The one phrase I believe described it is "The Look", for me it had the look I was seeking. I agree with what you said. I bought 120 by the brick and used it up quickly. All my prints for my first degree at the University were made using Panatomic-X. I tried Orwo, Efke, Afox, Agfa, all of the Kodak films and Agfa films but settled on that one.
I taught myself the Zone System through the Ansel Adams series and Fred Picker. My camera didn't have a built in light meter so I was forced to learn and use a "system". It was all T&T, no DBI. With one film and developer along with a consistent technique you start to understand how Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others could shoot without a meter if they were forced to or wanted to. You do something long enough that it becomes second nature. With developing film muscle memory becomes a major asset.