**Updated** We have added the research and thoughts just below our post by Jim Dillion, well known Packard racing historian and writer. Jim’s Grandfather, Barney Pollard (a well know early collector) worked at Packard at the time in the experimental department along with some of these racers. Pollard passed much of what he knew about the Packard racing cars down to Jim, which along with his continued research gives us as close to the real story as possible about these cars.
The Packard Motor Company first came out the twin-six, a V-12 l-head engine in the 1916 model year after a four year run of six cylinder engines. The company had been experi-menting with airplane engines beginning in about 1914 and had turned to an ohv v-12 for more power. Engineer Jesse G. Vincent knew that it was much safer and cheaper to test their airplane engines in racing cars. The result of Vincent’s efforts are seen here where Bill Rader and his mechanic are about ready, (above) to go out onto the 2.5 mile Sheepshead Bay board track for two days of record setting.
A 905 c.i. V-12 engine was dyno-tested in July of 1917, at the factory and the test resulted in 230 h.p. An engine was then readied for insertion into this car which was then taken to Sheepshead Bay Track at Coney Island, NY.
According to the text above from the Automotive Industries, Aug. 2, 1917, the same car had been run there on the track two weeks before the records were set. Evidently they may have tested it, made some refinements and came back for the two-day record-run on July 27. Rader broke all the existing circular track records, three of which the times are given here; The quarter mile in 13.95 seconds for 129 mph, the mile in 28.76 and 125.1 mph and the ten mile run was finished in 4:50.88 for 123.7 mph.
By Jim Dillion:
There were two different July dates that the 905 was at Sheepshead (July 14 and July 27-28 of 1917). The car set a number of records for the ¼ mile, the ½ mile, the kilo, 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles 5 miles and 10 miles. DePalma was a little busy during that period trying to “tune” his new 299 Packard mount into a contender. During July he was match racing Oldfield, who was driving his new Miller creation, the Golden Sub.
Rader though was more than up to the task as his background was as a tire tester. That may sound mundane but it was anything but. As a tire tester he was on occasion required to drive the cars until the tires blew which would take some real nerve to say the least. He was quite a large fellow as can be seen in the one picture adjusting his cap (while they fill the radiator). I spoke to his son back in the eighties but there was little that his son could supply me with as to the exploits with this Packard. The riding mechanic in these shots was Fred Farber and you will notice him in a number of these early journeys with both the 905 and the 299.
The history of this car is not something that is really rock solid and theory and some storytelling ends up playing a role. The genesis and metamorphosis of the 905 from the #2 -299 Packard racer, as told by Robert Neal in his Packard book I cannot subscribe to in anyway and I do not believe this is the same car that DePalma drove at Daytona in 1919 (which Gary Doyle went into in his Gentleman Champion book on DePalma). Packard had many race cars in the experimental department and built many more, I believe. If one is to study this car there is no way that one could ever shoehorn the 905 engine between the frame rails of the 299 without serious use of a cutting torch. Also the length of the engine is very large when compared to the 299. The hood is longer and taller and the radiator is taller. The frame rivets are not even close to each other especially when you study the rear mounts for each engine. To believe they filled the empty holes left in the 299 chassis makes no sense. The 905 and 299 side shots do not compute in my estimation.
In regards to this two man car versus the one man car that DePalma drove at Daytona, Packard spoke of building a car for Daytona in late 1918 after the armistice and the cars were different from every angle. Whether they used the same 905 engine that may be the case but I am not sure that is etched in stone either. When I started drawing up a blueprint for the 299 it opened my eyes to everything one has to consider in all of the dimensions including the width of the seat and frame spacing etc. Every inch counts and making major changes be it to change from the 299 to the 905 or the 905 two man car to the 905 one man car is something that has to be studied carefully. There is little room between the rails for any excess. The two man car and one man car are quite different. I do not believe Packard was trying to cut any corners when DePalma’s life was at stake. I believe they built a new car completely and although I believe Jesse Vincent’s diary was silent as to building the car (long story but he did not keep a diary during the war years-at least not dealing with Packard), I believe the diary speaks volumes when they went to sell the car. I am not sure of the exact date without going over my notes but I believe in 1921 Vincent recalled selling the 905 for $10,000 minus engine. There is a possibility this is what morphed into the Jesse Lasky Speedster out in Hollywood. The one man 905 stayed with Packard past 1923 as the car was photographed with the 1923 racer.
I do not believe any parts from either 905 car exists. The 905 engine that is in the Smithsonian has an aero crankcase and may have been used in aero testing. To claim this was the record setting that ran at Sheepshead in 1917 or the 905 engine that ran at Daytona may require a pretty involved story. Possible I suppose. Much of the history of these early racers has gone to the wind.
Whatever the case imagine driving that car at speed. With all of that weight on the front axle it must have been a handful when and if it got out of shape. Some of those guys had real nerve.