1931 STUDEBAKER PRESIDENT FOUR SEASONS ROADSTER
One of the oldest names in the automobile industry, the Studebaker Company was formed in 1852 as a wagon manufacturer. By the late twenties, Studebaker was a successful manufacturer of mid-market cars that offered luxury, comfort and stylish designs at an affordable price. In 1928, Studebaker made a bid for the high-end car market with the introduction of the new President, featuring a new high-output eight-cylinder engine. According to Studebaker, the new President found a parallel in sustained speed only in the light of comets, meteors, and other heavenly bodies.
Marketing aside, it was this engine that earned Studebaker a strong reputation in the performance world. In 1928, three Presidents circled the Atlantic City board track for 25,000 miles, averaging 68-mph. Later, in 1931, the engine was upgraded to nine main bearing design, and a modified President won the Pikes Peak hillclimb. Studebakers were also quite successful at the Indy 500, regularly finishing in the top 10. Despite what many consider a series of management misadventures, Studebaker was still a force in the market in 1931. Struggling with the acquisition of Pierce-Arrow and burdened with a diverse product line, the company rallied around the new President model to establish an image of spirited performance. With the introduction of the nine main bearing version of the President engine for 1931, Studebaker stepped up its efforts to show off the cars abilities. The results speak for themselves: Studebaker held 114 records, 35 of which would still stand 35 years later. No other car of its era was as successful in motor sport competition.
Studebaker executives managed to combine their successes on the track with their customer cars and perhaps there is no better representation of this than in the 1931 Four Seasons Roadster offered here which was once part of the esteemed Nethercutt. Since 2014 the car cosmetically has received a new dark green cloth top and tan leather interior installed by Dragones. The
The Four Seasons Roadster is equipped with many accessories, including the rare and desirable Studebaker Flying Lady mascot, Trippe headlights, radiator stone guard, dual side-mounted spares with pedestal mirrors,
The 80-R Four Seasons Roadster represents one of the most useable two-passenger classics in existence. The roll-up windows offer fully enclosed dry motoring when needed, and disappear easily at the sight of top-down driving weather. With only 54 1931 Studebaker President Four Seasons Roadsters registered in the Classic Car Club of America and Studebaker Club, it makes them an extremely desirable tour and show car as more often than not it is the only one of its kind at the event
In 1927 Studebaker moved up-market and into the luxury car segment with their President model line. The President was given a powerful eight-cylinder engine that was worthy of the elegant coachwork that it carried. The engine earned Studebaker a reputation in power, performance
The Studebaker President stayed in production until 1942 and later reappeared in 1955 and discontinued again in 1958. The first Studebaker was built on July 23rd, 1926 and was given the internal named the ES. The goal of the President was to be the finest, most powerful, dependable, and luxurious car on the American market. By establishing land speed records in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the President cemented its name in the performance department. The powerful nine-bearing eight-cylinder engine captured 114 records, 35 of which would stand for 35 years. The long bodies meant there was plenty of interior room for the passengers and no expense was spared when creating these automotive marvels.
This car has a long, verified history. For many years it was in the renowned Harrah Collection in Reno, Nevada. After William Harrah’s death, most of the cars were sold in a series of three auctions in 1984, ’85 and ’86. This car was in the final auction; appearing in a single photo in the catalog, as appended to this report.
Research has not discovered its selling price, but the car then joined the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California, where it remained until October 2011. At that time it was sold, along with a number of other Nethercutt cars, by RM Auctions at Hershey. It changed hands for $66,000, including the buyer’s premium. As described in the RM catalog, “[p]revious owners include Bob Foust of California. Restored by the late Darrell Dye, a specialist on Studebaker Presidents, it is handsome in the authentic combination of Absinthe Green over Coach Green, accented with Cream wheels.” (see https://rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/hf11/hershey/lots/r130-1931-studebaker-president-eight-four-seasons-roadster/190109). By that time, a new dark-green canvas top had replaced the tan canvas on the car at the Harrah’s auction and the plain radiator cap had been supplanted by one of the optional mascot caps, the Goose, designed by G.A. Johnson and manufactured by Stant Machine Company. The Goose was a Studebaker accessory from 1931 to 1934. The car was cataloged for RM Sotheby’s Fort Lauderdale auction in April 2018, but apparently did not sell at the estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. (see https://rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/FL18/Fort-Lauderdale/lots/r0028-1931-studebaker-president-eight-four-seasons-roadster/602498)
In its present state, the car is understood to be a refreshed version of the Dye restoration, and indeed several differences are prominent. A metal trunk has been added, mounted on the trunk rack on the rear, long-trumpet horns have been added at the front, and the upholstery has been re-done in tan leather. Finally, the earlier
The car is as striking as it was at the time of the 2011 auction, further enhanced by the above additions and changes. The paint remains in excellent condition, marred only by a few chips atop the driver’s door. All body and fender contours are correct, with no dings or dimples. The doors open easily and shut nicely, although the window in the driver’s door impedes closing if it is rolled down all the way. Adjustment should remedy this problem. The window regulators both work easily. Glass in both doors and in the windshield is all excellent.
Brightwork, too, is generally excellent, although the hubcaps have a few minor dimples. There is also a small dimple in the passenger side sidelamp on the front fender. As mentioned before, the upholstery has been recently replaced with tan leather that is flawless. The top, while at least ten years old, looks as new. The cockpit floor has brown carpet, installed since 2011.
The trunk, which makes the car appear longer than it really is, is nicely finished, but the wood structure under the steel shows its age. The floor is delaminating, but it should not be difficult to repair this and a couple of weak interior braces without a major overhaul. As a quick measure, a new piece of plywood could be fastened over the current trunk floor.
The cockpit has a number of interesting features, although further work will be needed to make them fully functional. There is a Philco Transitone radio installed under the dashboard, with controls mounted to the steering column. This was a common configuration of early car radios. The condition of this car’s radio is unknown, and there are connections missing that make it impractical to troubleshoot in situ. Among the missing is the antenna connection, for which there is no apparent antenna. In this period, antennas were typically attached to the cowl or mounted under the running boards. Neither is the case here.
There is a coincidental steering and ignition lock on the column. When locked, the ignition cannot be turned on, nor the steering wheel turned. At present, the lock is unlocked, and apparently lacks a key.
The windshield has dual wipers, each with its own bottom-mounted vacuum motor. However, they do not operate, as there is no vacuum hose to the intake manifold. This should be simple to remedy. Depending on how long they’ve been inoperative, it might be necessary to recondition the motors.
Another feature is dashboard control for the heat riser valve on the manifolds. This is useful on cold and damp days to prevent carburetor icing, although with collector cars used in warm weather it is seldom needed. This valve has seized at the engine, so cannot be controlled from the driver’s seat.
The transmission is equipped with free-wheeling, a briefly-popular 1930s device that allows the car to coast when not under throttle. It can be locked out when compression braking is desired. Many cars used a dashboard control to enable or lock out the free wheeling. On this car free-wheeling is controlled by a button atop the shift lever. Holding down on the button while selecting a gear disables the free-wheeling.
The rumble seat, also with new tan leather, has a novel two-section lid. The forward part hinges upward, necessary to gain access, but then folds back down to furnish a cozier ride for the rumble passengers. There is a golf bag door on the right side, handy for loading all sorts of items in addition to golf clubs, but like the ignition lock it lacks a key, so cannot be opened.
The engine compartment has been detailed since the 2011 auction, and is tidy and mostly correctly appointed. The ignition system is a Delco Remy dual-coil type, which uses two coils and two sets of breaker points, but, unlike Nash’s twin ignition, there is but one set of spark plugs. Packard used a similar setup by North East, in 1933 and ’34.
There is a conventional horn mounted to the left side of the engine, to operate from the horn button on the steering wheel but at present not working. The trumpet horns on the front are decorative only, and are not wired for use.
The head- and taillights work, as does the brake light.
The engine number P1976 is clearly seen behind the water pump. The chassis number plate on the firewall, although somewhat damaged, shows the correct chassis number 7032247. Motor Vehicle Department personnel, however, may have taken exception to this, as next to it is a medallion issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is stamped (faintly) with the number SG 6928 PA. A title document for the car was not seen during the inspection visit. Also screwed to the firewall is small brass tag with the number 811, its origin and purpose unknown.
The tires look nearly new, so much so that mold marks are still on the outer edges of the tread. The clamps holding the sidemount spares, however, are mis-matched, and neither one looks exactly like that shown in the 1931 company brochure.
Underneath, although showing use, the car is uncommonly clean for an older restoration, in part explained by the low mileage shown since the latest freshening. The only evidence of oil leakage was a small smear at the right rear corner of the oil pan; there were no drips. The tailpipe exhibits two holes, one quite large, and a crushed section below the fuel tank. The current pipe is sufficiently solid to be used as a pattern for bending a new one.
The car starts easily and runs well. In comparison to some other late-20s and early-30s cars driven by this writer, it drives easily and handles well. Steering, even at low speeds, is quite effortless, even by modern standards, and exhibited less play than typical in many cars of the era (including some owned by the writer). The smoothness of the engine allows acceleration in any gear – indeed, once under way first and second gears are hardly needed. The clutch is uncommonly smooth. The test drive was conducted on local roads, at speeds up to 45 mph.
Braking took some getting used to. The four-wheel mechanical system is up to the task, but as adjusted didn’t come into play until the pedal was more than half way down its travel. The hand brake was ineffectual, suggesting that adjustment is in order. There were a few groans from underneath during braking as well. Outside temperatures at the time were below freezing, but the engine warmed up, showed better than 30 psi oil pressure at idle, and the generator charged at 20 amperes.
In sum, this is a very desirable CCCA Full Classic car, with a few minor problems requiring attention. What it lacks in prestige it makes up for in personality. The writer found it more pleasurable to drive than Packards and Hudsons of its era, not to mention more common but less sophisticated vehicles like Model A Fords, Chevrolets
Three-speed floor-shift manual transmission
Beautiful older restoration
Past CCCA Senior award winner
Formerly in the esteemed Harrah and Nethercutt Collections
Dual sidemounts with pedestal mirrors
Flying Lady mascot
CCCA Full Classic