemmings article: “The Sceptre was intended to replace the Hawk sport coupe in the brand’s lineup. So strong was Steven’s belief in its futuristic styling that the designer funded the construction cost himself, paying Turin’s Sibona-Basano $16,000 to turn his sketches into sheetmetal.

      The Sceptre was completed in 1963, and shown to Studebaker management alongside another of Stevens’ designs, the compact Cruiser (designed to replace the Lark). Stevens funded construction of this model by Sibona-Basano as well, reportedly for the same amount, and while the reception from Studebaker’s then-president, Sherwood Egbert, was enthusiastic, no money for development or production was forthcoming. Stevens retained possession of both concepts, displaying them in his Milwaukee, Wisconsin, museum until its closure in 1999. Today, the Sceptre and the Cruiser are owned by the Studebaker National Museum.”


  2. michael cenit 07/05/2019 — 16:10

    I always thought Packard should have only assembled the Clipper at the Connors Ave plant, and kept the senior stuff at East Grand Blvd. They could have taken the Senior line even more up scale, the 12 engine would have completed the package. Or they could have sent the Clipper to South Bend like they did in 57, and made the mid priced Packardbaker Clipper there. Brought the senior bodies back to East Grand, and not even fooled with Connor. Actually the Packardbaker was a pretty nice car, it just wasn’t a Packard, the 2 lines would have been separate enough to give the senior buyer the space needed to not worry that a mid priced Packard look too much like their upscale ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Michael – You are well-versed enough in Packards and Studebakers that your are probably well-aware that one of the big problems with Conner is that it was never intended to be a full production facility. I have always been of the opinion that one of the things that killed Packard was the decision to move production to Conner. It certainly contributed to the trashing of Packard’s quality image because of the production flaws of the early cars that came out of Conner. Nance bought into the idea that the multi-story East Grand plant was antiquated. No doubt it was, but they were still building quality cars there and it took them nearly a year to get Conner sorted out. In the meantime, they had permanently harmed their reputation for quality. While I’ve never been fond of the ’58 Packardbakers from a styling standpoint, the ’57s were, in my opinion, the best version of the President body shell. Producing the senior Packards at East Grand and the Packardbaker Clippers in South Bend would have been, I think, a good solution. The problem is the bunker mentality they were in as they were trying to wrangle a deal with Curtiss-Wright dictated that all the Detroit overhead be cut. That is likely why no consideration seems to have been given to continuing to produce engines and transmissions at Utica. The 320 cubic inch V-8 used in the ’55 Clippers would have served Studebaker well. The Studebaker V-8 was a splendid little engine but, being designed for high compression ratios, lacked the space between the bore centers to allow expansion beyond 289 cubic inches. On the other hand, the Packard engine had plenty of room to grow. Some sources state that the ’57 senior Packard V-8 would have displaced 440 cubic inches. Had they kept building engines at Utica, Studebaker would have had a competitive V-8 right into the ’60s.


      • michael cenit 08/05/2019 — 04:31

        A whole bunch of things hit Packard at the same time, end of the Korean war contacts, the Briggs sale of Connors to Chrysler, the Studebaker “merger”, and so on. GM’s Charlie Wilson certainly should get a few lines in Packard’s demise history. But in the end it was Packard manufacturing and engineering people who were all over the single level production facility thing, while in the end they were likely correct, but they just couldn’t jam 10 lbs of stuff into a 5 lbs bag. Connor could have never been the one and only assembly plant for Packard, maybe they thought it was stop gap, but it was a 50,000 to 60,000 car plant at the best.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are exactly right about a whole bunch of things hitting Packard at the same time! An amazing number of things hit – any single one of which was a daunting challenge. That Nance and his team did as well as they did in the face of all of this is really an amazing story. A testament to this, rarely remembered today, is the number of improvements in the ’56 models over the ’55s – some 1,000 in all – even as the proverbial roof was falling in on the company. You are also quite correct that Charles Wilson is one of the culprits in the sad end of Packard. He knew that Nance was depending on the cash flow from the Defense contracts to help fund the modernization program including the all-new ’57s. I lay a lot of the blame for Packard’s demise on one of the people Nance hired away from Ford – Ray Powers. He was one of the chief proponents of moving production to Conner.


  3. Great to have you back writing about cars! I have been reading the classic Kimes-edited history of Packard. I am reminded of the famous saying, “Sometimes we make choices and sometimes choices are thrust upon us.”

    I don’t really have to write this, but as an Independent Packard just didn’t have any room for error. The obstacles the company faced, both exogenous and endogenous, just proved to be too weighty especially given the anchor that Studebaker proved to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • michael cenit 08/05/2019 — 19:13

      True Packard didn’t have much room for error, especially after the Studebaker thing. Actually pre-Studebaker Nance seemed to be on the right road, granted a expensive road. Certainly Utica was a good expansion at the time. Years ago, many years ago, while in college I interned at the Studebaker Zone in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, and got to research a bunch of Studebaker and Packard minutes. One real interesting fact was when Packard tooled for the V-8 in Utica, it needed a certain number of production V-8’s needed to break even and/or money (I don’t recall the number) , they had that capacity at East Grand to produce enough cars to use the V-8’s need at Utica. When they moved to Connor they could not assembly enough cars at that plant to make money or break even on V-8’s at Utica. Utica was done before the first V-8 was built, they did contact to AMC for Nash and Hudson senior cars, but never consider shipping V-8’s to South Bend, because of the freight expense……yet they shipped them to AMC in Wisconsin …..I never found a file explaining that. They couldn’t even schedule overtime in Connor, the didn’t have the storage room for the parts need for over time production.

      Liked by 1 person

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