Behind Packard's carefully crafted facade of restrained, responsible respectability there lurked a hint of the devil. It was personified in Colonel Jesse Vincent, Packard's Vice President of Engineering. Col. Vincent, who earned his military rank through his contributions to WWI, liked speed. He flew his own airplanes, pursued aircraft engine development with enthusiasm and was known to take Packard-engined speedboats onto the Detroit River in competition with boat racing aces of the day like Gar Wood. And he beat them at their own game.
It was at Col. Vincent's urging that Packard built its banked oval 2 ½ mile test track. It was the fastest closed course in the world - even faster than Indianapolis - and retained that distinction until after World War II. Col. Vincent constructed his own Speedster, a cutdown two seater on the 443 chassis, which he drove for years. When Charles Lindbergh visited Packard in 1928 to evaluate its world-leading diesel radial aircraft engine technology, he was offered the driver's seat of the Vincent Speedster and lapped the Packard track at 109 miles per hour in it. It was rumored that Col. Vincent regularly lapped at over 120mph in the same car.

The Speedster concept was not new, or even new to Packard. Tired touring cars and sedans all over America (and the world) had for years been rebodied by second and third owners into speed cars with lightweight bodies offering minimal - if any - weather protection to extract maximum performance from their engines. Mercer and Stutz had made their reputations with the Raceabout and Bearcat, factory-built speedsters.

There was a horsepower race at the end of the 20th Century's third decade. In a sense Duesenberg had already won it, but with a chassis price a thousand dollars more than the most expensive fully bodied and trimmed Packard limousine, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Cadillac set off a parallel race in cylinder count with its 1929 announcement of impending V12 and V16 engines. Packard kept extracting more power from its straight eight, leading its competitors in the power of its mainstream production cars. More than gin and jazz were powering the Roaring Twenties.

The first Packard Speedsters were introduced in 1929s Sixth Series as the 626. Powered by a high performance version of the 385 cubic inch Custom Eight engine and built on the short wheelbase 126 ½ inch chassis, Packard cataloged three body styles: Phaeton, Roadster and Sedan. Records indicate that 70 were built but today only one is known to survive suggesting that there was a major gap between perception and reality which mirrored the chasm between Packard's established luxury market and the high performance, lightweight, spartan Speedster concept.

The Packard 734 Speedster is almost equal to the 626 Speedster as an enigma in Packard history. Part of the Seventh Series, it wasn't introduced until January 1930, five months after the formal introduction of the Seventh Series on August 20, 1929 and three months after Black Tuesday. Perhaps understandably in the exigent circumstances following the Crash, it was never promoted. Only a solitary, eight page, black & white brochure was produced. It was rarely shown at salons and received little attention from Packard's press department.

The 734 Speedster, however, was recognized early on by owners who appreciated its combination of performance and style. Quickly identified as exceptional examples from an exceptional marque, the Packard 734 Speedsters have been preserved since the late Forties, when they were barely fifteen years old. A registry of known examples was created by Smith Hempstone Oliver in the mid-Fifties.

As a measure of the Packard 734 Speedster's stature it is instructive to think of today's Hemi 'Cuda mania. It didn't begin to register on collectors' radar until the mid-Nineties when 'Cudas were twenty years old and 'car collecting' had already been through one boom-and-bust cycle. In 1958 when Smith Hempstone Oliver's first 734 Speedster registry was published in The Bulb Horn, the first collector car auction was still nearly a decade in the future.

The innate appeal of the Packard 734 Speedster arises from its specifications. The chassis employed boxed 733 Standard Eight side rails in the 134 ½ inch wheelbase with 733 cross-members. The engines were massaged with two-barrel Detroit Lubricator carburetors, finned manifolds and, optional at no extra cost, a 6:1 compression ratio cylinder head to deliver 145 horsepower. Quite out of character for the time, Packard also equipped the Speedster with special finned, forged iron brake drums, cable-operated at the front and rod-operated at the rear. The braking surface was 2 inches wide, with three-leading shoe linings. They were virtually devoid of fade in the most demanding high speed use. 19 inch wire wheels with 6.50 profile tires were fitted. The 734 Speedster's power, torque and lightweight coachwork gave Packard the opportunity to equip it with high-speed 4.11 or 4.27:1 rear axles giving it 60mph performance in second gear (first is best described as a 'stump puller' provided by Packard for smooth getaway on steep grades with a fully-occupied limousine body). The 734 Speedsters achieved road speeds in excess of 100mph in top gear.

One of the great appeals of the Packard 734 Speedsters is that they will today lope along with modern freeway and interstate traffic and do it in relaxed, unstressed style - ready to downshift and accelerate to highly illegal speeds to the amazement of drivers of their latter-day successors. Well-tuned examples have been known to get 18-19 miles per gallon in the process. Col. Jesse Vincent knew the business of performance.

The inherent performance of the Packard 734 Speedsters' chassis and engine was wrapped in unique coachwork, the crowning touch in Packard's brief flirtation with Jazz Age style. The Speedsters were offered in Boattail Runabout, Phaeton, Victoria, Sedan and, late in the series, Roadster versions. Speedster bodies were built in Packard's own coachworks, sectioning and narrowing standard bodies to fit the Speedster designs created by LeBaron veterans Raymond Dietrich, Werner Gubitz and Ray Birge. Far from the minimalist speedsters which preceded them, they were fully trimmed and outfitted but far lighter than their production counterparts. The passenger compartment was set back on the chassis, creating a long hood/short deck layout that emphasized the Speedster's performance and the emerging recognition of the importance of aerodynamics and small frontal areas in high speed performance.
The end product is as attractive and emblematic of its performance potential as the best contemporary designs by Touring and Zagato on Alfa Romeo chassis.

Only 118 Packard 734 Speedsters are believed to have been built. The rumble seat Roadster offered here is believed to be the last of the series and is an example of the lowest production body style of which only seven are believed to have been built. Only two Packard 734 Speedster Roadsters are known to survive out of the twenty-seven known surviving Packard 734 Speedsters. This example, acquired by its present gentleman owner in 1971, was known as the 'Lewellen Speedster' as it had been previously owned by Wes Lewellen, who at one time owned three 734 Speedsters and had acquired this Roadster, the first of his 734s, in 1946.

The roster of past and present Packard 734 Speedster owners is synonymous with the history of classic car collecting: Rick Carroll, Otis Chandler, the CCCA Museum, Julian Eccles, Leo Gephart, Bill Harrah, Tom and Bea Holfelder, George Jepson , Ed Jurist, Fred Kanter, Thomas Kerr, Knox Kershaw, Mills B. Lane, Bill Lassiter, General William Lyon, Jerry Moore, Ralph Morano, Glenn Mounger, John Mozart, J.B. Nethercutt, D. Cameron Peck, Donald Peterson, Ray Scherr, Don Sears, Ralph Stein, Harry Van Iderstine and many others.

Catalogers frequently describe cars as 'lavishly equipped' but this Packard 734 is not. Its wire wheels are black, it has a single rear-mounted spare tire and there are no Pilot-Ray road lamps, sidemounted spares or even wind wings. True to its spirit, it is streamlined, spartan and sparse, a stripped-down Speedster from the end of the Jazz Age. It leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Its appearance says nothing but 'performance.' An older restoration, it is not immediately ready for 'The Lawn' at Pebble Beach, but this 1930 Packard 734 Speedster Roadster needs absolutely nothing to be driven, enjoyed and shown with pride and distinction wherever enthusiasts who appreciate style and performance gather.

Source - Christies Auction
It is believed that just under 120 examples of the Packard 734 were constructed with as many as 26 surviving in modern times. The Packard 734 was constructed by the company to be a high performance vehicle with stylish bodies, low weight, and high top speeds. Inside of these small vehicles (small for the day) was Packard's largest engine, a 384 cubic-inch super eight with Detroit Lubricator 2 barrel updraft carburetors. There was a vacuum driven booster to keep fuel regulated to the engine while the vehicle was traveling at high speeds.

The bodies of these vehicles were much narrower than the other production Packards. This practice aided in the reduction of overall weight and helped the vehicle to achieve a 3.31:1 gear ratio. To help keep the vehicle in the driver's control, finned cast iron drum brakes were used. Standard Packards were un-finned.

The side mounted spare tires were placed in front of the passenger compartment.

Famous coachbuilders were given the opportunity to create custom bodies to suite the clients specific needs and desires.


By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2007

Vehicle Profiles

Runabout

Engine Num: 194005

By 1930 the 734 Speedster Series was a full line of cars. The specially designed short, narrow, and lower bodies were built in Packard's own new custom body shop located right on the plant site on East Grand Boulevard. These specially built Speedst....[continue reading]

Runabout

Packard produced 113 to 118 Speedster Eights with models consisting of boat-tail 2-passenger roadsters, 5-passenger sedans, 4-passenger phaetons, 5-passenger Victoria coupes, and the 2 and 4-passenger roadsters. They were all fitted on 134-inch wheel....[continue reading]

Runabout

The Packard 734 was never advertised or promoted by the company. Only a few knew of this option and as a result, only a few were ever created. The cars had high performance characteristics and matching stylish appeal. ....[continue reading]

Runabout

Packard was the leading luxury marque at the start of the Classic era and in 1930 sold 28,318 cars, priced from $2,375 to $5,350. Packard was one of the oldest car companies in America, with the first Packard built in 1899. The company began life as ....[continue reading]

Runabout

Chassis Num: 186334
Engine Num: 184881

This 1930 Packard 734 Speedster was offered for sale at the 2007 RM Auctions held at Meadow Brook. The car was estimated to fetch between $125,000 - $175,000 and was without a reserve. It spent time in Switzerland during the early 1990s and its eng....[continue reading]

Speedster Phaeton

For 1930, Packard introduced a line of high performance models that used its largest engine, complete with several unique performance modifications, coupled with a short chassis and lightweight coachwork. The result was a car offering lively perform....[continue reading]

Speedster Runabout

Packard's 1930-only Speedster series offered five models including this boattail speedster. The platform measured 134.5 inch platform and fitted with special features such as a ribbed exhaust manifold, a dual-throat Detroit Lubricator carburetor that....[continue reading]

Speedster Runabout

Chassis Num: 184089

The Packard 734 was available in five different body styles with total production reaching 113 examples for all body styles. This boattail runabout speedster was delivered new to a Mrs. Sealey from Portland, Oregon. It was acquired by William Harrah ....[continue reading]

Speedster Phaeton

Using what Packard had in current production by modifying the Packard standard Eight chassis and coupling it with a reworked Deluxe Eight engine, the Packard 734 Speedster was born. The custom built bodies were narrower and lower than typical, and wi....[continue reading]

Speedster Runabout

As near to a sports car to ever bear the Packard name the 7th Series Speedster Runabout was set on a short 134-inch wheelbase and powered by a highly modified 385 cubic-inch straight eight engine allowing the Speedsters to exceed 100 mph. Distinctive....[continue reading]

Speedster Phaeton

Chassis Num: 184065
Engine Num: 184072

The Packard 734 Series was the brainchild of Colonel Jesse Vincent, Packard's Vice President of Engineering. Introduced during the midst of an escalating horsepower race, the Packard 734 Speedster was the prototypical factory 'hot rod.' They were an ....[continue reading]

Speedster Runabout

Chassis Num: 184012
Engine Num: 184015
Vin Num: Vehicle #: 184029

Packard introduced the 734 Speedster series in January of 1930, a full five months after the public introduction of Packard's Seventh Series models on August 20th of 1929. This series was the work of Colonel Jesse Vincent who had a special speedster ....[continue reading]

Speedster Runabout

Between June 6th and July 9th of 1995, this 1930 Packard Model 734 boat-tail speedster was driven 9,638 miles through all 48 contiguous states. The car is powered by a 385 cubic-inch, straight 8 engine offering 145 horsepower. It has a wheelbase that....[continue reading]

Runabout

This 1930 Packard Speedster Boattail Runabout was once part of the famous Harrah Collection and is one of a very few of this body style known to exist. It is believed that this model was produced in response to the Cadillac Sixteens.....[continue reading]

Speedster Phaeton

The Packard 734 Speedster was one of the first cars built in series by using the muscle car recipe, long before the term was born: a lightweight body mounted to the company's shortest chassis and fitted with a modified version of its biggest engine. ....[continue reading]

Speedster Phaeton

The 1930 Packard Speedster Eight model, powered by Packard's traditional straight-eight engine, was offered in several magnificent body styles. Its Speedster name wasn't linked to its body style, but rather the high-performance nature of its chassis ....[continue reading]

Runabout

Chassis Num: 184100
Engine Num: 184106

The Packard 734 Speedster was the brainchild of Col. Jesse Vincent, Packard's vice president of engineering. In similar fashion to Hot Rods that would follow, the 734 rested on a shortened and narrowed chassis and was equipped with 19-inch wheels, a ....[continue reading]

Runabout

Packard was produced from 1899 to 1958. It was known for superb engineering and craftsmanship. Between 1924 and 1930, Packard was also the top-selling luxury brand in the world.....[continue reading]

Runabout
 
Runabout
 
Runabout
 
Runabout
 
Runabout
Chassis #: 186334 
Speedster Phaeton
 
Speedster Runabout
 
Speedster Runabout
Chassis #: 184089 
Speedster Phaeton
 
Speedster Runabout
 
Speedster Phaeton
Chassis #: 184065 
Speedster Runabout
Chassis #: 184012 
Speedster Runabout
 
Runabout
 
Speedster Phaeton
 
Speedster Phaeton
 
Runabout
Chassis #: 184100 
Runabout
 

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