Ultra-rare Packard Twelve to be auctioned
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Only five of the 1933 Packard Twelve Individual Custom Sport Phaetons were built
It is quite possible that the name Packard no longer means a great deal to the casual car fan. And the name LeBaron most likely brings to mind a series of Chryslers from the 1980s and 1990s, when the US auto industry had decided that a customer could have any car he wanted, so long as it was ugly.
But back in the 1930's everybody knew these names, and Packard and LeBaron were as evocative of quality and style respectively as Rolls-Royce and Pininfarina are today.
The Detroit-based Packard was truly a pioneer in the luxury car market, toughing out the Great Depression and pinning its hopes on the assumption that, while things might be tough, surely not everybody was broke. This was just the time, Packard figured, to bring out a 20-ft long car with a seven-litre engine that had a special button on the dashboard to change the suspension from hard to soft on a well-heeled whim.
It turned out to be right. The Packard Twelve sold well, outstripping rivals from Duesenberg and Cadillac to give the company the biggest slice of a luxury car market that was wobbled but not knocked down in the years after the 1929 Stock Market crash.
And just to underline the fact that the years of opulent motoring were not over, some customers looked at the standard Packard Twelve and thought: “It’s good, but it’s just not quite enough for me.” It was to this end that a number of special, LeBaron-bodied versions were ordered at roughly double the price of a car that already cost about the same as a modest house.
It is believed that five examples were built of the much-hailed Twelve Individual Custom Sport Phaeton by LeBaron. Of these only four survive and are either in long-term private ownership or held by museums. So no matter how many million dollars you are prepared to pay, they are not for sale.
The car pictured here is the next best thing. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the renowned restorer Fran Roxas recreated a number of LeBaron-styled cars on original Packard Twelve chassis. This particular example he liked so much that he kept it himself for years before selling it to another collector in late 2000.
“Even the most faithful recreations will always be worth a fraction of the real McCoy,” said Jonathan Sierakowski, car specialist at RMSotheby's.
“But the Individual Custom Sport Phaeton offered at Motor City is distinguished both by its renowned builder, Fran Roxas, as well as its very correct detail – identical to an original in every way possible.”
While Packard did well in the 1930s, in the late 1940s a combination of bad management decisions, supply problems and pressure from the “big three” auto giants – GM, Ford and Chrysler – sent it into terminal decline before it was finally put out of its misery in 1958. And LeBaron became nothing more than a splash of added glamour for cars that had none.
But whatever time has done to erode or sully the names, the beauty of what these two titans produced is plain to see in one of the finest cars of that, or any, era.
The 1933 Packard Twelve Individual Custom Sport Phaeton in the style of LeBaron is lot 138 in the RM Sotheby’s Motor City sale in Michigan, USA, on Saturday July 25, 2015. Estimate $US400,000 – $US450,000.