Untruthful Vintage Ad: 1948 Packard – “These Newly-Engineered Powerplants Are Free-Breathing Engines — Born Of Packard’s War-Time Experience In Building…PT Boat And Aircraft Engines”

I should have started this”Untruthful Vintage Ad” series a long time ago, as we’ve had quite a few. But this one is so egregious that it deserves to be the official first in the series.

Don’t get me wrong: Packard’s side-valve (flathead) straight eights had some great qualities, but their basic design and configuration goes back to the early days of the 20th century, and Packard’s conservatism kept them going for as long as possible. But this ad suggests that their “free-breathing” qualities had something in common with Packard’s marine and airplane engines, and that they were “newly-engineered”. Not.

The Packard 1A-2500 V12 (2,490 CID, 850 hp) was used in a number of PT boats as well as some aircraft. It had overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder, very much unlike the flathead Packard car engines. It was the successor to the extremely successful Liberty V12 engine from the late years of WW1 (1917).

But contrary to Packard’s claims and endlessly hogging the spotlight for the Liberty, it was very much not a Packard design, whose engineering chief Jesse G. Vincent had zero experience with such exotica as OHC hemi-head multi-valve engines.

Here’s what happened: In 1917, the Aircraft Production Board summoned Vincent and Elbert J. Hall, founder and brilliant designer of the numerous OHC hemi-head Hall-Scott airplane, marine and automotive high-output engines, put them together in a suite in the Willard Hotel in Washington, and told not to come out until they had a set of drawings for a high performance airplane engine.

This happened just months after Hall Scott released its new A-8 V12 aircraft engine (above), designed specifically by Hall for combat aircraft, and capable of 450 hp. When Hall was called to Washington to be sequestered with Packard’s Vincent to design the Liberty, Hall put service to the country ahead of his personal and company’s interests, and the A-8 was essentially stillborn.

Why the A-8 was not adopted and why Packard’s Vincent was asked to join in creating a new engine is a contentious question that has never been fully answered, but politics was clearly the most obvious one. Vincent was a well-know figure and good at self-promotion, and of course Packard was at the height of their power and image. Hall was quite different; a brilliant but soft-spoken engineer who felt that his designs and products spoke most eloquently for him.


The resulting Liberty V12 design (rated at 400 hp) had most of the basic design characteristics of the H-S A-8 V12, such as the two-piece aluminum crankcase, individual steel cylinders with a brazed-on water jacket, and of course the overhead cams and “free-breathing” aluminum hemi heads. Most of the changes were for ease of mass production. That’s probably the only relevant input Vincent was able to provide, since Hall had been designing and building OHC hemi engines since 1910, and was known to have more knowledge about their “deep breathing” qualities than just about any other American engine designer.

Since Packard (and others) had the production facilities to build the Liberty in large quantities, H-S was not given any of the production contract. And Packard hogged all of the publicity, for decades to come.

And then there’s the legendary Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin, another example of Packard using someone else’s design to build a superior aircraft engine and using it to suggest there was a bit of the Merlin’s magic in their cars.

This is not to take anything away from the excellent aircraft and marine engine Packard became famous for. But none of the advanced “deep breathing”design principles of these engine ever found the slightest application in Packard’s very stodgy car engines.