All images copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Contemporary photos by Brian Henniker.
Al Jolson was a rock star decades before rock and roll was invented. “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” was, at the height of his career, America’s best-paid performer, and thus could afford to drive any automobile on the market. In 1932, Jolson took delivery of a Dietrich convertible sedan-bodied Twin Six Packard, reportedly one of just two such cars created. Much later, this magnificent automobile would capture a Best in Class award at Pebble Beach – twice – as well as earn two 100-point scores in recent CCCA competition. On Friday, January 20, Jolson’s 1932 Packard Twin Six Individual Custom convertible sedan crosses the auction block in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the standout offerings in this year’s Gooding & Company sale.
Packard debuted the Twin Six name in 1916, with the introduction of its first 12-cylinder engine. This 424-cu.in. V-12 remained in production until 1924, when rising costs and falling demand made the company’s inline eight, introduced in 1923, the premier engine choice. By the early 1930s, however, Packard’s competitors sought bragging rights by offering V-12 and V-16 engines, prompting the automaker to rethink its position. In 1932, Packard introduced a larger and more powerful V-12, and for its first year on the market, this engine also carried the Twin Six name.
With a displacement of 445.5-cu.in., Packard’s new L-head V-12 was fed by a single Stromberg EE-3 downdraft carburetor, producing 160 brake horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque. The transmission boasted synchromesh gears on all three forward speeds, and vacuum-assisted cable-operated drum brakes provided sure stops (when properly adjusted). Both the short-wheelbase 905 series (measuring 142.5 inches axle-to-axle) and the long-wheelbase 906 series (measuring 147.5 inches axle-to-axle) used a beam front axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs and shock absorbers combined with a live rear axle, also using leaf springs and shock absorbers.
Packard Ninth Series buyers opting for the Twin Six engine and the long wheelbase chassis could choose from two standard Packard bodies (seven-passenger sedan and limousine), as well as nine Individual Custom bodies. Among these were several designed by Raymond Dietrich, including the convertible sedan that would ultimately be delivered to Jolson through dealer Earle C. Anthony Packard. As a designer, Dietrich was known for his attention to detail, and the car’s styling mirrors the vee of the grille, the headlamps and even the parking lamps in the split windshield, while the pronounced beltline is another of Dietrich’s hallmarks. With its stretched hood and long, flowing front fenders, the car is simultaneously elegant and commanding, fitting a man of Jolson’s status.
The Dietrich gets accolades at Pebble Beach in April 1963.
It isn’t clear how long the entertainer retained possession of the car, but in 1940 it was reportedly placed into storage after its then-owner experienced engine problems. At that point the Packard dropped under the radar until 1959, when it was purchased by marque enthusiast (and later, from 1975-’94, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance chief judge, American Classics) Harold Crosby. Crosby was the first to restore the car, finishing it in a two-tone blue motif instead of its original dark gray. His efforts were rewarded at Pebble Beach in 1963, when the Dietrich-bodied Packard took first in class and finished as Reserve Best in Show.
Designer Raymond Dietrich poses with the Packard during Robert Friggens’s ownership in the early 1970s.
Crosby kept the car until 1968, when it sold to Scottsdale, Arizona, dealer Leo Gephardt. A year later, it was sold to Ben Massell in Atlanta, Georgia, and in 1972 it was purchased by Albuquerque, New Mexico, collector Robert Friggens. Under his care, designer Raymond Dietrich was reunited with the car, posing for a photograph with his creation. Friggens retained possession until 2011, when the Packard crossed the block at a Michigan auction, selling for a fee-inclusive price of $1.1 million to David Kane.
Still wearing its two-tone blue finish from the early 1960s, the Packard was tired and in need of a fresh restoration. Disassembly revealed the car to be in a remarkably well-preserved state, and it also gave clues to its original exterior and interior hues. Under Kane’s stewardship, the Packard was restored to the same colors it wore from the factory in 1932, and in 2012 it made its second appearance at Pebble Beach. As was the case 49 years earlier, the car claimed a best in class ribbon at the show, and as if this performance weren’t impressive enough, the Packard later earned a pair of 100-point scores in CCCA judging.
The Dietrich-bodied Packard sold to a new owner for an undisclosed sum in 2015, and this time around Gooding & Company predicts a selling price between $1.6 million and $2.0 million.
The Scottsdale sale takes place on January 20-21 at the Scottsdale Fashion Square in Scottsdale, Arizona. For additional information, visit GoodingCo.com.