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Road Tests
The articles are presented with the permission of the publishers and authors with full credits on each.

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Road Tests:

About Ed Miller

1935 Auburn

1935 Bentley

1939 Packard

CCCA Full Classics®:

Alfa Romeo


Derby Bentley


1936 Mercedes-Benz


Road Test #31: 1939 Packard One Twenty Convertible Victoria by Darrin

It’s not every day you read a Classic Lines article covering a junior Packard One Twenty. Generally, junior Packards are not recognized by the Classic Car Club of America® as Full Classics®. However, if the One Twenty happens to be clothed in a body designed by Howard “Dutch” Darrin, it is welcomed into the prestigious ranks of Full Classics. Granted, the design of the body is superb, but the mechanical innards may not merit the recognition accorded the car as a whole by the CCCA. The burning issue of this article is: should this junior Packard be recognized as a Full Classic merely because it is fitted with a stunning body designed and built by a recognized coachbuilder?

There is only one way to find out. Let’s get our hands dirty, our clothes soiled and carefully examine the vehicle. Start by opening the hood. A typically Packard green engine that looks like a slightly smaller twin to the Packard Super Eight resides low in the compartment. It appears unpretentious yet neat in appearance. Wiring, tubing, rods and cables are not hidden from sight but neatly arranged. The engine is a straight eight cylinder with a bore and stroke of 31/4" X 41/4" which, if you do the math, equals a displacement of 282.1 cubic inches. The detachable cylinder head is made of cast iron. The Packard Twelve uses aluminum which is lighter and displaces heat more efficiently but can be a bear to remove when doing engine work. Packard used tin plated autothermic aluminum pistons. Autothermic is the name for an aluminum piston in which an insert of steel or an alloy, such as tin are cast into the piston design to control expansion and con- traction of the piston skirt. Each piston weighs 167/8 ounces, making it the lightest piston offered by Packard. Shimless steel connecting rods using steel backed babbitt lined insert bearings join the pistons to the five main bearing crankshaft. To assist in canceling out engine vibration, both a Lanchester type vibration dampener and eight counterweights are affixed to the crankshaft.

By the way, the stories that Darrin bodies were not structurally sound only apply to the very first few Packard Darrins. Before our test vehicle was produced, Rudy Stoessel had perfected a reinforced cast aluminum cowl which replaced wooden cowls used in the first three Packard Darrins.

The valves are supplied by Wilcox-Rich Corporation. The intake valves are made up of chrome nickel while the exhaust valves are composed of austenitic steel, which is a form of stainless steel that is highly resistant to corrosion. The exhaust valves must operate under higher temperatures. In their manufacture, an austenitic exhaust valve is heated to between 1,600" and 1,675" Fahrenheit at which point alloys such as manganese, nickel or nitrogen are added. This unique process creates a valve capable of sustaining high temperatures. Chrome is also added for its anti-corrosive properties. The valves are actuated by a Packard manufactured camshaft which is connected to the crankshaft by a non-adjustable 1¼ inch wide Morse timing chain.

The fuel system begins with a 21 gallon capacity gasoline tank. Vacuum, created by an AC mechanical camshaft driven pump, sucks the gas forward. The raw gasoline is combined with air in a one inch dual down- draft Stromberg carburetor which is fitted with an AC oil bathed air filter.

The One Twenty has a six volt positive ground electrical system. The Auto-Lite generator is capable of putting out 30 amperes per hour cold and 26 amps hot at 3,600 RPM. This is sufficient as air conditioners, electric windows, a Bose Surround Sound System, or even a GPS were not offered by Packard in 1939. The distributor employs a single set of points. Both a centrifugal governor and vacuum advance control the advance and retard of the spark.

The sump holds 5 quarts of oil. A standard   equipment   external   Purolator   oil   filter comes with each One Twenty. A word to the wise, Packard insisted that in temperatures below -10" Fahrenheit, always use 90% 10 weight motor oil mixed with 10% kerosene. The entire system is pressurized. Normal oil pressure is 35 pounds per square inch. While the oil lubricates the engine, the cooling system helps keep things from heating up with a 16 quart coolant capacity driven by a Walker Manufacturing Co. centrifugal belt driven water pump.

There doesn’t seem to be any scrimping or cost cutting in the engine compartment. The engine was rated by the factory at 120 HP @ 3,600 RPM with a standard 6.41 to 1 compression ratio. An optional 6.85 to 1 was available which probably increased power by 2 or 3 horses. Torque is estimated at 225 ft/lbs @ 1,800 RPM.

Let’s close the hood. Your hands are full of grease. Now its time to crawl under the car and get the rest of you dirty. At the rear of the engine is the bell housing which encloses the flywheel and a 10 inch Long Manufacturing Division dry single plate clutch. By 1939, multi-plate clutches were obsolete and no automotive manufacturer used them.

A three speed transmission with synchromesh in second and third and then an optional Warner Gear overdrive unit is located just aft of the clutch. An open driveshaft connects these units to the differential. The final drive ratio is 4.36 to 1. With overdrive engaged, the    effective final drive ratio is reduced to a long legged 3.15 to 1. Sixteen inch wheels encased in 7.00 X 16 tires are the last in the line of components that transmit power from the engine to the road.

Getting to your destination quickly is only part of the entire equation of what makes a car a good car. Other essential parts are handling and comfort. It’s time to look at the suspension and other components. The One Twenty was the first Packard to employ independent front sus- pension (IFS). Called Safe-T-fleX, Packard introduced IFS in its 1935 One Twenty. The system is made up of parallel arms and coil springs. The upper arm being a double acting Delco hydraulic shock absorber. At the rear, the suspension is more conventional. Ten 54" silico-manganese Detroit Steel Products Company leaf springs are coated in grease, wrapped in canvas and encased in lightweight terneplate metal. Incidentally, terneplate is steel coated with a lead alloy containing tin and antimony. As at the front, the rear suspension uses dual acting hydraulic Delco shock absorbers plus a ride stabilizer bar to keep the bounce out of the passengers’ compartment.

Brakes are of the hydraulic internal expanding variety. Bendix Brake Company centrifuse twelve inch drums contain 182 square inches of braking surface. The hand or emergency brake acts exclusively on the rear brakes. Steering is by worm and roller. A 20.2 to 1 steering ratio plus a generous use of bearings, provide relatively light steering.

Now that your technical seminar is completed, take the keys and go for a drive. Pull down on the door handle and the door swings open smacking you smartly in the shin. The doors are very long and heavy. Next time, step an extra foot from the door to avoid further injury. Also, don’t park near tall curbs as the door will strike them. The rest of the entry is done with ease. There is plenty of room between the “A” pillar and the leading edge of the seat. The steering wheel doesn’t scrape against your beer belly. Mister Darrin had difficulty with the steering column geometry. He solved the problem by permitting the dashboard to fade away to- ward the front of the car. But this causes another problem. It is difficult to read some of the gauges. Once in, you find the seat position is very comfortable. The controls are within reach as are the pedals. It’s a cool and sunny Southern Florida day, therefore the top is down and the black leather seats are comfortable and not hot.

The engine is cold. To start, turn the ignition switch on, depress the accelerator pedal once and let it return to engage the low temperature idle control.

Depress the clutch to avoid drag. Press the starter button and the engine comes alive. A moderately fast and quiet idle greets your ears as the oil pres- sure needle starts to climb. Just like a Packard Twelve or a senior Eight, the One Twenty starts in a gentlemanly fashion. It sounds strong yet quiet and docile. There is no floor shift, rather a column shift. Clutch in, select first gear, apply slight pressure to the gas pedal and off you go.

The takeoff is smooth and easy. Soon the Darrin is doing about 13 MPH as you shift into second gear. Traveling down A1A also known as South Ocean Boulevard along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in ritzy Palm Beach, Florida, you pass one exotic car after another. But it is the Packard Darrin that seems to catch everyone’s eye.

At 25 MPH, a shift into third gear is executed. Naturally, there is no grinding or crashing of gears. This is a modern gearbox that can handle even your ham-fisted shifting. At 35 MPH, you lift your foot momentarily from the gas pedal and over- drive kicks in, dropping the engine speed by almost 30%. Many assume that a Borg Warner overdrive provides a 30% reduction. Actually, each manufacturer provided Warner with its own unique specifications. Therefore, there are small differences in the ratios used by various Warner overdrive units. But few differ markedly from 30%.

As you look forward over the incredibly long hood made so by Darrin bringing the hood backward until it almost kisses the windshield, the road looks fairly straight. Not too far ahead, a traffic light changes to red as you press your right foot down on the brake pedal. There is no pulling to one side or the other and the amount of pressure required is at most moderate.

The light changes and off you go with the sun shining on that big bald spot at the center of your skull. Next time, remember to bring a hat. Also, keep your eyes on the road and stop smiling at the two blondes who are indeed smiling back at you. Or are they smiling at the Packard Darrin? Remember, your wife may read this road test.

Turning to the west and over the bridge that leads to the mainland, you soon encounter a twisting four lane road. There is little play in the steering which reacts instantly to your input. Another light turns red and this time you need to act fast. You stop straight and in time. However, it is estimated that the Darrin weighs in at a relatively portly 3,800 pounds. The total braking surface covers 182 square inches for a ratio of 20.88 pounds for every 1 inch of braking area. This is adequate but the Darrin weighs more than a typical One Twenty. Also overdrive encourages one to drive fast; possibly faster than the brakes can handle.

Turning around, you discover the Darrin has a turning circle of about 42 feet. Off you go down the road in quiet elegance. The Packard Darrin, with a weight to power ratio of 31.67 to 1, should be able to accelerate 0 to 60 MPH in approximately 18.5 seconds. Expect to top out at about 90 MPH. This is about equal to the lightest and fastest Packard Twelve. However, the Darrin, when equipped with overdrive, can cruise all day at any legal speed and then some.

Pulling into the parking space to return the Packard Darrin to owner Dan Hanlon, you reluctantly surrender the keys while pondering what this same Darrin would do if it had the next year’s Super Eight 356 cubic inch engine that packs another forty horsepower. The answer to that question will have to wait for another day. Interim, this is a well mannered motor car that can keep up with the best, whether that be another Classic or modern car. It is more than just another pretty face and it is Full Classic in each and every way. See you down the road.


Engine: In-line 8L
Bore and stroke: 3 1/4" X 4 1/4"
Displacement: 282 cubic inches
Compression ratio: 6.41:1, 6.85:1 optional
Horsepower: 120 @ 3,800 RPM
Torque: 225 ft/lbs @ 1,800 RPM
Fuel system: mechanical pump
Carburetion: 1" dual downdraft Stromberg
Electrical system: 6-volt, positive ground
Clutch: 10" Long dry single plate
Transmission: 3 speed, synchro 2nd & 3rd
Rear end ratio: 4.36:1
Over drive ratio: 3.15:1
Steering: worm and roller
Brakes: 12" hydraulic, internal expanding
Brake area: 182 square inches
Front: IFS, dual acting hydraulic shocks
Rear: 54" leaf springs, dual acting hydraulic shocks
Fuel tank capacity: 21 gallons
Wheelbase: 127"
Weight (est.): 3,800 lbs.

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