Tag Archives: Studebaker Corporation

Studebaker Indianapolis Race Cars

Prior to the start of the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile race, in view of the entirely unexpected effects of the economic depression and in an effort to rekindle the interest of automobile manufacturers in racing, Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker announced a revolutionary change in specifications.

All entrants would be required to carry riding mechanics and engines of up to 366-cubic-inch displacement would be eligible. A minimum weight of 1,750 pounds of 7.5 pounds per cubic inch of piston displacement (whichever figure was larger) would be enforced. As an added inducement for entry of cars with semi-stock engines, the number of starting positions would be increased from 33 to 40. These new specifications were known as the “Semi-Stock Formula.”

1932 Studebaker Specials
1932 Studebaker Specials
Photo Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1932, Studebaker Corporation, one the oldest manufacturers of highway vehicles in the world, entered five cars in the race. The entries from left to right in the photo are Tony Gulotta in # 25, Cliff Bergere in #22, Zeke Miller in #37, Luther Johnson in #46, and Peter Kreis in #18.

The performance of these entries was of great interest with Cliff Bergere making the best semi-stock showing by driving his Studebaker-built entry to third place behind a pair of “all-out” racers. Miller finished in sixth place and Gulotta drove to 13th place. Kreis and Johnson drove the remaining Studebakers to 15th place and 16th place, respectively.

The excellent showing of these semi-stock racers caught the attention of the racing world. New entrants began discussing the merits of these racers costing in the neighborhood of $3,500 and compared with the special racing creations priced at $10,000 and up. When replacement parts were considered for the semi-stock racers, they were substantially less expensive. This was another bonus.

In September 1932, a joint meeting of Indianapolis Motor Speedway officers, Detroit factory engineers, and racing officials discussed changes to the semi-stock formula. Delmar “Barney” Roos, Studebaker chief engineer, urged that gasoline and oil consumption be limited in future races. Semi-stock formula changes included a minimum weight of 1,950 pounds, 7.0 pounds per cubic inch of piston displacement, a 15.0 gallon fuel tank capacity, and a limit of 6.0 gallons of lubricating oil for the entire race.

1933 Studebaker Specials
1933 Studebaker Specials

For the 1933 Indianapolis race, Studebaker entered five new streamlined entries from left to right in the photo are L. L. Corum and his mechanic Jimmy Louden in #47, Luther Johnson and his mechanic W. T. Tucker in #46, Tony Gulotta and his mechanic Carl Riscignio in #34, Zeke Miller and his mechanic Walter Mitchell in #9, and Cliff Bergere and his mechanic Vern Lake in #6.

Again, the Studebaker Specials made an outstanding showing for the semi-stock entries with all of their entries running at the finish. Tony Gulotta finished seventh, Zeke Miller finished ninth, Luther Johnson finished tenth, Cliff Bergere finished 11th, and L. L. Corum finished 12th.

It is interesting how Studebaker Corporation undertook the challenge of creating two five-car racing teams during the depths of the depression. No other auto manufacturer fared so well in the challenge of the greatest spectacle in racing at the time.

I salute the efforts of the Studebaker Corporation personnel in creating these automobiles during these troubling times.

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Studebaker Centennial in 1952

Studebaker Corporation, the oldest manufacturer of highway vehicles in the world, starting with horse-drawn carriages, celebrated its centennial year on February 16, 1952. Fifty years prior Studebaker marketed its first motor vehicle, an Electric Runabout. The company announced that it was “simple in construction, safe, easy to operate, free from vibration and noise” and that “friction and resistance had been reduced to a minimum.”

At the centennial dinner, Paul G. Hoffman, former Studebaker president and chairman of the board, remarked “Back in the horse-drawn days, one slogan of the company was ‘The Sun Never Sets on a Studebaker.’ Since it went into the automobile business, the slogan has become a reality.”

The Centennial Commemorative Medallion
Centennial Commemorative Medallion

Studebaker was honored in numerous ways during the year. The most notable of these was a 1952 Studebaker Commander V8 convertible selected as the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race on May 30, 1952. Studebaker Vice-President, P. O. Peterson drove the car to pace the race. The Studebaker Commander V8 and Champion Starliner Coupe were the newest additions to the lineup.

Not only that, but a pageant depicting the 100-year history of the company was presented to spectators on race morning, including everything from covered wagons, an array of historical Studebaker vehicles, and a Studebaker produced turbo-fan jet engine for the B-47 bomber.

P. O. Peterson with the Studebaker pace car
P. O. Peterson with Studebaker pace car
Photo Courtesy of Studebaker National Museum

Floyd Clymer, publisher of Automobile Topics, commented on the centennial: “To be sure, the road across those 100 years has not been entirely carpeted with velvet. Studebaker was hit with the full impact of the national depression in the 30’s, but through the will and enthusiasm of a few hardy men, and the building of quality products, Studebaker weathered the storm and emerged stronger than ever. Today it is in a strong financial position.

These centennial celebrations were during the days of America’s post-war recovery. In late 1963, Studebaker stopped production in South Bend, IN, and moved operations to Hamilton, ON, Canada, which ceased production in March 1966.

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Studebaker Styling Innovation

For the second time since World War II, the Studebaker Corporation offered styling innovation for 1953. Leading this line-up was the Raymond Loewy designed Commander Starliner hardtop coupe. This design garnered the corporation many accolades.

Loewy with 53 Studebaker
Raymond Lowey with 1953 Studebaker
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

Loewy’s European influenced design made use of horizontal lines to achieve new contours. One concave feature flowed back from the edge of the headlight along the side to a back angle rake near the edge of the door. The low, sweeping lines of the hood and trunk and the fin-type rear fenders added to the unusually low silhouette of the car. The five-passenger coupe was believed to be lower in overall height than any other American-built automobile.

Two low-profile grille openings located above the bumper extended the full width of the car. Each of the grilles has a horizontal bar with parking and directional signal lights at the outside end. Other styling features included push-button door handles, one-piece curved windshields, and one-piece, wrap-around rear windows.

53 Studebaker dash
1953 Studebaker dash
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

This styling influence extended to the interior. The Studebaker’s hooded instrument dials and recessed toggle switches set a new trend in instrument panel design. Lighting was designed to give adequate visibility without disturbing glare. The angle of the steering wheel was situated to give a sport car feel.

The front bench seat was an offset design with the driver’s section somewhat narrower than the passenger section. This resulted in a larger entryway into the rear seat for passengers entering from the right-hand side of the car and greater comfort for the middle passenger when three are riding in front. The rear seat area featured two seats divided in the middle with a fold-out arm rest.

At the end of 1953 model year production, coupes accounted for 80 percent of production. Vestiges of this coupe’s styling stayed in the Studebaker production in various offerings through the 1964 model year. This low-slung compact design was also popular for adaptation into streamline land-speed racer designs.

1957 Studebaker Hawk
1957 Studebaker Hawk
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

This Studebaker styling innovation still looks timeless today. The 1953 Commander Starliner hardtop coupe was one of five designs that Lowey’s design consultancy produced for Studebaker from 1939 through 1963.

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Studebaker Arboreal Sign planted in the late 1930s

The Studebaker Arboreal Sign in Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlislie, Indiana was planted in the late 1930s. The living tree landmark sign, especially visible from the air, spells out “Studebaker” in red and white pine trees standing over 60 feet tall.

Studebaker Arboreal Sign
Studebaker Arboreal Sign
Photo courtesy of St. Joseph County Parks

The landmark, created with over 8,000 6-inch red and white pine seedlings in 1938, spells out the word “Studebaker” from the air. The sign is about a half-mile long. In those days, the land was the Studebaker automobile company’s vehicle proving grounds. The sign was created as a salute to the growing aviation industry.

Studebaker was the first American car company to establish its own proving grounds in 1926, on a plot of land just west of South Bend. When Studebaker exited the car business in the mid-1960s, it sold the proving grounds to Bendix, which later split off 190 acres of the grounds – including the arboreal sign and the former Studebaker clubhouse – and donated that land to the county to create Bendix Woods County Park. Bendix has since sold the adjoining proving grounds and three-mile test track to Bosch.

The former clubhouse still stands and is used as a nature center. The arboreal sign and clubhouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Studebaker tree sign earned a place in the 1987 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest living advertising sign. In addition to the Great Wall of China, the Studebaker living tree sign can be seen from space.

So, the next time you are flying over northern Indiana, check out the Studebaker arboreal sign just west of South Bend.

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My links to early Indiana automobiles

While traveling on the Lincoln Highway just west of South Bend, Indiana, I was reminded of my links to early Indiana automobiles. Let tell you the rest of the story.

My father was born in 1909 on a farm along Michigan Road, the predecessor to the Lincoln Highway, just west of South Bend. Every time I go down Lincolnway past the airport I think about the time Dad took us to the edge of the airport sometime in the late 1950s. We found the remains of his Sumption Prairie schoolhouse. He mentioned the family farm was nearby on western end of the airport grounds along the highway. Today, this area has been greatly altered by numerous airport expansions.

I feel a link to the Lincoln Highway since his farm was along the road when it was routed in 1913. I can imagine Dad going to school, working and playing in the area. He was a witness to the early motorists along this famous pike.

After his family moved into town and he graduated from South Bend Central High School, he completed his Tool Maker Apprenticeship at Studebaker Corporation.

V. J. Horvath at Studebaker 1929
V. J. Horvath at Studebaker 1929

He told many stories about running a piston ring grooving machine along the engine manufacturing line. During the Depression, he left Studebaker and later moved to Indianapolis to work at Allison Division of General Motors.

Mormon Meteor II being loaded
Mormon Meteor II being loaded

I found this photograph in his photo collection of the Mormon Meteor II being loaded onto a truck. The Mormon Meteor II was built at Auburn’s Factory in Connersville, Indiana, in 1937. I can only speculate how he might have been involved with this Bonneville racer.

After World War II, he left Allison to work at machine shops around Indianapolis. During some of the work at these shops, he produced components for race car builders around Central Indiana.

My links to early Indiana automobiles started with the Lincoln Highway, Studebaker Corporation, and mid-century race cars. Then, while I was a youngster, Dad took me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway many times. One of my earliest recollections is of Jack McGrath working a roadster around the first turn. Dad was my long-time racing companion.

My first-hand interest in automobiles started in the early 1950s and continues today. Thanks Dad!

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