#0070 - Studebaker President Series 80 Four Seasons Roadster, 1931
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2010. Owner: David Markel
The President: The eminent classic Studebaker, if there is such a thing, is the President. Every bit the contender, this able bodied eight cylinder luxury car enjoyed a few significant advantages over comparable Cadillacs, Chryslers, Packards, and Pierce-Arrows. While still a straight-eight, side-valve motor, in 1931 the crankshaft was made to turn on nine main bearings, increasing overall durability and performance through improved mechanical operation and more efficient lubrication. (Most every other eight cylinder of the day used a five bearing layout.) And, in a similar stroke of innovation, Studebaker added spring-loaded valve actuation, which served to hasten the combustion process in a reliable fashion. All told, the 337 cubic-inch motor produced more than 120 horsepower, making the President both a formidable road car, and an adequate platform for competition machinery.
In the main, the other great advantage found in the President was that, for all these advances, the car was not a Cadillac, Chrysler, Packard, or Pierce-Arrow, and for this reason wasn't as expensive. For a company already placed at the front of the middle-market, this was a great formula.
Family Relations: It would be quite difficult to miss the similarities between a period Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow, cousins that they are. Just to the right we've listed our Pierce-Arrow Model 133 B Sport Phaeton, which represents something of the homogenization and decline of that great marque, particularly in the slow pace of technological and aesthetic development. In this sense, a tried and true product of suitable quality was a good thing for the middle market, but inadequate for the luxury segment. Of course, in the end it was a good thing that Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow were kept separate in their corporate organization, allowing the former to survive three decades hence.
In any case, the body line, trim, and various pieces of bright work carry over nicely from the Pierce-Arrow to the Studebaker, very much in the same way as style moved back and forth between Cadillac and LaSalle, (which was essentially the kind of structure they were looking for). On a similar note, Studebaker and Packard made a go of it in the post-War, although this merger was famously mis-managed, leading to the demise of both great marques.
Just off-hand, I'd submit that while Pierce-Arrow—for as much as I like them—were somewhat expendable in the context of classic era luxury cars, the United States auto industry should rather mourn the absence of Studebaker and Packard. Things would be much more interesting if we still had them around to compete, if only on the domestic front. This is to say I'm not sad to have Pierce-Arrow as a dinosaur marque, because by the beginning of the classic era they'd already lost a world of momentum as a manufacturer, whereas it seems that Studebaker and Packard always had a lot to give. Their respective qualities of style and ingenuity would have certainly been something fun to witness over the past few decades.
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