Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

1955 Studebaker 259 V8 Engine Specs.

Model Designation: Commander V8: 16G8 (this engine was only used after Jan. 3, 1955) President V8: 6H
Wheel base: 2 & 4 door sedans: 116-1/2"; coupes & hardtop convertibles: 120-1/2; Land Cruiser: 120-1/2"
Valve Location: In head
Bore and Stroke: 3-9/16 x 3-1/4
Piston displacement, Cubic Inches: 259.2
Compression ratio: 7.50
Maximum Brake Horsepower: Commander 16G8: 162 @ 4500 RPMPresident V8 6H: 175 @ 4500 RPM (prior to Jan. 3, 1955)President V8 6H: 185 @ 4500 RPM (after Jan. 3, 1955)
Maximum Torque Lbs.Ft. @ RPM:Commander V8 15G8: 250 @ 2800 RPMPresident V8 6H: 250 @ 3000 RPM (prior to Jan. 3, 1955)President V8 6H: 258 @ 2800 RPM (after Jan. 3, 1955)
Normal Oil Pressure Pounds: 40
Spark Plug Make: Champion H11
Spark Plug Gap, Inch: .035
Firing Order: 18436572 (front to rear: left bank: 1-3-5-7; right bank 2-4-6-8)
Ignition Timing: IGN on Vib. Damp.
Engine Idle Speed, RPM: 500
Cylinder Head Torque Lbs.Ft.: 60
Compression Pressure & Cranking Speed: 120 Min.
Voltage & Polarity: 6 volts, positive ground
Fitting Pistons with Scale:Shim Thickness to use: .002 (1 inch wide feeler);
Pounds Pull on Scale:: 11 to 16
Ring End Gap: (Fit rings in tapered bores for clearance shown in tightest portion of ring travel.)Compression: .008Oil: .008
Clearance in Groove: Compression: .002-.0025; Oil: .0015-.002
Wristpin Diameter, Inch: .875
Operating Clearance: Intake: .024 Hot Exhaust: .024 Hot
Valve Seat Angle, degrees: 45
Valve Timing: (BTDC = before top dead center; ATDC = after top dead center) Intake opens: 19 degrees BTDC Exhaust Closes: 6 ATDC
Valve Spring Pressure Pounds at Inches Length: Inner Spring: 50 @ 2-1/32
Valve Stem Clearance: Intake: .0015-.0035; Exhaust: .0015-.0035
Clearance for Timing Intake: .030
Connecting Rod Bearings: Journal Diameter, Inches: 1.99925-2.00025 Bearing Clearance, Inch: .0005-.00215 Rod End Play, Inch: .007-.012 Rod Bolt Tension: Lbs.Ft.: 52-54
Main Bearings: Journal Diameter, Inches: 2.4995-2.5000 Bearing clearance: .0006-.0027 Shaft End Play: .003-.006 (Thrust on front bearing) Main Bolt Tension: Lbs.Ft.: 88-93
Cooling System: Without heater: 17-1/4 quarts With heater: 18-3/4 quarts
Fuel Tank: 18 gallons
Engine Oil: 6 quarts
Transmission: w/out overdrive: 2-1/2 pint; with overdrive: 3-1/2; w/Auto. trans.: 9-1/2 quarts
Rear Axle: 3 pints
Distributor part number: 1110839 (distributor rotates counter-clockwise when viewed from top)
Cam Angle, degrees: 28-34
Breaker Point opening, Inch: .013
Condenser Capacity: .20-.25 Mfds.
Breaker Arm Spring Tension: 17-21 Oz.
Centrifugal Advance: (degrees at RPM of distributor) Advance starts: 2-1/2 degrees @ 350 Full Advance: 17 degrees @ 1450
Vacuum Advance Data: Inches of Vacuum to Start Plunger Movement: 4-6 Inches of Vacuum for Full Plunger Travel: 10-1/2 - 12-1/2 Maximum Vacuum Advance, Dist. Degrees: 8
Generator Number: 1102778 (generator rotates clockwise, 6 volts, positive ground)
Generator output: 45 amps @ 2450 RPM
Brush Spring Tension: 28 oz.
Field Current: 1.87 - 2.0 at 6 volts
Regulator Number: 1118950
Cutout Relay: Voltage to close points: 6.4 Reverse Current to Open Points: 1 amp Armature Air Gap: .020
Voltage Regulator Setting: 7.4 volts
Current Regulator Setting: 45 amps
Current and voltage armature air gap, Inch: .075
Part number: 1107115, 1107116 (starter rotates clockwise)
Bush Spring Tension, Ounces: 24-28
No Load Test: 70 amps, 5.65 volts @ 5500 RPM
Torque Test: 550 Amps, 3.25 volts, Torque, Lbs.Ft.: 11
Caster, Degrees Limits: -1 to -2-1/2 Desired: -1-3/4
Camber, Degrees Limits: 0 to +1 Desired: +1/2
Toe-In, Inches: 1/16 to 1/8
Toe-Out on Turns, Degrees: (If toe-out is incorrect, when other adjustments are correct, look for bent steering arms.) Outer wheel: 20 Inner Wheel: 22-1/2 to 23-1/2
Kingpin Angle, or Steering Axis Degrees: (If king pin or spindle support angle are incorrect, but camber is correct, look for bent suspension arms or steering knuckle support) 6 @ 0 Camber

The Official Studebaker Reference Guide

Lowey Commander Hardtop

President Coupe
Starting Serial Number: 16G6 Champion... G-1316501
Ser. 16G8 Commander... 8380601
Ser. 6H President... 7150001
Location: On plate on left front door post.
Starting Motor Serial Number: 16G6-Champion... 1138001
16G8-Commander... V-312701
6H-President... P-101
Location: 6 and straight 8 - Upper left side of cylinder block.
V8 - Top side front of cylinder block.

Production Information: Champion 50,368
Commander 58,792
President 24,666
General Specifications:
Model Wheelbase (In.) Tread (front) Tread (rear) Length Width Height Shipping Weight (lb.) Tire Size (In.)
16G6-Champion n/a n/a n/a 204 n/a n/a n/a 6.40-15
16G8-Commander n/a n/a n/a 240 n/a n/a n/a 6.70-15
6H-President n/a n/a n/a 206 n/a n/a n/a 7.10-15

General Engine Specifications:
Model # of Cyl - Bore & Stroke # of Main Bearings Type of Lifter Used Displacement Taxable H.P. Developed H.P. Max. Torque Compression Oil Pressure
Champion 6 Cyl. 6 - 3 x 4 3/8 4 Mech. Adj. 185 21.6 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 7.5 40
Commander - V8 * 8 - 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 5 Mech. Adj. 259 40.6 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 7.5 40
President - V8 8 - 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 5 Mech. Adj. 259 40.6 185 @ 4500 258 @ 3000 7.5 40

* After engine numbers 8397201; 8843001; 8958101; the engine was changed to the same engine of the President, except HP is only 162@4500 & torque is 250@2800.

Engine Tune-Up Specifications:
Model Plug Type Plug Gap Dwell Point Gap Ign. Timing Compression Inlet Tappet (hot) Exhaust Tappet (hot) Fuel Pressure Min. Engine Idle
16G6 Champion J7 .030 39 .020 2B 140 .016 .016 4 3/4 550
16G8 Commander H11 .035 31 .013 8B 130 .026 .026 4 3/4 550
6H President H11 .035 31 .013 4B 130 .026 .026 4 3/4 550

Table of Contents | Chapter 5 - Studebaker Cars - Postwar
Studebaker applications and repair kits

Year Engine Model | - - - - - Carburetor - - - - - | Kit

1955 6 170 16G Champion Carter WE 2108 1209
1955 8 224 Commander (Early) Stromberg WW 6 115 537649 1233
1955 8 224 Commander A/T Stromberg WW 6 116 537879 386
1955 8 259 16G (Late) Stromberg WW 6 115 537649 1233
1955 8 259 6H President A/T Carter WCFB 2214 518
1955 8 259 6H President S/T Carter WCFB 2219 518
1955 8 259 6H President S/T Carter WCFB 2330 537887 518

Studebaker General Specs
FRAMES version

Year ProdTotal ModelDesignation WheelbaseInches WeightMin/Max TireSize WheelBoltPattern ValveLocation BoreandStroke PistonDisplacementCubicInches CompressionRatio(Standard) MaximumBrakeH.P.@R.P.M. MaximumTorqueLbs. Ft.@R.P.M. NormalOilPressLbs SparkPlugType SparkPlugGap PointGap DwellAngle FiringOrder IgnitionTimingBTDCorMark Grnd+/-Volts

1954 34,966 Champion 6 15G 116.5 2705/2950 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 169.6 7.50 85 @ 4000 138 @ 2400 40 J7 .025 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
16,469 Champion Coupe 6 15G 120.5 2740/2825 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 169.6 7.50 85 @ 4000 138 @ 2400 40 J7 .025 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
13,062 Commander V8 5H 116.5 3075/3120 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
11,059 Commander Coupe V8 5H 120.5 3180/3265 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
6,383 Land Cruiser V8 5H 120.5 3180/3180 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
1955 39,673 Champion 6 16G6 116.5 2740/2815 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185.6 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
10,701 Champion Coupe 6 16G6 120.5 2790/2985 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185.6 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
43,878 Commander V8 Early 16G8 116.5 3005/3080 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 224.3 7.50 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
Commander V8 Late 16G8 116.5 3005/3080 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 162 @ 4500 250 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
14,910 Commander Coupe V8 Early 16G8 120.5 3065/3275 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 224.3 7.50 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
Commander Coupe V8 Late 16G8 120.5 3065/3275 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 162 @ 4500 250 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
24,665 President V8 Early 6H 120.5 3110/3301 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 175 @ 4500 250 @ 3000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
President V8 Late 6H 120.5 3110/3301 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 185 @ 4500 258 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
1956 21,731 Champion 6 56G 116.5 2780/2835 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
4,949 Flight Hawk 6 56G 120.5 2780/2780 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
2,236 Pelham 6 56G 116.5 3000/3000 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
20,221 Commander V8 56B 116.5 3085/3140 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.80 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
7,095 Power Hawk V8 56B 120.5 3095/3095 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.50 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,333 Parkview V8 56B 116.5 3300/3300 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.80 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
17,243 President V8 56H 116.5 3180/3210 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
8,507 Classic V8 56H 120.5 3295/3295 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,050 Sky Hawk V8 56H 120.5 3215/3215 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1,522 Pinehurst V8 56H 116.5 3395/3395 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,071 Golden Hawk V8 56J 120.5 3360/3360 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 4 x 3 1/2 352 9.50 275 @ 4600 380 @ 2800 45 N18-67B .035 .015 28-34 18436572 5° -12
1957 9,348 Scotsman 6 57G 116.5 2680/2875 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
15,513 Champion 6 57G 116.5 2755/3015 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
18,448 Commander V8 57B 116.5 3015/3355 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.0 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
5,684 President V8 57H 116.5 3170/3415 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
6,063 Classic V8 57H 120.5 3270/3270 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,283 Silver Hawk 6 57G 120.5 2790/2790 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
11,035 Silver Hawk V8 57H 120.5 3185/3185 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,356 Golden Hawk V8 57H 120.5 3400/3400 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.5 275 @ 4500 333 @ 3200 40 H10 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1958 21,990 Scotsman 6 58G 116.5 2695/3030 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
6,765 Champion 6 58G 116.5 2795/2835 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
88 Scotsman V8 58B 116.5 3185/3420 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.3 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
11,738 Commander V8 58B 116.5 3185/3420 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.3 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,908 President V8 58H 116.5 3355/3365 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 225 @ 4500 305 @ 3000 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1,171 President V8 58H 120.5 3355/3365 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 225 @ 4500 305 @ 3000 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
2,442 Silver Hawk 6 58G 120.5 2810/2810 7.50x14 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
4,908 Silver Hawk V8 58H 120.5 3210/3210 7.50x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
878 Golden Hawk V8 58H 120.5 3470/3470 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.8 275 @ 4500 333 @ 3200 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1959 78,798 Lark VI 6 Cyl 59S 108.5 2577/3470 5.90x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
19,945 Lark VI 6 Cyl 59S 113 2577/3470 5.90x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
16,539 Lark VIII V8 59V 108.5 2899/3225 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
7,889 Lark VIII V8 59V 113 2899/3225 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
2,417 Silver Hawk 6 59S 120.5 2795/2795 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
5,371 Silver Hawk V8 59H 120.5 3140/3140 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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Studebaker’s New V-8

Triumph and tragedy, An Independent Automobile Company’s quest to survive a change in it’s reality.

By: Murray D. Stahl
(Proud Owner of a Studebaker Speedster )

In 1951 the Cadillac and Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8s were barely two years old. The handwriting was on the wall; an automobile company could only prosper with a modern overhead valve V-8 engine. Studebaker had been contemplating a V-8 for years. In fact after the war the new “coming or going” Studes had frames designed to accept a front or rear mounted power plant either V-8 or pancake 6. (D) (E)

It doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to surmise that Studebaker began thinking of a V-8 as a marketing advantage right around 1948. It had to be a wakeup call when the upstart Kaiser-Frazer outsold Studebaker for a few months in 48-49 even though Studebaker sported a newly designed body style.

It was during this period that Kaiser had a dedicated team working on a V-8 headed by Paul Bastian with Harold Bullard and David Potter. They were far along on the design when the plug was pulled due to poor cash flow. It’s known that Mr. Potter presented his ideas to Studebaker. Today we would call the use of good designs found in various competitors engines “best practices” and there is no doubt that Studebaker built a stout V-8 design by picking and choosing from those best ideas. (K) (G)

Even then the Independents were fighting over a dwindling piece of the market share pie. (K) Studebaker probably saw a large portion of those K-F sales as coming out of their totals. The post-war market where you could sell anything you built was ending and all the independent automobile companies were faced with the same problem, succinctly analyzed by Bill Williams in a 1973 Special Interest Autos article:
“It costs as much for a small company to retool a new car as it does a big one. Chevy or Ford though can amortize that tooling over, say, a million cars while a company like K-F is lucky to produce a tenth of that. Now it’s true that it costs less to tool for a 100,000 car run than for a million car run but not enough less to make the lower run competitive.
Similarly, it costs K-F exactly the same to buy a one-page ad in Life as it did one of the big three. Again (they) could spread this per-car ad cost over perhaps a million cars, so for each car the ad costs, lets say one cent. But for a 100,000 car run that same ad cost K-F ten cents per car.”

The same daunting cost threshold faced Studebaker and all of the other independents. It’s not documented but it seems reasonable to assume that Studebaker was well aware of this cost-disadvantage versus the big three and saw their salvation as being a bolder kind of full line manufacturer. This would certainly explain their very bold, controversial and often-beautiful post-war car designs. It also fostered thrift; the 1953 bumpers were still being used during Studebaker’s end game in the mid-sixties; Chevy had 9 specific bumpers in the same period. They pioneered sliding roof designs and championed the use of Superchargers. The age old question, “Does adversity foster innovation and Excellence” comes to mind. There's no doubt they put themselves into an untenable position by not addressing the fact that their overall costs per vehicle were much higher than their competitors. High labor cost, sliding sales and an inefficient manufacturing plant constituted a perfect storm. High cost equaled low sales and profits that severely constricted funds for redesign or innovation. This circle of problems eventually doomed Studebaker even though their design talent fought bravely to break out of it. Studebaker's break-even point was hovering around 282,000 vehicles sold in a year.

Studebaker was a “full-line” Automobile producer with a miniscule market share. Their competitors enjoyed market shares as high as 55% while theirs was 4% at its high-point in 1950, sinking fast from there to well under 1% in 1954. I suppose Studebaker management could have thought that they could overcome their inherent, structural disadvantages and become a large enough company to survive and prosper but that only shows a triumph of hope over reality.

As the new V-8 was introduced Studebaker management was congratulating themselves on 1950 sales of 334,554 vehicles. It was a high water mark. Soon the company would be hanging on by their proverbial fingernails selling 82,000 cars, 113,920 vehicles in 54. A 66% drop in three years despite a “state of the art” engine and redesigned automobiles. The new engine was a triumph hitting all its design and quality benchmarks but it could not be the silver bullet Studebaker needed. In my opinion their basic business model was faulty.

For Studebaker to market a V-8 in 1951 was a remarkable achievement. Little Studebaker was the only independent to market a V-8 prior to1955, and even this great little engine was designed before anyone realized what a big deal the horsepower race was going to be. A case can be made that Hudson and Kaiser failed due to the lack of a “Modern” V-8. (K) Packard was late to the V-8 party and it certainly contributed to their demise. Nash, aka American Motors lengthened their life and shined themselves up for a sale with their own V-8.

The new engine offered more power and the additional benefit of greater economy as well. In the Mobilgas Economy Run of 1951 a V-8-powered Commander with overdrive managed a 28-mpg average from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon via Death Valley. That beat the 1950 L-head Six Commander's mileage by more than four miles per gallon. As you look at the EPA figures for our modern full size cars take note of how few can match this fuel economy 50 plus years later.

Korean war restrictions and an abbreviated model year due to labor problems meant Studebaker couldn't approach its 1950 sales record. Production in 51 dropped to 268,565 cars, but V-8 Commander sales were a far greater proportion of overall sales than previously: In 1950 Commander sales were just 21 percent of sales, while in 1951 they more than doubled to 46 percent of the total. Thanks to this sales success, plus war production making trucks for the use of the military Studebaker rolled into 1952, it’s centennial, looking proud and strong due in no small extent to the new V-8.

The first Studebaker V-8 started out at a modest 120HP; four years later they gained 46% more power to 185HP on the 55 Speedster. This was accomplished without raising the compression ratio; they did it by tweaking their over-square engine design, slightly expanding the bore, shortening the stroke. Adding a four-barrel Carburetor and split manifold exhaust. (D) An analysis shows that a typical long stroke engines pistons travel 40-odd miles up and down for every 100 miles of automobile travel. In a modern short-stroke engine like the new Studebaker each piston will cover only 29 miles over the same distance. (H) Everything else being equal the less distance a piston travels, the less wear it generates.

When the stroke is shortened the incoming air-fuel mixture has a good deal less velocity through the valve ports; that lengthens valve life and reduces engine noise. In 1955 the little engine that could went from 232 Cubic inch displacement to 259 and boasted a better power to weight ratio than any US automobile save the Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe. It would eventually reach it’s zenith at 289 cubic inches. (H) (E) (J)

The application of forged cranks, rods and pistons along with the high alloy cast blocks promised durability not usual in a low priced car. The use of timing gears instead of chains cost more but assured trouble free, high mileage engines. The designed in full pressure oiling gave the engine state of the art lubrication. “All Studebaker blocks were seasoned; they were cast and painted to inhibit rust then set outside for two cold South Bend winters.” (C) This allowed the block to pre-stress before machining. It was this “seasoning” that held their crankshaft and cylinder bores true, free of stress and was a major reason for high mileage longevity. It was a very unusual practice in all but high-end vehicle engines.
(B) (C)

Hop-up magazine in their 1953 manual of new engines by Gene Jaderquist said that the new Studebaker V-8 so closely follows the Cadillac V-8 in it’s general design and appearance that with the valve covers removed only an expert could tell them apart. All the outside dimensions are within 3/8 inch of each other and the intake manifolds are interchangeable. The valving is similar but for a ¼ inch extra length on the Studebaker. On the Studebaker their rod and main bearing area exceeded the Cadillac by 22% and the little Studebaker V-8 made .515 HP per cube to the Caddy’s .484. (A) Studebaker was the only early adopter of a
V-8 to use solid lifters. With a modified cam they reached 7000RPM in testing with these lifters. (O)

Studebaker had hoped to reduce cost by shortening the engine footprint, which would allow a shorter and lighter car. They were successful; the V-8 powered car came in at 215 pounds lighter and 10 inches shorter than the six cylinders it replaced. Due to the extraordinary cost of developing a new engine from scratch and tooling it for production the design had to allow for the near certainty of much higher Compression and higher cylinder pressures. Their design gave the new engine a lower end tough enough to handle any loads the foreseeable future would likely demand. (B)

Studebaker engineers had planned for compression increases by securing each cylinder Head with 18 bolts; six bolts surrounded each cylinder. This allowed for extraordinary head sealing that virtually eliminated Cylinder head leakage even when subject to the pounding of a supercharger or turbine. To put it in perspective; “late model Mopar, Ford small block and Y-blocks have 10 head bolts, a Buick V-6 (stage ll) has 14.” The very durable, long-lived, Chevy small block V-8 has 17 bolts to Studebaker’s 18. (E)

A small engine to start and it stayed small but only the Chrysler, using a very expensive to build hemispherical head technology, produced more HP per cubic inch. (E)

The trend in fifties engine design was to thin wall casting however Studebaker once again took a different path. They elected to go with a heavy wall casting that would accept large overbores. Few automobile manufactures could boast a possible .187-inch overbore. Even with that enormous overage the castings piston walls remained about as thick as a Chevy V-8 thin-wall block at standard. (C)

In a fit of hyperbole, Tom McCahill, the dean of auto test drivers called the little engine fitted to a relatively light body “nitroglycerine stuff.” Perhaps he was just peering into the future. The little mouse-motor began life as a 120HP weakling but grew to a 335HP production engine by the end of its life. (L) A definite tribute to the robust design. Even Consumer Reports when road testing the new engine praised it for running “quietly and smoothly.” It’s unusual that they praised an engine during this era. (N)

The new 1951 Studebaker V-8 had a built in durability beyond its rather bland, early vitals:

Type: OHV V-8, Seasoned iron block, iron heads
Displacement: 232.6 cubic inches
Bore x stroke: 3.38 x 3.25
Solid Lifter valve train
18 Bolt Heads, 6 bolts/cylinder
Forged crank, rods and pistons
Chromed piston rings
Compression ratio: 7.0:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 120 @ 4,000
Torque @ rpm: 190-lbs.ft. @ 2,000
Fuel delivered through a Single Stromberg two-barrel downdraft carburetor

The US automotive industry in 1951 sold 5,338,435 new cars, including the 1000 millionth. Most models were 'carry-overs' from 1950 with the customary annual facelifts. Only Kaiser-Frazer and Packard's 1951 models were entirely new. Ford and Plymouth introduced their first hardtops in a catch-up effort to match the GM hardtop convertible coup. Hardtops had become very desirable fashionably resembling convertible coupes except that the tops were metal and could not be folded down.

The little Studebaker V-8 came to market during these most difficult years for America's independent auto manufacturers. While the biggest problem was most likely Henry Ford II glutting the market with new cars in a vain effort to catch and pass Chevrolet. The Ford sales blitz put enormous pressure on the smaller companies unable to absorb large losses to sell cars. The old proverb, “when elephants dance the mice tremble, comes to mind. Another problem was the market's embrace of the V-8 engine, which required costly tooling and design changes beyond the capacity of most of the smaller automakers. Studebaker was the first independent to come out with a V-8 and even this great little engine was designed before anyone realized what a big deal the horsepower race was going to be. (F)

Proud Moments at the birth of their V-8
Photo from Studebaker Museum

In the end this small, century old company showed great daring when it bought out the very first OHV V-8 made by an independent automaker. The proof of their determination was the high quality design for their new V-8. This was quickly born out as the new engine found it’s way into 1951 Commanders. There was only a single, small recall and total warrantee costs were appreciably lower than the decades old six it replaced. A very early spate of cam failures was quickly addressed and did not dim customer confidence.

Photo taken at the Studebaker International meet held in September 2008 at Lancaster Pa. by author

The innovative, lets try anything, spirit Studebaker fostered sometimes veered off course. Borg Warner made Studebaker automatic transmissions and along with Studebaker designed a mechanical power steering unit. It was powered through a belt and featured a series of clutches. (M) While touted as simpler than every other manufacturers hydraulic power steering it was discontinued mid-year 1953. The real world found it very noisy and impossibly complex. Road tests late into the model year still talked about it’s unavailability so it seems it only wasted design funds, not warrantee problems. It was very close to still-born. (O) To my eye it looks complex to the point of a parody of a simple design.

Once GM had dropped their small block V-8 bomb into the automobile marketplace the hoary old long stroke, low power flat-head engines everyone had in their sale brochures looked old fashioned and no amount of innovative styling risk could change that perception.

Back in the day carmakers reveled in different; why in 1930 the Cadillac division alone made a V-8 a V12 and a V16. Customer choices abounded. By 1950 General Motors was offering customers the choice of a flathead six or eight cylinder car (Pontiac); an overhead valve six (Chevrolet & GMC), an overhead valve V-8 (Cadillac & Olds), an overhead valve straight eight (Buick) and all kinds of permutations of 2, 3 or 4 speed automatic transmissions. That’s five dramatically different engine designs just at GM. Ford countered with a flathead V-8 or flathead four along with a late arrival overhead valve six. Chrysler hid their head in the sand, completely ignoring any V-8 or overhead valve configuration until 1951. They had done very well with essentially the same flathead six and eight cylinder engines for 25 years. Chrysler also hedged their bet with a semi-automatic transmission that retained a clutch pedal like it was a security blanket in a Charlie Brown cartoon. The marketplace had punished Chrysler in the thirties for an innovative and bold body design and they only seemed to shed the fear of failure with the Hemi developed concurrently with the Studebaker V-8.

These were only the major companies; independents like Packard had marketed wonderful straight, flathead sixes, eights, V12s and V16s. The Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg consortium flirted with front wheel drive and manufactured engines that are still usually considered works of art. Franklin made great air-cooled engines for their expensive cars long after conventional wisdom deemed them too noisy and suitable only for lawn mowers. Crosley and Chevrolet briefly sold “copper” engines that had a lifespan about the same duration as a fruit fly’s.
In an era when drivers routinely tinkered and repaired their vehicles people were fiercely loyal to cars and engines they were familiar with. Once you mastered a flathead the prospect of working on an overhead valve engine was daunting. Change is scary. You could peg people as “Chevy” or “Ford” guys. To my Dad anyone admitting to being a “Studebaker” guy was as far out there as a quarterback wearing a dress. He was an “Olds” guy but willing to humor friends loyal to other makes as long as they were GM makes. When my older brother opened a British sports car dealership it was like finding out his kid was a commie. In those days car ownership was like joining a religious sect except that you could argue about it and argue they did.

It was into this difficult environment that Studebaker blew into the market with its own overhead valve V-8 in 1951. The new engine displaced a diminutive 232 cubic inches while pumping out 120 horsepower. The relatively lightweight Studebaker bodies allowed this V-8 to climb quite high on the performance charts for 1951 with acceleration and top speed figures close to the Oldsmobile 88. The year preceding the new V-8 was very mixed; industry production at 8 million set a record while Studebaker production at some 334,500 units was up 9.7%. Despite the increase in sales profits only rose 1% as Studebaker settled their labor dispute with a contract that would forever haunt them. (F) Whenever revenues rise by 10% while profits only eke out a 1% increase the differential poses a problem. A case can be made that this was the start of Studebaker’s demise. Studebaker's break-even point fluttered around 282,000 vehicles sold in one year. Soon the company would be hanging on by their proverbial fingernails, selling 113,920 total vehicles in 1954. It got worse when 30% of Studebaker's big dealer network abandoned them by 1956. By 1956 sales had cratered to only 85,401 cars, by 1958 it was only 79,301 vehicles. The grim reaper could be clearly seen silhouetted on the horizon. (F) The new engine placed Studebaker in a more competitive position than the other independents but it alone could not negate their horrid cost situation and the botched launch of the new design in 1953.

The Olds and Cadillac V-8 had started an avalanche. One by one, almost every other American manufacturer brought out its own OHV V-8 engine; Chrysler and Studebaker in 1951; Lincoln in 1952; Buick and Dodge in 1953; Ford and Mercury in 1954; Chevrolet, Pontiac, Plymouth, and Packard in 1955; and even AMC in 1956. Each of those engines had its own peculiarities, but they were all in the mold of the Oldsmobile and Caddy V-8. The overhead-valve V-8 would dominate the American industry well into the 1980s, resulting in some staggeringly powerful engines whose output has only recently been surpassed.

So here it was, Studebaker had their V-8 and had just signed on to produce a line of low, swoopy, clearly gorgeous coupes in 1953 that would forever be called, “Loewy coupes”. The designers had viewed this car as a low production kind of “halo” car. It seemed that no thought had been given to just how it would look as a higher more truncated sedan. It looked small and unusual and sold poorly. One of the basic facts of automotive life is that designers love working on convertibles, coupes and sports cars; it’s up to the adult supervision to bring them back to reality. The four door family sedan was the cash cow of all “full line” automobile manufactures; it remains a mystery how the mesmering glow of the pretty coupe design had made Studebaker management lose sight of that basic business fact. A sampling of road test, new model introduction articles showed almost no interest in the sedan, they seem to be rarely even mentioned. (P) (O) (Q) They wanted an innovative, bold design to yank them from their sales doldrums but instead they piled on another layer of problems. As Stated by H.L. Mencken, “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

By 1954 they had stumbled into a merger agreement with Packard that closely resembled two drowning men reaching for a single life preserver. As they merged both companies were losing fearful amounts of money struggling with disappearing sales, obsolete plants and a high cost structure.

In my opinion Studebaker’s demise could have been predicted and avoided by a more intuitive management in the early fifties. In 1950 they had money, a shiny new V-8 ready for launch and many choices for a new car design. They chose the path to continue as a “full Line” manufacturer. They were the only independent with a full line of trucks and heavy defense work. Given that, it should have been possible for management to look into the future a bit and see that the defense work would wane, the competitors could compound “economies of scale” and their labor costs were outrageous. Insight into the future to plan and react is the definition of good management. Others usually handle the day-to-day operational decisions; foresight is what management is paid for and this is where Studebaker stumbled badly.

With our benefit of hindsight we can fantasize that an early move into a high-quality, niche player situation may very well have worked. Porsche, Aston Martin, Morgan and even Avanti Motors come to mind. The key would have been recognizing the confluence of problems they would face early on. As Charles Darwin famously stated, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to Change.”

I can visualize (Ok dream) of a Studebaker company in the fifties that actually analyzed it’s situation and realized that it had very rarely exceeded it’s breakeven point in revenue from vehicles excluding the military business. Since 1941 an almost constant level of military vehicle contracts had propped it up. Could they possibly have thought they would always get the contracts? In my dream they decide to become a high-quality, low volume niche manufacturer, it would require them to shed truck, sedans and most of their unwieldy dealer network. It would be difficult but so was trying to market the awkward conversion of the Lowey coupe to a four-door sedan. The Avanti, Hawks and Speedster showed their design expertise was greatest in specialty, essentially niche automobiles. A breakeven point of 40 to 60 thousand highly styled, high quality autos would seem doable while an every two year cycle of complete redesign of a full product line on dwindling revenues proved to be “a bridge to far” for them. There was that brief window when they had the money. Porsche with their 911, Leyland with the Mini and the seemingly timeless Avanti show that a great design, if properly exploited, remains viable far into the future. The key seems to be “design character” that is able to transcend time. It doesn’t have to be a high-end vehicle, it just has to be true to it’s intended use. The Volkswagen beetle was designed as a high-quality, inexpensive and extremely durable automobile. It was produced virtually unchanged for many decades and became a legend. On the other side of the spectrum sits the Porsche 911; a costly, high-quality, state of the art piece of rolling art that proves that if form follows function then design continuity works. Porsche and Volkswagen didn’t tinker with the original purpose of the vehicle, enhancements were complementary to the original theme be it performance or thrift. The Gran Turismo was a wonderful effort but came to market well after the buying public had tired of the many years of Studebaker struggles. I wonder what would have been had a Sherwood Egbert and Brooks Stevens surfaced early on. They seem to have “got it.”

It’s fantasy but remember the Avanti soldered on for 30 plus years despite chronic under funding. The new V-8 was sorely needed but it certainly couldn’t solve all of Studebaker’s problems.

As this is written it appears that our remaining US auto manufacturers have fallen behind their peers in cost control and innovation forgetting the history of their own industry. The buying public in its group Knowledge is able to discern what is the better product. A sales salvation isn’t possible without having the better product. Its very sad that our current Automobile manufactures have lost sight of how to provide the overall value that their customers demand (R)

The final days of Studebaker saw some wonderful car designs created on budgets that wouldn’t fund a door handle design at GM. The Speedster, Hawks, Lark, Gran Turismo and Avanti were tributes to what I think were the best designers in Detroit. They consistently updated the aged designs and produced many timeless and distinctly different cars. Everything they worked on was based on a design at least 13 years old.

The little V-8 was able to run at 147.36 MPH for 50 Kilometers. The Supercharged Stude V-8 set 72 new USAC records IN 1962 including 118.33 MPH for 500 kilometers and a top speed of 153.48 MPH. Heady stuff for a lark. (F) (D)

Studebaker failed, as most companies do, from management failure compounded by a lack of understanding of the company’s situation. In their death throes they created milestone designs that turn heads today. The failure of Studebaker is constantly reviewed because of the recognition of what could have been. A management with vision could have made them into a niche contender, an icon. In 2008, many decades since the doors closed, the Studebaker Drivers Club (SDC) is the largest and one of the most active single Marquee clubs. That’s a great tribute to their design skill and just plane pluck.

(A) 1953 Hop-up magazine manual of New Engines by Eugene Jaderquist and Griff Borgeesen

(B) The Studebaker V-8 engine; a presentation by E.J. Hardig, T.A. Scherger and S.W. Sparrow at the SAE Summer meting on 6-7-1951

(C) Engine Report, Studebaker V-8 by Classic Auto Restorer, February, 1997

(D) Total performance Independents by Richard Datson

(E) Studebaker Extreme Duty Engine Book by Richard Datson, (1995 edition)

(F) Studebaker, the complete history by Patrick Foster

(G) Road Test Comments on the McCulloch Supercharger, Motor Life, August 1955 article on Supercharged Speedster

(H) Popular Science, November, 1954

(J) Special Interest Autos, SIA #51, June 1979

(K) The last onslaught on Detroit by Richard M. Langworth

(L) Ultimate American Engine Data by Motorbooks

(M) Speed Age, April 1953, America’s First Motor racing Magazine

(N) Consumer Reports, March, 1955

(O) Speed Age, September, 1953

(P) Fortune Magazine, Automobile Topics, February 1953

(Q) Popular Science, February 1953

(R) The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

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Dow Jones Reprints: This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers, use the Order Reprints tool at the bottom of any article or visit

See a sample reprint in PDF format. Order a reprint of this article now OPINION: WONDER LAND MAY 28, 2009 Obama vs. The Beach Boys

Daddy's taking the muscle-car culture away.


How long before the midnight drag races return on dark and dusty roads?

When Barack Obama announced that the government will use its fist to wave onto the highways of America cars that get 39 miles to a gallon of liquefied switch grass or something, he said, "Everybody wins."


The Beach Boys.
Everybody? What country has he been living in? This marks the end of the internal combustion engine as we knew it, and it is the way Americans have defined, designed and literally driven much of the nation's culture for as long as anyone can remember. Car culture is America's culture.

Mr. Obama is fond of giving people iPods as gifts. I've got a playlist for Mr. Obama's iPod.

Track 1: "Shut Down" by the Beach Boys. Clip: "Superstock Dodge is windin' out in low/But my fuel-injected Stingray's really startin' to go. To get the traction I'm ridin' the clutch/My pressure plate's burnin', this machine's too much."

Fuel-efficiency regulations could mean the death of American car culture. Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger explains. (May 28)
Track 2: "Little Deuce Coupe" by the Beach Boys. Clip: "She's got a competition clutch with a four on the floor, and she purrs like a kitten til the lake pipes roar."

It's 2016. Imagine a Brian Wilson ever thinking to write: "And she'll have fun, fun, fun til her daddy takes her Prius away."

At Mr. Obama's "Everybody wins" announcement ceremony in the Rose Garden, no one knew better how much has been lost than the cowed auto chiefs arrayed behind him. CAFE, the fuel-mileage standards Congress mandated 34 years ago, gradually squeezed the size and life out of America's cars. But something's getting phased out here other than gas-fueled cars.

Some of the most famous celebrity converts to the politics behind this new, shrinking world of plug-ins once wrote and sang paeans to muscle cars and a more muscular culture.

Track 3: "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. Clip: "Beyond the Palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard."

Time was Bruce Springsteen knew that "Jersey boys" mainly meant steel, chrome, rubber and auto tech. Check out the lyrics to "Pink Cadillac" ("but my love is bigger than a Honda") or the car-crazy "Racing in the Street," invoking Chevys with 396 Fuelie heads, Hurst speed-shifters and Camaros running "from the fire roads to the interstate."

Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
Track 4: "GTO" by Ronnie and the Daytonas. Clip: "Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out -- GTOoooo."

We are being offered a different world now. One designed, defined and driven by a new set of un-fun obsessions -- carbon footprints, greenhouse gas and alternative energy. This large transition passes before us, barely seen, as the gray water of public policy. Hardly anyone notices how much is being changed.

To put a stop to the new sin of spending too much time out on Highway 9, we are getting the mark-up hearings this week in Washington for the Waxman-Markey climate bill. It's 900 pages long, dripping with thousands of Mickey-Mouse rules to reorder how we live. A Senate Finance Committee document last week on the Obama health-care plan proposes "lifestyle related revenue raisers." Lifestyles like drinking beer. This is the "taxing bad behavior" movement. They get to define what's bad.

Track 5: "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody. Clip: "We had flames comin' from out of the side/Feel the tension, man, what a ride!"

This tension over how we live arrived before the world began standing on its head over global warming. The guys in the hemi-powered drones used to mock the granola and Birkenstock crowd. Look who's on top now.

"Everybody wins?" Not quite. What's winning is a worldview that goes deeper than the data beneath global warming. The gasoline cars they want to turn into scrap were about a lot more than the thrill of roaring on.

The cars and their culture were a manifestation of what made the U.S. really different. The cars, like the country, were big, fast and unfettered. Their drivers were delirious with the possibility of finding something new in life. "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pullin' out of here to win!"

When Americans grew up, that's just what a lot of them did -- win. Now, it looks like we're being asked to throttle down to government-approved survival. They're even running the car companies, telling them what to build, and then they'll pay people to buy the product. Save the planet and lose the nation's heart.

The likelihood of resistance to this timid ethos from anyone in politics is remote. It was tough to watch former A-4 Skyhawk pilot John McCain try to outbid Barack Obama for the green lifestyle vote in the debates. We'll see what happens when people walk into auto showrooms (if they exist) and every car has a wheelbase of about 100 inches.

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged -- fat, fast and gas-powered -- racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps -- enacted by Congress in the second Obama term -- looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

Write to

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The new GM (Government Motors) proudly
introduces the 2010 Obama ...

This car runs on hot air and broken
promises. It has three wheels that
speed the vehicle through tight left turns.

It comes complete with two Teleprompters
programmed to help the occupants talk their
way out of any violations.

The transparent canopy reveals the plastic
smiles still on the faces of all the "happy" democrat owners

Thank you
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

An old car on a new road

We all tour and certainly know the challenges of sharing the road with cars that are faster, steer better and seemingly stop on a dime. Our tours are usually designed around the roads that were created in the early forties instead of the prevalent four lane, fast track expressways. Joanne and I typically tour in our Chevelle, which allows her to over pack a bunch of gear we’ll never use on the trip. It’s 15 years newer than my 55 and traverses the roads like the modern blender-cars of today.

In the eighties I regularly drove an early 60s Austin Healey to work on the expressways so I thought nothing of firing up the Studebaker to travel to Lancaster Pennsylvania. Rolling down the road in my 55 I came to realize the absolute strangeness of traversing high-speed highways in an old car, things have changed.

There have always been the good-natured people who come abreast of you and honk the horn giving you a thumbs up. This is a heart stopper for me as the sudden, unexpected noise is startling. Then there is the road noise that with the open windows prevents you from hearing your wife’s stellar instructions. My Studebaker rolled along at between 60 and 65 because the OD was temporarily under the weather. Unfortunately it appears that the new norm is 75 plus on the four lane roads heading south. Everything but rickshaws passed my gesturing and honking like I was wearing a giant, pink rabbit suit.

There’s lots of construction on route 15 and eventually I found myself hurtling down a mountain pumping my breaks through a decreasing radius bend as the highway turned unexpectedly into a construction zone. I discovered the element of shear terror here.

My Studebaker was a great handling car in 1955 but in 08 not so much. I would find myself surrounded on three sides by manic truckers riding the hills. In many places a temporary concrete divide separated our two lanes from oncoming traffic and served as the fourth side of the downhill 70-mph box I found myself in.

One might experience this kind of nerve-racking scenario behind the wheel of a modern vehicle but it’s more intimidating in an old car. You can hear from far away the furious sounds made by semis weighing forty times more than your car. As they pass your mind wanders to what a disaster the shredding of a retread tire would be.

It’s all due to the fact that old cars are driven, not pointed. You’re not hermetically sealed inside an air-conditioned bubble in a Studebaker. The windows are down so there’s not even glass to shelter you from the facts on the ground. The old car driver stands in awe of mass and acknowledges big trucks potential as a force for evil, like every motorist should but few do. In a modern car the presence of others is filtered out of the driving experience, in cars decades old even a Honda Fit commands attention.

Creature comforts are few, passive safety nil except for owner-installed seat belts. There are no air bags or stability controls to save you from yourself. You must instead depend on wit, coordination and advance planning and above all, your machinery, which in my case was 53 years old.

Its funny but the passage of time has relegated driving a five plus decade antique car on superhighways to the netherworld where devout eccentricity rubs shoulders with clinical insanity. Its exciting like a roller coaster is exciting which is why I continue to recommend the practice of this deviant behavior. When I arrived in my Studebaker I felt like I had accomplished something beyond mere survival.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Who knew...and all these years we thought that cars could best be built by engineers, craftsmen, and folks educated in business management. Now we discover that the real genius lies in community organizers, bureaucrats, and political appointees. Perhaps the new models should reflect the new management. The family van ... "Komiti Kar" ... the little two seater... "Social Spurt" ... the family sedan ..."Welfare wayfarer" ...The Pick up Truck..."Flimflam Ram." I'm sure others can come up with some additional creative suggestions.

I will not be purchasing a vehicle cobbled together by a group of socialists...especially "unionized" socialists”.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Visit My Website

My Website "Intriguing Automotive Histories" is chock full of articles and pictures
of interest to anyone who appreciates fine old antique cars of special interest.

Visit at
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This is a useful diagram if you want to convert your electric Overdrive
to a switch operation from the dashboard. Click it to enlarge it
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Studebaker Service Advisor, Circa 1954
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What a beautiful Scene for Studebaker Lovers, Click to enlarge image.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jeep, The Improbable Survivor

Jeep, The Improbable Survivor (This article with pictures at:
By: Murray Stahl (April, 2009)

Jeep, just the name makes most people smile. It’s difficult to write a story about the Jeep without the word crude. It’s true though, Jeeps aren't exactly polished and serene modes of transportation. The Italians have this wonderful word for a car that truly describes a Jeep, it’s a Macchina. This one word conveys the sense that it’s a machine not the kitchen appliance that so many current vehicles have morphed into.

If you play the word association game most words that come to mind when “Jeep” is mentioned aren't exactly complimentary. Words like, crude, noisy, leaky and rough pretty much define the open Jeeps. Yet the facts are contradictory, women and people under thirty purchase the majority of Jeeps. Many Jeep sport a logo on their spare tires saying “It’s a Jeep thing.” Jeep people are a minor cult that isn’t interested in a billowy ride or a car that parks itself. They delight in a vehicle that demands to be driven by an alert driver. A trip in an open Jeep over paved or dirt roads requires the driver to adjust as he bounces and jounces down the road. There were no doors on any early Jeeps and even today doors are easily removed. The windshield was a fold down until the 60s. A Jeep is a Macchina not a blender.

Its story is an incredible rags to riches then again to rags tale of mid-century America. Almost everything about this little vehicle is improbable starting with its name derived from a Popeye Comic book. The Jeep design team worked for a company with slightly less resources than your local bodega yet created an icon. The original Jeep was born and running in September, 1940. It continues today in a version only incrementally updated through 69 years of constant production. A truly remarkable run for a vehicle that was designed for war and continued as a go-anyplace, leisure time fun machine. Since 1940 there have been many significant automobiles produced; it’s actually laughable that the crude, rude unassuming little Jeep survived virtually intact almost 7 decades. The open Jeep is arguably the longest production run of an open vehicle ever manufactured. Its almost seven decades of production is longer than Hudson, Packard or Studebaker existed in the automobile business. Oh, it’s had facelifts and modernization but no one mistakes a short wheelbase, open Jeep for anything other than what it is. As this is written Jeep is marketing a 4-door open Jeep that looks to be a success. Who would have picked Jeep to revive the 4-door Convertible model; Yes, its doors are removable.

Jeep added the first automatic Transmission on a 4-wheel drive in 1962 but it was 1976 before they appeared on the open CJ models. True to it’s heritage, Standards remain the most prevalent on the open Jeeps. It’s still true that any kind of Jeep roof will be a leaky, flapping affair. Jeeps without a top are still the most common sight on our roads bobbing along on knobby tires. This is a minimalist vehicle as designed and remains one to this day. The newest open Jeep has a cup holder but the short wheelbase and the big knobby tires conspire to insure that your coffee will spill all over your Carhartt jacket.

Its unlikely that the design team that put the first prototype together ever envisioned the many uses it would be put to or the absolute love affair that future owners would affix to their Jeeps. It’s reached the cult status state of the British Mini, VW Beetle and the Model-A. Anyone who questions a Jeep owner’s devotion is usually told, “You wouldn’t understand, it’s a Jeep thing.” Cult cars become one of the family; you give them names and treat them with respect. Teens and senior citizens consider jeeps “cool”. A few years ago a study found that Women purchased 60% of open Jeeps; they are like Babies, everyone loves them. You’ll see Jeeps all over on sunny days. Look at the drivers; you won’t see Rolexes the size of toasters or guys sporting gold chains, it’ll be baseball hats and tee shirts with wide smiles.

My own exposure to the Jeep came about when we were visiting the Southwest. In Moeb Utah we rented a Jeep to tour through the mountains in nearby Arches National park. What a hoot it was pounding up one-lane roads filled with switchbacks in low-low four-wheel drive. It was hot, dusty, noisy and great fun. In this little town of about 20,000 souls every other vehicle was a Jeep and in fact Moeb boasted two Jeep dealers. The frou-frou, SUVs with leather interiors that populate the flatlands were close to non-existent out west. There is a large portion of the US where Jeeps rule and they aren't the recent air-conditioned barges named after Indian tribes; they are the noisy, cramped Wrangler and CJ sorts.

In the beginning the Army wanted a fast, light re-con vehicle that could cross-fields and ford streams. As in all things Government they set an impossible completion date of 49 days then compounded it with unrealistic specifications. Wonder of wonders it happened. The Original Specifications called for a weight of 1,300 pounds, four-wheel drive on a 46 inch wide by 80-inch frame. It had to carry 600 pounds and travel at very low speeds without overheating. So it was that the Army specified a very short narrow vehicle with over six inches of ground clearance that weighed about as much as a non-motorized Mullins trailer of the time. As it turned out the weight limit was really wacky and revised to 2,100 pounds.
The aptly named Bantam Car Company had supplied some earlier reconnaissance vehicles to the Army. They along with Ford and Willys-Overland were the only companies that even responded to the Army's call. The 49-day deadline was more than just problematic however, and Willys asked for more time to finish their vehicle as Ford backed out. Bantam's only hope to meet this deadline was to bring in outside help. Over 130 companies had declined to accept the challenge leaving two Lilliputian companies that were constantly flirting with insolvency to answer the Armies call. Bantam needed the original $79,000 tied to the 49-day contract just to keep the lights on at their little plant in Butler Pa.

An engineer named Karl Probst with considerable automotive experience saved Bantam’s. bacon. He was sort of drafted by the National Defense Advisory Committee supervisor William S. Knudsen, the famed former president of General Motors. Probst accepted this patriotic challenge without salary and went to work. In just two days he had completely laid out plans for the Bantam prototype, He was the original “quick Draw” engineer; a no nonsense technocrat. It was his drawings that were the precursor of the Jeep vehicle. Bantam's bid was submitted complete with layouts of this new vehicle and the rest is history. The bid claimed that the vehicle met the weight limit of 1,300 pounds although it was actually a full third heavier.

The prototype was put through its paces and the military was delighted. They used a bit of slight of hand to ease Bantam out of the mass production picture and Ford and Willy’s ended up with the major contracts. Bantam’s facility resembled a garage more than a plant. The final “approved” Jeep was a Willy’s modified design with a Willy’s engine. By the end of the war Ford had produced 700K Jeeps to Willy’s 300K. Jeeps served with distinction in all theaters of the war. Celebrated War correspondent Ernie Pyle characterized the Jeep vehicle in this way. "It's as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and agile as a goat."

As for Bantam, they only produced 2,674 Jeeps in total and manufactured their last one just before Pearl Harbor. That was the last automobile the Bantam Car Company would ever make; another proud little company faded into the sunset.

Willys Overland had struggled on the fringes of the US Auto market for so long that like a sneak thief it had developed a sixth sense for survival. It maneuvered itself into position to be the one company that’s name was forever associated with Jeep. They were hungrier than Ford because unlike Ford they really had no real “next act” postwar product plans. So it came to pass that by 1942 Willys were planning a civilian Jeep, the CJ. They began using scarce assets to buy ads promoting a main street USA version of the Jeep as the perfect postwar vehicle; the ads always featured the Willys name prominently lest anyone think that the Jeep was a Ford product. The New York Times had a back page story in May of 1943 that the Fair Trade Commission agreed that Willys-Overland claimed to have created the Jeep, that was false but by then Willys had appropriated title to the Jeep name in the public’s perception; perception became reality. A short, nasty court fight in 1943 left Willys free to create the image of Willys Jeep, the only Jeep. Its ironic that the very successful Jeep has helped prop up a total of five struggling companies in various stages of financial difficulty.

It took until 1950 for Willys to obtain the United States Trademark Registration for the Jeep name. Since then, ownership of the Jeep trademark, which is also registered internationally, has passed from Willys-Overland to Kaiser to American Motors Corporation, and most recently, to Chrysler Corporation. Today, Chrysler Corporation, owns over 1,150 registrations for the Jeep® trademark throughout the world. As Chrysler passes through the current bad times its interesting to note that the trademark for the Jeep name is listed as Chrysler’s major asset.

At the wars end Willys had fully developed the civilian Jeep and began an ad blitz marketing it’s prowess to the returning GIs and farmers. It was little removed from the Army version and as familiar as rain to the GIs. The new model designation was CJ-2A and it remained virtually unchanged until 1953 when Willys-Overland sold out to Kaiser Industries for the bargain price of $6o Million. An updated model was already in the works at the time of the sale so Kaiser didn’t need immediate cash for face-lifts.

The sale to Kaiser is interesting. By 1953 cagey old Henry Kaiser knew that his bid to shoulder his way into the automotive big leagues had failed. As he stated in an interview, “we knew we had to bet $50 Million dollars to enter the car market; what we didn’t realize though is the fact that this money would make hardly a ripple in that market.” By 53 he was looking for a way out and badly needed a cash cow to mitigate his losses. Jeep had a steadily profitable, niche business that needed little investment as it was blessed with infrequent model changes. Today we would state it as, “nice cash flow, little need for more investment, priceless.”

A little background on the fifties is in order. By 53 all of the Independent automobile companies could see the “Grim Reaper” on the horizon. Studebaker was the most threatened as they continued to insist on mimicking the “big three” as a full-line manufacturer.

Studebaker plunged into the 53-model year with one great product and a series of also-rans. Trucks were an expensive distraction that siphoned off talent and money in a hopeless quest to gain market share. Their trucks were different and pretty but never achieved enough market volume to make them viable. Studebaker trucks larger than pick-ups were produced at a Rolls Royce run-rate, essentially hand made then usually sold at a loss.

At the same time that Studebaker had a little of the Government contract cash still on hand from 1950 and 51 when Government contracts were 36% of their revenues. Jeep was for sale and the contracts had ended. They might have purchased Jeep, It was a very steady cash cow and they could have snatched it away from Kaiser. The basic Jeep line had continued with only small, incremental changes for 30 plus years. Jeeps were always profitable and repeat business was assured by its cult like following. A Studebaker-Jeep line would have produced a predictable profit instead of the predictable loss that their truck division delivered. The Aero Willy’s sedan by Jeep could have been Studebaker’s Rambler; it was a good design well before its time hampered by a lack of dealers. Kaiser quickly dropped it to eliminate competition with it’s own Henry-J. Even now, 60+ years later the Jeep franchise is one of Chrysler’s most profitable and recognizable brands and their only Internationally known nameplate. Letting Kaiser buy it for peanuts was a major mistake by Studebaker. A huge management problem is addressing “Multiple simultaneous events” each with there own “unintended consequences.” Studebaker’s response was to continue doing what they always had. The automotive marketplace was rapidly evolving and Studebaker missed the turn.

The 53 Jeep model update featured a new but still small engine called the “Hurricane.” The body looked for all the world like a Jeep but had a new hood and some grille changes, all very incremental. Over 155K of this new model were produced.

In 1970, after almost twenty years of growing the business Kaiser Jeep sold out to the American Motors Corp. (AMC). This was incidentally fifteen years after the death of Kaiser’s automobile adventure in the US. In a few short years AMC was selling Jeeps at a 180K unit pace. They had split the civilian business from the military contract production by creating American General Corp.
In 1976, AMC introduced the CJ-7. It was the first major change in the open Jeep in 23 years. The CJ-7 was mounted on a slightly longer wheelbase than the CJ-5 to allow an automatic transmission to be fitted. For the first time Jeep offered an optional molded top and real steel doors. AMC finally discontinued the CJ-5 after a 30-year production run. In 1987 AMC introduced the Wrangler (model YJ) and it retained all the expected Jeep “stuff.” It had doors that could be removed but switched to square headlights. The windshield still folded down and a choice of a soft-top or removable hardtop. In a bow to safety a roll bar was standard equipment. The Wrangler entered Jeep history 47 years after the first Jeep was conceived and it still looked very much like its parent and it was still noisy and leaky. Through the long life of the Wrangler 633 thousand would be sold.

In 1987 a year after the introduction of the Wrangler, American Motors Corporation was sold to the Chrysler Corporation and the popular Jeep brand became a part of the Jeep/Eagle Division of Chrysler Corporation. Of all the products that AMC produced Chrysler’s interest was only on the Jeep.

Chrysler now manufactures Jeeps in the USA, Austria, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela, Argentina and Egypt. The US market enjoys the name Wrangler for the open Jeep while the rest of the world sees the identical vehicles labeled as TJ.

The open Jeep is a transcending vehicle of a type that only a few manufacturers have stumbled onto the formula. People driving a Jeep are viewed as individualistic and self-assured. The Jeep casts an aura over its driver like few other vehicles. There are many expensive cars that lend certain panache to their owners but in the Jeep its “cheap Chic.” An open Jeep is just cool without spending Bentley Convertible money and it’s always been cool / different. Mustangs, Corvettes and Road Runners had that coolness for a time but the Jeep aura has persisted for close to seventy years, Hoo-rah.

The new Jeep Wrangler is still an open car that’s noisy and leaks. The doors still can be lifted off and it still looks like the wartime Jeep’s older brother. it now has a four door sibling that has extended the open Jeep franchise and it still sells in meaningful numbers; A survivor indeed.

The Jeep is an icon now but history has noted that it was birthed by a company in dire financial shape and then was passed through another four owners that were in various states of financial difficulty. Through it all the Jeep stood out as the rock solid asset for each of its owners; always profitable, always fun.

The 1997 Wrangler (TJ) Still with a lift off top and doors, still fun!

Around the world Jeeps serve in many ways. The United Nations has adopted this all-purpose machine as the standard field car for its relief agencies. They are superb as emergency vehicles, and farmers use them as small all-purpose tractors but mostly they are simply fun. The Jeep is also a favorite among American sportsmen, for it can tackle both bogging sands and the most primitive road. Jeeps still meet adoring glances from ex-servicemen, and a new generation has grown up to supply the cars with eager young swains. In true Hollywood fashion it was "love at first sight" and, like the typical happy ending, it lasts for life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Jet, Hudson’s fast track to oblivion!
By, Murray D. Stahl (03-2009)

This is a sad story full of unintended consequences. We all know that consequences could be good or bad. The good, when Pfizer stumbled upon Viagra while searching for a blood pressure medication; bad, well a Pontiac Aztec. Everyone had good intentions hence the unintended part. In the case of the Hudson Jet there were many people that tried hard to improve the new product until there were so many disparate design elements that the resulting mish-mash formed a cute little car that appealed only to the Hudson true believers and didn’t advance the brand. That being said I like the Jet for its quirkiness; it somehow appeals in the way an original VW bug looked cute enough to make you forget its inherent ugliness. Some out of the mainstream cars were a success, think Studebaker Starlight coupe, Citron 2CV, Nash Metropolitan or Jeep Wrangler, others like the Jeepster, Willy’s Aero, AMC Pacer and the Bantam failed. It’s interesting to note that almost all of these “different” designs were offered by the small Independents searching for a niche while hiding from the big three. The little companies were forced into assuming more risk as they searched forever-smaller niches neglected by the major manufacturers. Alas, for many reasons the Hudson Jet didn’t tickle enough buyers fancy to save Hudson, here is its story.

The tale of the Hudson Motor Car Company's 1953-54 Jet compact is one of the saddest in all of automotive history. The annals of automotive failure are replete with four-wheel Greek tragedies. There are hundreds of tales of pathetically under engineered and terminally unreliable vehicles that failed due to their own inherent vices and flaws. The Hudson Jet is not one of these, its final visual design may have been unfortunate but it was a quality effort launched into the marketplace with few mechanical bugs and a tank like body structure.

It was superbly engineered as a unibody, very avant-guard for its time. The body structure was bank vault solid with doors that shut with a reassuring Packard like thunk. The inside passenger cabin was roomy and comfy with a number of upscale features and appointments. The little car offered very adequate performance surprising many of its contemporaries.

I personally recall a standard shift Hudson Jet running away from my buddies new 55 Chevy, automatic with Power-pack. The 265 Chevy V8 made a lot more noise with its split manifold duel exhaust setup but was no match for the hoary old flathead six in the Jet. The Dual carburetor, twin H option greatly enhanced the easy breathing flathead. I can’t say it better than the Road Test Report of Motor-Life in April 1953.“The new Hudson Jet can best be described as the performance surprise of the year. This latest entry into the low-priced field combines the utility of the family sedan with the handling characteristics and roadability of a European sports tourer. And the acceleration and top speed of the Jet will astonish all who drive it. Its performance during the road test was so spectacular for a car of its relatively small displacement that the testing equipment was subjected to several checks to verify the accuracy of the results. However, when the quiet engine is started and the transmission engaged, one thing is immediately apparent - this is truly a hot car, to be handled with care.”

The test car was equipped with the 114 bhp engine which gets its 10 hp boost over the stock from the optional equipment mentioned (Twin-H power). In theory, the 202 cubic inch engine, smaller than the Ford V-8, Chevrolet or Plymouth would not seem to be adequate in output to handle the automatic transmission. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Using Lo range on the transmission, the Jet will spin its rear wheels on macadam and lurch out in the best drag strip tradition. Driving through traffic in fourth gear, a kick-down into third will pin the driver to the seat while a slight twitch of the steering wheel will jump the car into a clear lane. The center point steering is very firm; practically no road shock is apparent at normal speeds over pitted roads. The car will smother any bump, go over grade crossing tracks with only the whisper of a rumble (and the test car was not undercoated) and come out of a dip without pitching or rocking.”

Road and Track magazine was no less complementary in their Road Test Review:
"Our approach to the new Hudson Jet was one of mild interest - perhaps even condescension. When we completed the road test our general opinion was completely reversed. No fair minded driver can give this car a trial without coming to a definite set of favorable conclusions for here is a scrappy little car that is going to give both the big 3 (Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth) and the little 3 (Henry J, Rambler and Willys) some real competition."

"For a car featuring 'step-down' design, we thought 7 inches more overall height than a Studebaker hardly justifies calling this a low car. On the other hand, the seats are very comfortable and visibility is excellent."
The Jet was a failed effort with Performance, comfort and quite decent economy even by modern standards. In order to understand the Hudson Jet’s performance, especially in the acceleration tests, you have to consider the relation of its power to weight, it enjoyed the highest power-to-weight ratio (1 to 24.8) of any car in the low-price field. That, plus the 8-to-1 compression ratio, is the reason why this 114 hp car could hit 97 mph and why it does so well in the zero to 60MPH 11.99 seconds with a standard transmission. The Super Jet's engine simply had to lug around proportionately less weight than many other cars.

It should have been enough, the car had no serious flaws but creating it without a cohesive design vision effectively sealed the fate of the Hudson Motor Company as an independent company.

The senior Hudson Hornet and Wasp models had been designed in 1948 and sales were slowing fast. The highly praised, innovative “step-down” styling that allowed a lower profile in 1948 looked old and stogy by 1952. Hudson management had a small bucket of cash and could use it to develop a new “senior” line of full size cars or copy the path that Nash (AMC) had taken and concentrate their resources on a small car enterprise. There was risk in either case for a smallish company like Hudson. In the end they decided to pretty much bet the company on the development of a small car. Like Nash with their rambler development in 1950 they analyzed the reality of the marketplace and determined that the small, quality automobile niche was about the only tidbit the big companies had left on the table. Once the basic small car route was determined they would realize that a small car could utilize their existing 6 cylinder designs; since they had little cash to develop a new engine that was probably the clinching argument for a small car program.

The automotive world was fast changing in the early fifties. Both Cadillac and Oldsmobile had robust new V8s and the customer base was all a-twitter over the bragging rights that owning this “new” technology afforded. In the driveway bragging sweepstakes nobody’s Dad was touting the old L-head, side valve engines designed decades ago.

Hudson fancied themselves as direct competitors to Oldsmobile but just couldn’t muster the financial resources to develop their own V-8 or even a proprietary automatic transmission. Going the “clean sheet of paper route to a smaller, quality car avoided the nasty decisions inherent in redesign of their large cars. In theory the new Jet would sell well and throw off enough cash to afford a redo for the senior car lineup. This was essentially a Hail-Mary pass with all their chips on the table.

As all the world knows, costs frequently overrun; the $12 million dollar development program became $16 million and debt levels soared. During the development stage rumor had it that Hudson was putting step-down principles into a lighter car. When produced, the Jet's basic suspension and chassis features were similar to the bigger Hudson’s of 1948 design. Suspension is by coil springs at the front and leaf springs at back. Tubular shocks are used all around and Jets set on a 105-inch wheelbase. The big Hudson’s “step-down” designs made it look lower while the production Jet just looked high and stubby.

The story of the Jet had began with the success of the Nash Rambler. All by itself it had created the first successful American compact in 1950. Beginning as a well-equipped little convertible that was suitably cute and quirky it defined a different track than stripping a full size car to market a cheaper alternative. Packard and Studebaker went the route of simply marketing essentially cheapened models of their “big” cars but were finding that this made their senior lines less exclusive and dimmed desire. The successful businessman buying a senior Packard just didn’t appreciate seeing one of his salesmen showing off his “starter” Packard. The cheaper “big car” route greatly sapped sales from the senior lines. Rambler had started with a unique little convertible but the line had soon broadened into everything from coupes to station wagons. Nash had found a very comfortable niche in the small car market and was selling them as fast as they could make them.
Hudson had thus determined to create a brand new, “clean sheet of paper” small car design but in the classic unintended consequences mode simply allowed too many disparate opinions spoil the effort. Hudson President Edward Barit had decided that his company would try to get in on the compact market that Nash seemed to be doing so well in. The new car would be built on a 105-inch wheelbase, and use a small-bore, high-compression version of the venerable L-head six. Hudson's talented chief stylist Frank Spring came up with a smooth, low-slung design reminiscent of the contemporary Mercedes Ponton sedan. Due to the involvement of dealers and senior management the pretty Frank Spring design wasn’t built. The car put into production was kind of in the middle between cute-ugly like a PT-Cruiser and the unrelenting ugliness of the Aztec. They were surely guilty of suborning design malpractice.
President Barit insisted that the new car have "chair-high" seating and enough headroom to wear a Stetson hat while driving. This stretched the design in the vertical dimension. Then the management meddling got worse. Mr. Barit invited Hudson's biggest dealer, a Mr. Jim Moran of Chicago, to consult on the design of the new car. Mr. Moran sold an incredible 3,000 cars a year, 5% of Hudson's total output, and so he was someone that Hudson probably needed to pay attention to. In and of itself, consulting a major dealer on design issues is not a bad idea. The dealer, if he's any good, might know a thing or two about what customers are looking for.

Unfortunately, Mr. Moran's suggestions were based, not on what Hudson customers might have wanted, but on what Mr. Moran personally wanted. Mr. Moran's tastes were, shall we say, a bit out of the mainstream. Like Mr. Barit, he liked high seating and hats and high rooflines. He also liked Oldsmobile tail lights and the curved backlight of the full-sized 1952 Ford cars.

Thanks to the meddling of management and their cronies the Jet’s original graceful design was ruined. They ended up with a high fender line, a high roof line, tail lights that looked like an afterthought, and a rear window styled for a much bigger car. Pittsburgh Plate & Glass was able to supply back windows of the proper width to Hudson, but only if it used the exact same curvature as the Ford window, the Ford was a wider car. The finished car was either too tall for its length and width, or too short and narrow for its height, depending on how you look at life.

The "Bullhead-mouth" grille with turned down edges made it look a little unhappy, as though it knew it wasn't going to win the beauty contest and had only just realized it perhaps shouldn't have entered in the first place. It’s of note to realize that tastes have changed; the new Mini for 09 has a close to identical, sad little turned down mouth grille and it’s successful.

If you look closely at Jet photos you'll note that there's a crease running along the side below the door handles. On the fancier Jets, it's set off with a chrome strip. Legend has it that Frank Spring worked that crease into the final styling to demarcate where his original fender line would have been had the guys in the fedoras not messed with the design. The original design was elegant and this story might have had a happier ending if Hudson Management had realized that design wasn’t their strong suit.

Viewing the Jet from the perspective of a half-century later, it's perhaps a little hard for us to appreciate just how "off" its proportions looked in 1952. Picture, if you will, one of the more attractive "three-box" compact sedans you see on the road today. Now, imagine it next to a Chevrolet Aveo or Scion. The Aveo appears a little too tall, a little too narrow, and comes off looking very dorky by comparison; yet these contemporary ugly ducklings are popular. Not so in 1953 as the automotive market was galloping into an era of high style and horsepower. The major companies were moving into a two-year styling cycle while simultaneously packing on the state of the art mechanical bits. With hindsight we can see that the independents simply couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up. Expensive developments like engines weren’t the end all they became in the fifties when everyone wanted their new car to be bigger, better and faster than last years. The automotive market had been stable for years allowing a decent engine design to soldier on for decades with only incremental changes. Ford, Chevy and Plymouth engines in 1953 were all well over 20 years old. This design stability afforded companies like Hudson, Packard, Studebaker and the others breathing room; they could exist as long as the major companies didn’t push expensive, new technologies too fast.

Like most postwar Hudsons, the Jet used unibody construction that Hudson called “Monobuilt.” It was solid, yet relatively lightweight. The high-compression engine (available with the "Twin H" induction system) gave it excellent acceleration (12 seconds 0-60, at a time when 20+ seconds was considered average), and the handling and braking were equally worthy. It got 24 MPG when cruising at a steady 50 MPH. Fit and finish and interior appointments were up to Hudson's usual high standards. Other than its odd proportions, it was a car that had absolutely nothing wrong with it except for price, that is.

Hudson subcontracted out the fabrication of the Jet unibodies to Murray Products. Hudson didn't have the cash to pay the tooling costs up front, so the tooling was financed by adding an amortization charge to the price of each Jet body furnished to Hudson. This, and other expenses, along with Hudson's inability to take advantage of economies of scale the way the bigger firms could, drove the price of the Jet a little too far down the demand curve for its own good. A 1953 Hudson Jet in base trim with no options cost $1,858. In comparison, a base-model full-sized Chevrolet 150 cost only $1,670. For about the price of stripped-down no-frills no-options Hudson Jet, you could get a top-of-the-line Chevy Bel-Air, a Ford Customline V-8 4-door sedan, or a Studebaker Lowey coupe.

In the 1953 model year, Hudson sold 21,143 Jets. In 1952, Hudson had sold 70,000 or so cars and made $8 million in profit. In 1953, it sold 66,000 total cars and, thanks to the Jet's development costs, lost $10 million. In 1954, it got worse: sales of Jets slid to 14,224, and Hudson lost another $6.2 million through April 30th putting it on pace for an $18 million loss in the calendar year. With about 35,000 total Jets sold at around $1,800 each, Hudson’s cost was about $45K for each Jet.

I can imagine the consternation in the boardroom at Hudson as they realized that they were caught in a confluence of unfavorable market forces and unfortunate decisions. Trend graphs would be distributed showing decreasing sales, mounting debt load and loss of manufacturing scale. The end was near for the proud, old company and it was very visible.

These losses were so devastating that Hudson was more or less forced to merge with Nash or go completely bankrupt. The two manufacturers joined to form American Motors on May 1, 1954. One of the first things AMC's board did after the merger was to discontinue the Jet as it directly competed with their Rambler and was selling so poorly as to be an asterisk in the marketing plan.

So, then, it is entirely fair to say that the Jet brought about the end of Hudson as an independent automaker. It was a perfectly good little car, but Hudson could not get the price down to where it needed to be to succeed in the marketplace. When management stuck their big thumbs in the designer’s pie the resulting awkward looking car simply couldn’t attract enough sales to reach any kind of economy of scale; they were doomed. The car was a solid, high quality effort that just didn’t sell.

What makes the story even sadder is to consider the opportunity cost of the Jet. It cost Hudson $16 million to bring the Jet to market. (That's about $130 million in today's dollars.) That $16 million could have been used to develop modern overhead-valve engines and freshen the styling of the full-size Hudson’s. Hudson was an established, high quality, player in the mid-priced, full-sized car market. While there's no way to know for certain, it's probable that a restyled Hornet with a modern V-8 would have sold much better than the ill-fated Jet but would only postpone the end. All the smallish, Independent companies faced the same reality, their costs weren’t competitive. A famous study in 1953 showed that the Studebaker Lowey coupe could have been produced by Chevrolet and sold profitably at 27% under what Studebaker had to charge.

There's a history in the US of troubled companies developing trend setting new cars just as they are failing as a business. The list of trendy, milestone cars devised during a companies dying gasp is long and a few that come to mind are the Stutz Bearcat, Coffin-nose Cord and Dusenberg SJ. In the more recent past we see the Packard Caribbean, Studebaker Avanti and the Hawk GTs. I sincerely hope that the new Cadillac STR and the Corvette ZR1 won’t end up on the last gasp list, as GM flounders, but it’ll be a close thing. The Jet wasn’t a milestone by any measure but it was a progeny of the Falcon and Valiants to come.

As for the Jet itself, in 2009, it doesn't look nearly as awkward as it did in 1953. It looks like just another old car, a little smaller than most. To the extent it's sort of homely, it's homely in an endearing way. Its problems weren't really its fault, it had a good heart under that dorky exterior, and it deserved a better fate than it got. In any event the Jet is an interesting part of fifties history as a last gasp effort of a great company.

Oh yes, they were raced, sometimes not successfully as in the photo. Surprisingly enough, all photos shown in this article were taken off of the Studebaker Drivers club Forum.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A straightforward look at taxes

I don't often post anything even mildly political but this seems to be so on point that I could'nt resist.
A straightforward look at taxes from an Accounting Professor at South Dakota UniversityHow Taxes Work....Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing;
The fifth would pay $1;
The sixth would pay $3;
The seventh $7;
The eighth $12;
The ninth $18;
and the tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement-until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language, a Tax Cut).Since you are all such good customers, he said, I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20. So now, dinner will only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.The first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free.But what about the other six-the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, Then the fifth man (who was paying $1) and the sixth man (who was paying $3) would end up being PAID to eat their meal.

So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same percentage amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.And so the fifth man now paid nothing;

The sixth pitched in $2;
The seventh paid $5;
The eighth paid $9;
The ninth paid $12 Leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59.Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. I only got a dollar out of the $20, declared the sixth man, but he, (pointing to the tenth) got $7.00.Yeah, that's right, exclaimed the fifth man, I only saved a dollar, too, ........It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!That's true! Shouted the seventh man, why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!Wait a minute, yelled the first four men in unison, We didn't get anything at all.

The system exploits the poor!So, the nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late, what was very important. The bill for dinner was still $80.00 and they were now FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!And that, boys and girls, journalists, college instructors and prospective officeholders, is how the tax system works.

The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy (see: European Tax Exiles), and they just may not show up at the table anymore. Where would that leave the rest?Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

T. DaviesProfessor of Accounting & Chair,Division of Accounting and Business LawThe University of South DakotaSchool of Business414 E. Clark StreetVermillion, SD 57069