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The 1903 Packard Grey Wolf “Voiture Legere”

By: Leigh Dorrington

The Packard Grey Wolf was the first Packard racing car, from a venerable company not well known for its early racing pursuits.  The Grey Wolf was designed and built by engineer Charles Schmidt who was hired by Packard in 1902, and who had previously worked for the early French automaker Mors.

The Grey Wolf was constructed in 1903 based on the first design Schmidt created for Packard, the Model K.  The bore of the inline 4-cylinder Model K engine was increased slightly to provide 275.6 cu. in. and 25 hp at 1,000 rpm for the racer, which was originally known as the ‘K Special’.  The engine and transmission—originally 4-speeds, with two gears removed to save weight—were placed in a special lightweight wedge-shaped frame with a 92” wheelbase.  A single half-elliptical spring was mounted transversely above the straight front axle, in the same fashion as the Model K.  Four-inch pneumatic tires were mounted on 34” wire spoke wheels.  Weight was listed as 1,310 pounds.

The Grey Wolf (above) without the louvers on the side and looking unpainted in a photo possibly staged on the factory floor. Photo courtesy of Leigh Dorrington.

The low racer was bodied with a minimal, aerodynamic aluminum body finished in light grey, giving rise to the name “Grey Wolf”.  Schmidt himself drove the Grey Wolf in 1903 races at Cleveland, Providence and the Empire City track in New York.  The car also appeared at Detroit against the Ford 999 and the Winton Bullet driven by Barney Oldfield, again at Empire City with Schmidt, and at Brighton Beach, Long Island in the final race of the 1903 season.  Bicycle racer Albert Champion drove the car at Brighton Beach and was injured in a subsequent accident seen in the last thumbnail (just below).

The Grey Wolf’s light weight and aerodynamic shape were best suited for record setting.  Schmidt drove the racer to a series of world speed records at Ormond-Daytona Beach, Florida on January 1-3, 1904, including 1-kilometer, 1-mile and 5-mile records.  Schmidt’s best speed on the Grey Wolf for one mile was 46.4 seconds (77.58 mph).

The Grey Wolf was modified prior to the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island in October, where Schmidt drove the car to a 4th place finish against much larger com-petition.  Like many early racing cars, there are gaps in the Grey Wolf’s history.  A recreation of the racer was constructed by B. J. Pollard utilizing the original motor and parts of the frame, and is now part of the collection of America’s Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

A fine, second recreation of the Grey Wolf was also constructed by Ted Davis some years later, reportedly utilizing original Packard plans.  This car was displayed together with the earlier Grey Wolf at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2008.

Photos from the Rod Blood Collection courtesy of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum.

Historical note: Packard used both spellings—Grey Wolf and Gray Wolf—in period advertising and promotion.  More recent histories have used Gray Wolf.  We acknowledge the early Packard spelling of Grey Wolf.

3 responses to “The 1903 Packard Grey Wolf “Voiture Legere”

  1. I (with plenty of help) tried to get it to get the Packard Museum’s to run back in 2009 – I think it suffered from oil soaked wiring. The sprocket for the handcrank was broken on the crankshaft so we made another for it. After a couple of hours of prep time we got it to make one “puff” attempt in trying to start it. The group that got it to run for Ormond Beach at Speed Week in the early 2000’s are all surgeons and they are all more than timid about cranking it and fear of kickback. If ever some volunteers want to try their hand at it again ……

    We took the the Packard Museum’s out to Ault Park Concours in 2009 as a static display.

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