The 1934-1935 Studebaker Land Cruiser arrived during a time of great economic turmoil for the country and Studebaker in general. With new leadership determined to bring Studebaker back from the brink of financial ruin in the early 1930s, the company gained a renewed sense of vigor. One of the first signs of that vitality was the creation of a distinctive, streamlined auto-show special. When show-goers gave the car their approval, the Land Cruiser quickly went into production and became one of Studebaker's most memorable products of the decade.
Early on the morning of Sunday, July 2, 1933, the citizens of South Bend, Indiana, awoke to read the news that Albert Russell Erskine, president of the Studebaker Corporation for the previous 18 years, had taken his own life. The man who had once boasted "we eat obstacles for breakfast" had suffered for months with ill health, both physical and financial. His carefully orchestrated death came less than four months after the company he had led to such great heights in sales and profit had fallen into receivership, the result of the country's economic collapse and poor management decisions on his part.
In its 80 years as a producer of wheeled vehicles, Studebaker had weathered many crises and through it all had never finished a year in the red-until 1932. Being one of the few companies to successfully make the transition from horsedrawn to self-propelled vehicles, it became an institution with a worldwide reputation.
That it eventually managed to survive the crisis of 1933 was almost totally the result of the perseverance and fortitude of Paul G. Hoffman and Harold S. Vance, who, as coreceivers, convinced a federal judge that Studebaker would have a better chance at paying back its creditors if it was to stay in business rather than liquidating its assets. Shortly thereafter, with the judge's consent, Studebaker began an unprecedented $100,000 advertising campaign, announcing to the world that "Studebaker Carries On." The plan worked, and within two years, the company was rescued from receivership and was again on a solid financial footing.
It seems quite remarkable that during the very depth of the Great Depression, the company would be turning out some of its most impressive and memorable vehicles. In 1933, for example, it had a passenger-car lineup that included the Studebaker Six, Commander Eight, President Eight, and Speedway President, as well as a lower-priced companion make, the Rockne.
In addition, there was a full line of medium-duty trucks, ambulances, funeral cars, and light-commercial vehicles. That Studebaker was offering four completely different chassis, more than 20 different bodies, and five distinct engines in the passenger-car line alone gives a good indication how badly Erskine had misjudged the extent of the Depression.
To learn more about how Studebaker faired during the depression, see the next page.
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Studebaker During the Great Depression
While Studebaker's line of cars may have been out of step with the environment of the Great Depression, it would be difficult to criticize the classic styling or mechanical innovations evident on the beautiful cars made at the time. Today, the classic lines of the big Presidents are admired by many but owned by few, due to their low production.
Studebaker was also distinguished in the field of engineering and engine building. Ample evidence of this is shown by the results of the 1933 Indianapolis 500: Of the 14 cars that finished the entire 500 miles, half were Studebaker-powered -- a record for stock-block entries that still stands. Thanks principally to chief engineer Barney Roos and his able staff, Studebaker could boast of holding more speed and endurance records than all other manufacturers combined.
After Studebaker went into receivership, Hoffman and Vance realized that severe cost cutting was in order if Studebaker was to stay in the automobile business. Consequently, in mid 1933, they discontinued all racing endeavors and further economized by drastically reducing the number of models and chassis offerings for 1934. Dropped were the big 337-cid President Eight engine, the entire Rockne line, and the expensive-to-build convertible sedans. There would be only three passenger-car lines-the Dictator Six, and Commander and President Eights-and among these, there would be considerable sharing of mechanical and sheet-metal components.
The base-model Dictator was designated the Model A, rode on a 113-inch wheelbase, and was powered by an L-head six displacing 205 cubic inches that produced 88 bhp at 3600 rpm. Both the 119-inch-wheelbase Commander (Model B) and 123-inch-wheelbase President (Model C) utilized the same straight-eight engine block, though the President topped out at 250 cid, or 29 more than the Commander by virtue of a half-inch-longer stroke. Commanders boasted 103 bhp, Presidents 110.
Studebaker launched its huge worldwide advertising campaign at the start of the 1934 model year in October 1933. In doing so, it coined a catchy new slogan: "From the Speedway comes their stamina, from the Skyway comes their style." It was certainly easy to substantiate the first part of that statement. In addition to its strong finishes at Indianapolis in 1932 and '33, Studebaker held 143 national and international records for speed and endurance, utilizing a number of different models.
The "Skyway styling" was an obvious reference to the all-new bodies that Studebaker claimed "were styled directly from airplane designs." Indeed, Studebaker may have been one of the first companies to use wind-tunnel testing for its cars. Evidence suggests that as early as 1932, passenger cars were being tested at the University of Michigan and it is well documented that four of the five factory-sponsored 1933 Indy cars had all-new aerodynamic bodies that had been tested there extensively.
While Studebaker was ramping up to the design that would become the Land Cruiser, the final piece of the puzzle came when they merged with Pierce-Arrow. Learn more on the next page.
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Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow
In 1928, Studebaker merged with Pierce-Arrow, and through 1933, they shared engineering and styling talent, as well as some production facilities. Pierce, however, did not lose its corporate identity and was allowed to proceed pretty much on its own with occasional guidance from South Bend.
In late 1932, Pierce vice president Roy Faulkner was approached by Phil Wright, a stylist recently released by General Motors. Wright was looking for work and presented his credentials and a 1/8-scale model of a fastback coupe that he hoped would interest Faulkner. Both Faulkner and Pierce president Arthur Chanter were impressed by the model and soon presented it and the young Mr. Wright to Albert Erskine in South Bend. Erskine was enthusiastic about the concept, but knew time and money were against them. Pierce needed something quickly to jump-start its lagging sales and he knew it would take a year or more to get a completely new car ready for full-scale production. Erskine suggested they build 10 (later reduced to five) of the new cars for the upcoming auto shows, with the first to be done no later than January 1, 1933, in time for the New York event.
The design rights were purchased from Wright and the project turned over to Studebaker chief body engineer James R. Hughes. Hughes' staff made several alterations to the original design in order to fit it on the shorter 139-inch-wheel-base Pierce V-12 chassis. (Wright's original design anticipated a 147-inch stretch.)
Once styling had completed its drawings, they were given to Paul Auman, who headed up Studebaker's experimental body department. Working around the clock for nearly three months, his staff of craftsmen created five complete bodies, mounted them on the Pierce chassis, and shipped them on schedule.
Of course, the cars created at Studebaker came to be known as the Pierce Silver Arrows and they were instantaneous crowd pleasers wherever they were shown. The cars had features years ahead of their time: fastback styling, slab sides, built-in trunk, full steel roof, enclosed running boards, recessed door handles, and flared head- and taillights. Nothing quite like them had ever been seen before. In the years that followed, several auto companies copied various features of the original Silver Arrows, but none of these ever quite compared to the original.
With the designs in place, the Studebaker Land Cruiser was ready to hit the streets. Read the next page to learn more.
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The 1934 Studebaker Land Cruiser
The 1934 Studebaker Land Cruise was born out of necessity. Studebaker wanted to take advantage of the enthusiasm created by the Silver Arrows, but was strapped for cash and could not hope to introduce another completely new body. Being the feisty independent, however, it relied on innovation and improvisation, two ingredients in abundance among the design team headed by the Hughes.
About three months after the '34 Studebakers made their debut, the team came up with some detailed drawings that illustrated what a dramatic change of appearance could be effected by simply taking a standard four-door sedan and modifying the body aft of the C-pillar. To view this in full size, a production model was taken off the assembly line and by the "simple" expediency of cutting and welding a few panels, reshaping the back glass, reforming a decklid, and adding some fender skirts, the look of an all-new car was created.
Hoping to create a sensation similar to what the Silver Arrow had done the previous year, Studebaker rushed ahead with the project. Again, the deadline was the New York show, which started the first week of January, To qualify for participation, it had to be completed by January 1. Paul Auman's crew in experimental body engineering was put to the test for a second consecutive year.
Work on the "streamline model" -- as it was dubbed in interoffice correspondence-didn't begin until December 14, 1933, but it was completed and shipped on the first of the new year. Entries in Auman's personal notebook reveal that it required a total of 2,164 man hours to complete, broken down as follows: wood shop, 298 hours; metal shop, 1,573 hours; paint shop, 160 hours; and trim shop, 133 hours.
By the time of the show, the "streamlined model" had been officially named the Land Cruiser. But, no matter what it was called, it couldn't fail to attract notice. According to the dealer newspaper, The Studebaker News, "he Studebaker exhibit was thronged continually and was the center of attention."
To learn more about the 1934 Studebaker Land Cruiser, see the next page.
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The Design of the 1934 Studebaker Land Cruiser
There can be no doubt that the design of the 1934 Studebaker Land Cruiser was inspired by the Silver Arrow. Most people at the time considered it unorthodox, some extravagant, but almost all controversial. The wraparound four-piece rear window was especially unique and the fender skirts (referred to as "rear wheel shields" by Studebaker) were probably industry firsts on a mass-produced car.
While Automobile Topics magazine referred to the Land Cruisers as "one of the smart streamline offerings of the hour," Studebaker president Paul Hoffman ignored the streamlining altogether and confined his comments to the functionality of the new fully enclosed trunk.
In a company press release, he is quoted thusly: "As a result of this demand for more luggage space, we designed what can be called as the first 'Land Cruiser' -- which I believe carries more luggage space than any manufacturer has yet built into a production model. This space measures 48 inches wide, by 27 inches long, by 27 inches high. With this space available, five people will be permitted to travel great distances without the discomfort of riding with a rear compartment piled high with baggage." Indeed, few cars were equipped with built-in trunks in 1934, and from Hoffman's remarks, we may gather that he considered the matter as a choice of function over form and that aerodynamics and streamlining played little or no part in the company's decision to build the car.
It took several months before new body dies could be made at Budd (Studebaker's supplier in Philadelphia) and the car put into full production. In fact, the first production Land Cruisers were not seen coming down the assembly line until mid April. Within the intervening four months, Studebaker had introduced its new "Year Ahead" models, which were distinguished from the earlier-series cars by their horizontal hood louvers. Since quantity production of Land Cruisers began after the introduction of the Year Ahead models, it is believed that most of the 1934 production of this model would have had the horizontal louvers, though numbers are not available.
The Land Cruiser body represented the prestige car of the line and it was featured prominently in most magazine advertising, which in those years was the principal recipient of auto company ad spending. Initially, the Land Cruiser was offered only on the President chassis. Later it was made available in the Commander line, and in June, on the deluxe Dictator. Prices on these new offerings were about 15 percent higher than comparably equipped four-door sedans-enough to discourage many Depression-era buyers.
With the success of the first Land Cruiser, Studebaker was bound to update it. Learn about the 1935 Studebaker Land Cruiser on the next page.
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The 1935 Studebaker Land Cruiser
The 1935 Studebaker Land Cruiser had a tough act to follow. The 1934 model year was an unusually long one at Studebaker, extending from October 1933 through early November 1934. Total sales of all passenger-car models amounted to 61,180 units compared to 26,886 (including Rocknes) for the previous year.
This allowed Studebaker to jump from 10th to eighth place in total registrations, being one of only four companies to improve its position in that Depression year. This gain in position, significantly enough, was achieved while reorganization was pending and the business was technically in charge of the courts. This success was due principally to two important factors. First was the aggressive corporate advertising campaign advanced by Hoffman, and second the loyalty of the dealers, who for the most part remained steadfast in the Studebaker camp despite the receivership.
Since the Land Cruiser was a mid-model-year introduction, and since it was the most-expensive car in the lineup, it was not expected to be a big seller. Production records indicate that only 841 were built, broken down as follows: Dictator 407, Commander 233, and President 201. This amounted to just 1.4 percent of the company's passenger-car production.
Despite this, company executives opted to offer the Land Cruiser as part of the new 1935 line. The big news at Studebaker for '35 was the adoption of independent front suspension. Unlike the coil-spring type introduced by some companies in '34, it consisted of a transitional spring that did away with the conventional axle. Studebaker called this new engineering breakthrough "planar suspension" and it was standard equipment on the President and Commander lines and optional on the Dictator. In various forms, it survived through 1949 on Studebaker cars.
Only relatively minor styling changes were made for '35, though these altered the overall appearance to a remarkable degree. The new radiator shell had a narrow vee-shaped sloping front with sides that curved backward and outward to meet the hood lines. The side sections of the tall vertical shell were composed of horizontal fins, which, at the top, represented an extension of the horizontal hood louvers.
The Commander and Dictator had a chromium radiator mascot consisting of a flying goose inside a large oval. The President utilized a graceful lady standing tall with flowing hair. Body offerings, including the Land Cruiser, remained virtually unchanged from the previous year.
On the next page, learn the fate of this influential Studebaker.
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The Legacy of the Studebaker Land Cruiser
The 1935 Studebaker met with mixed results. Unfortunately, production figures by body style for the 1935 models do not exist, but Studebaker's total passenger car production in the U.S. was just over 41,000. This represented a considerable reduction from the 1934 figures, and Studebaker's overall share of the new-car market fell to 1.38 percent, the lowest in company history. (In spite of its mediocre sales, however, Studebaker was able to celebrate its emergence from receivership in March with Hoffman becoming president and Vance chairman of the board.) Undoubtedly, the number of Land Cruisers sold on all three chassis amounted to less than three percent of the total, which makes these cars exceedingly rare today.
Fastback styling was a popular fashion among automobile designers in the early and mid Thirties, though only a relative few of them got off the drawing boards. The Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows of 1934-37 were the only mass-produced examples, but for all their innovative features, they did not gain wide public acceptance.
Others that come to mind in that era include the Lincoln-Zephyrs and the extremely limited-production Cadillac Aero-Dynamic coupe. Various others-some no more than experimental prototypes-sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic, but none managed to gain a foothold, since most required a rear-engine placement to gain full advantage of the teardrop design.
As we know, automobile styling is more evolutionary than revolutionary, and the buying public is quick to reinforce this fact. The Thirties, however, witnessed great strides in body design, from the stodgy box-square design left over from the Twenties to a much more streamlined car at decade's end. For one to fully appreciate this, he needs only to examine a typical 1930 four-door sedan and compare it with a 1940 model. Next, set a 1992 model against one built in 2002. In this way, we can more fully appreciate the great strides taken in the Thirties-and cars like the Studebaker Land Cruisers that made those steps tangible.
Not that the Land Cruiser was entirely ignored when it first came out. On the next page, learn about the Studebaker Land Cruiser's trip to the 1933-1934 World's Fair.
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The Studebaker Land Cruiser at the World's Fair
The Chicago World's Fair, or more correctly the Century of Progress International Exposition, was held on the city's beautiful lakefront in 1933-34. Its purpose was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation and, more importantly to provide jobs and recreation for a nation mired in a deepening depression. Planning for the event began in the late Twenties; Studebaker signed on to participate in August 1931.
At that early date, no one was sure exactly what form the display would take.
Whatever it was, it had to be sensational, since all the major auto companies would be represented and each would be trying its best to outdo the others. Of course, Studebaker could display some very impressive vehicles from the company's museum. It had the carriage in which Abraham Lincoln rode to Ford's Theater on the night of his assassination, and another in which the Marquis de Lafayette toured the U.S. during his visit in the 1820s, as well as many other historically significant vehicles.
What the company finally decided upon, however, had nothing to do with museum vehicles. Instead, it would construct the largest automobile ever built. The idea was inspired by another large Studebaker built in the late spring of 1930 to commemorate Studebaker's remarkable records of speed and endurance.
The car chosen was a 1931 President Model 80 Four-Season Roadster. It was constructed of wood and measured 41 feet long, 13.5 feet high, 15 feet wide, and weighed 5.5 tons. It was built over a three-month period by 60 craftsmen in Paul Auman's experimental body department. The car was originally used as a prop for a movie short entitled Wild Flowers in which 22 members of the Studebaker Champions orchestra were accommodated in the driving compartment of the car. After the completion of the film, the car was disassembled and moved to a prominent knoll at the company proving grounds along busy Indiana Highway 2, seven miles west of South Bend.
Wanting to publicize its newest and most-luxurious model at the Chicago fair, the company decided to erect an immense representation of the President Land Cruiser. Though this giant car would have wooden framework, the exterior was made of plaster, and its completion represented a masterpiece of furring, lathing, and plastering. So accurate and authentic was the model that visitors would scratch at the surface with their fingernails to test the composition.
The giant Land Cruiser, which reposed in the great hall of the Travel and Transport Building, was 80 feet long, 28 feet high, and 30 feet wide. The running boards were 21 feet in length, the windshield wiper three feet, and the tires 12.5 feet For maximum "eye appeal," it was painted Canary Yellow, a color later made available on production cars for an extra $80. Below the running board was a door that led visitors into an auditorium that could hold 80 guests. Films were shown that extolled the virtues of the new Studebakers and told, in dramatic fashion, how Studebaker had set more than 140 records for speed and endurance.
Of course, a full line of normal-size Studebakers (some painted in Canary Yellow) were on display in the open foyer in front of the giant car. Directly to the left, large crowds gathered to watch craftsmen from Chicago's National Products Company cast 6.75-inch-long models of the Land Cruiser from molten metal. Each one had the words "Replica of Giant World's Fair Studebaker" embossed on the decklid. One could also buy a seven-inch-long Studebaker dual-wheeled stake-bed truck. The car was available in a variety of colors and the truck in red-both for the princely sum of 25 cents.
Not long after the colossal car was completed, Studebaker announced its new "Year Ahead" model with its horizontal hood louvers. To keep in tune with the production cars, the giant fair car was modified to reflect the changes, as were the pot-metal miniatures with white rubber tires. The detail and finish were quite good for the era and the popularity of the promotion led Studebaker to continue the practice in succeeding years. A 1935 model of the Land Cruiser was also done by the same firm and the decklid inscription read "Studebaker" or "Studebaker Miracle Ride." These were offered to dealers for 15 cents each.
This writer has often wondered whether the commissioning of the miniature cars by Studebaker at the fair represented the first use of promotional models. Certainly there had been toy cars and trucks built prior to 1934, but were any of these built to the accurate specifications required by Studebaker, and did any receive corporate sanction? If not, we can chalk up another industry "first" for the firm.
Studebaker reaped a tremendous amount of positive publicity from its participation in the exposition. At its conclusion, the big Land Cruiser was dismantled, but many of the thousands of miniatures have survived and remain in the hands of collectors. As for the outsized 1931 President that inspired the fair exhibit, it survived until the spring of 1936, when it was set afire on orders of the company president.
On the next page, learn about the Studebaker's career on the racetrack.
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Studebaker's Engines and the Racetrack
In an economy move, Studebaker withdrew from participation in racing after the 1933 Indianapolis 500. Still, though the firm would not directly sponsor cars in competition, it wanted to cooperate with independent racers who wished to use Studebaker power. Since the large 337-cid engine used on the 1929-33 Presidents had been discontinued, they would have to settle for the smaller 250-cid eight.
But in many people's minds, this was a better engine since it provided more horsepower per pound than the bigger version. (At the '33 Indy 500, Dave Evans, drove the 250-equipped Art Rose Special to sixth place, ahead of all five factory-backed cars with the 337 engine.) It had been introduced on the 1929 Commander FD models and was completed under the direction of engineering vice president Barney Roos. The L-head engine used nine main bearings, had bore and stroke dimensions of 3.06×4.25 inches, and developed 110 bhp in the 1934 passenger-car version.
On February 23, 1934, company president Paul G. Hoffman announced that Studebaker would offer a "hotter" version of this power-plant for "speedway competition." It would feature a high-compression head, four downdraft Stromberg carburetors, a magneto, and -- since the generator was not needed -- a new water-pump drive. Studebaker engineers had obviously done considerable testing on this engine and claimed it would produce "about" 150 horsepower. "Due to the fact that these motors come from our own assembly line, we are able to sell them for the low price of only $750," Hoffman said.
Studebaker-powered cars started at Indy through 1939. This author is unable to say with certainty if these engines were the same as offered by Studebaker or were built by the owners. However, it was a very interesting concept on Studebaker's part and I am unaware of any other auto manufacturer of this era to make such an offer.
An interesting aside to this story was recently uncovered in the Studebaker National Museum archives. While looking through the comptroller's records, this writer came across a price memorandum, dated February 5, 1935, that noted a special net of $870 for furnishing and installing a racing engine and special rear axle in a President Land Cruiser. Unfortunately, the car was bound for Prague, Czechoslovakia; the likelihood of its current survival would be remote.