Engineering Vs. History

For me, the first passage from Packard: A History of the Motor Car and The Company is not as interesting as the second passage.


“The new shock absorbers, replacing the Watson Stabilators, were Packard designed–and unsuccessful. The body of the shock absorber was mounted on the axle adding to the unsprung weight. It was of the rotating vane type, double-acting with a device giving more resistance on the rebound…”


“And there were other signs. Buick had laid an egg for 1929 with a car which earned the sobriquet ‘pregnant Buick,’ at a time when that adjective was not usually heard in polite circles. It was greatly altered for 1930–and for ’31 Buick abandoned its six-cylinder engine to go to a straight eight, the first in the GM family. Buick would now be breathing down Packard’s neck. By 1931, with the Depression growing deeper, and the market still going down in spurts, Packard felt the competition keenly. In 1930 Packard produced 28,386 cars, in ’31 only 12,922.”


The two passages are not even ten pages apart in the 800+ page book.

I have a great affinity for science and I appreciate engineering advances, but many technical details of automobiles don’t interest me anywhere near as much as overall market trends. I think regular readers know that I don’t delve too deeply into engine or transmission design, but rather talk about exterior design, engine output and sales figures.

Let me quickly add that my lack of interest in many engineering details does NOT mean I think they are unimportant. Some people define everything they don’t care about or don’t understand as being unimportant and yet still think they understand everything that is important. To me, that is the definition of ignorance.

Since I am sort of talking about Depression-era Packards, let me show a picture of one.


See the source image


From Mecum Auctions a picture of a 1931 Packard Eight Coupe offered at their Kissimmee auction in 2017. I don’t know if this is a Standard Eight or Custom Eight or DeLuxe Eight, I hope some Packard aficionados reading this can tell me, but the Standard Eight 901 model was Packard’s most popular for 1931 with production of 3,554 units, or about 27% of total Packard production for that year.

How about you? What interests you most about automobiles? I have to admit that a blanket answer of “Everything” rings hollow to me.






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8 thoughts on “Engineering Vs. History

  1. One of my favorite shows on television is on the Smithsonian Channel, Aerial America. This mornings show featured Michigan and I’ve seen it before, of course. They showed the Packard plant which still stands (mostly) although it’s been long abandoned. Packard closed down in 1956 according to the show but 1958 according to Wikipedia. 3.5 million square feet, opened in 1903, first use of reinforced concrete. During World War II, Packard, under contract with Rolls-Royce, built the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines there that powered P-51 Mustang fighter planes, one of which my uncle was KIA in. Interesting stuff, at least to me…

    As far as what interests me most about cars, I really don’t know I just like cars but definitely some types more than others. I don’t wrench on them or know a whole lot about engines and mechanical things. I just love a beautiful car… The form and the function excite me.


    1. Thanks for sharing, Carl.

      The last Detroit-built “real” Packards were built in 1956. Badge-engineered Studebakers labeled as Packards and built in South Bend, Indiana were manufactured until 1958.


  2. Having a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a true hot rod NUT, I generally lean towards the technical side of automobiles. However, the design side of the bodies also appeals to me as does the business side of the business as if you can’t sell the car to the customer there is no reason to build it other than to race the thing. And you can’t have enough money to race without selling enough of them to generate a profit.

    With regards to Packard, not only did they build the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines they also built their own V-12 marine engines which were used to power the U. S. Navy PT boats of which President John Kennedy commanded PT-109. These were gasoline fueled engines which required aviation high-octane fuel which was sometimes difficult to procure. The German equivalent E-Boats were powered by high-speed diesels which may have been a better choice for our PT boats, however there were no U. S. manufacturers of such engines.


  3. I guess my main interest has been in the greasy parts; what is it for?, how does it work?, things like that. Over the years I’ve probably built over 50 engines (car, motorcycle or truck) and have also paid others to build a specific engine because of their expertise on a particular engine.

    A close second would be the “look” of the car. What, if anything, would improve it? Can I make it look better? Sometimes my effort to improve the looks, beyond paint, were less than successful and removed before the paint was applied (IMSA style box flares on a Datsun LB110, aka 1200).

    I still like to tinker, but am slowing up as I age. I try to pass on what I’ve learned and help younger guys get “up to speed” on what I’ve learned. Somebody has to carry the torch along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very much appreciate your sharing your insights with us, sir.

      For me, if the car doesn’t appeal to me visually then I don’t really care about the mechanics. Of course, if the car looks good AND runs well then that’s the winning combo, in my opinion.


  4. My mom said that as a kid I talked a lot about the ‘face’ of a car. Deeply hooded headlights made for ‘frowns’, chromy grills and bumpers that turned up at the ends were ‘smiles’. I guess that means I was first attracted to design.
    My dad is a mechanic, but I always fell somewhere in between that and not really being much of a mechanic. He and I did things like replace the clutch in my Mustang, and I did a lot of disassembly on the Mustang when I had plans to restore it. Mostly though I confine myself to things like oil changes and brake jobs, minor replacement stuff.
    I guess I run the gamut. Anyone who reads my blog knows I enjoy reading about cars, from company histories, biographies of people in the car business, to design and mechanical/engineering type stuff. I enjoy looking at design progressions, noticing the changes from year to year on a model. Some of the esoteric facts appeal to me… production numbers, option codes, stuff like that… though as I get older I’m not as fervent as I used to be for that kind of information.


    1. Many thanks for sharing your history with cars.

      Although I used to change the oil and lube the fittings on my first car—a 1967 GTO, my father was also a mechanic and ran an Amoco station—my interest has always been more in design, engine output and market evolution.

      When I was in college I used to dream of starting my own car company. I would “make up” specs and write ad copy. As I lack any artistic talent I didn’t draw any cars. I am getting a little misty-eyed thinking of my younger days when almost anything seemed possible. Youth IS really wasted on the young.


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