1938 Packard Super Eight fire engine. Photos by Mike Maez, courtesy Gooding & Company.
By 1938, Packard had been out of the truck manufacturing business for 15 years, but a brief collaboration with the General Fire Truck Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, saw Packard supply four 1937-’38 chassis for conversion into fire trucks. Reportedly, just one was built on the Super Eight platform, and next month the claimed-only 1938 Packard Super Eight fire engine, constructed by General Fire Truck and with a documented three-owner history, heads to auction in the Gooding & Company tent at Pebble Beach.
General Fire Truck Corporation began as the General Manufacturing Company in St. Louis, Missouri, founded in 1905. In the early years, its production centered on hoses and industrial belts, often used to power machine tools for manufacturing applications. Later, it expanded into the manufacturing of fire extinguishers, and as demand for leather belting declined, General devoted more of its production to chemical extinguishers and fire-fighting equipment. By the time the manufacturer moved to a larger St. Louis location in 1926, the bulk of its business was the production of motorized fire apparatus, prompting a name change to the General Fire Truck Corporation to reflect this.
In 1927, General Fire Truck Corporation collaborated with another luxury automobile manufacturer, Pierce-Arrow of Buffalo, New York. Pierce-Arrow supplied its Model Z bus chassis, which proved to be a suitable platform from which to build fire trucks and fire engines, the latter equipped with rotary gear pumps from Northern. Studebaker supplied bus chassis and “Big Six” engines as well, and General fire trucks soon developed a reputation for quality and performance. During this period, General trucks were distinguished by a polished aluminum cowl and an eagle-topped alarm bell, carried in a nickel-plated mount.
In 1936, General relocated from St. Louis to Detroit, Michigan, where trucks were built upon commercial chassis from a variety of manufacturers, including Chevrolet, GMC, Ford, Dodge, Diamond-T, International, and Reo. Somewhere along the line the firm engaged in dialogue with Packard as well, but just four General trucks, all pumpers, were built using Packard automobile front-end bodywork, including this Super Eight.
From the dashboard forward, the truck is essentially a Packard Super Eight, while the remainder of the body, and the 20-inch wheels, come from General. The open cab was a favored design of the period, allowing easier and more expedient egress by fire crews. Under the hood rests a 320-cu.in. L-head Packard inline-eight engine, fed by a single Stromberg carburetor and rated at 130 horsepower. While Packard Super Eight automobiles were equipped with a three-speed manual transmission, a seven-speed Saginaw transmission was used for this heavy-duty application. Up front, the truck rides on an independent suspension with coil springs, while the rear uses a semi-floating axle and leaf springs, both ends using hydraulic shock absorbers.
This Packard-General was delivered new to the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1938, and it remained in service until 1954, when it was purchased by the city of Fall Creek. It stayed with this department until 1999, when it was purchased by the consignor, who initiated a restoration that included an engine rebuild, fresh paint, new chrome, and graphics that pay tribute to the pumper’s service with both municipalities. In its six-plus decades of service (and 18 years of civilian life), the rig has accumulated less than 9,000 total miles, and is being offered complete with a variety of period-correct fire-fighting accessories.
Gooding & Company predicts a selling price between $250,000 and $350,000 when this unique bit of Packard history and fire-fighting history crosses the block in California. For additional details on the Pebble Beach sale, visit GoodingCo.com.