CHASSIS NO: 5508161
• Award-winning car; Raymond Loewy and Virgil Exner design
• Superb restoration, well-documented history
• Factory knock-down export; original Australian coachwork
• One-off period body; Art Deco styling inside and out
205.3 cid L-head inline six-cylinder engine, 88 HP, Stromberg single-barrel carburetor, three-speed Synchromesh transmission with “freewheeling” overdrive, independent front suspension, semi-floating rear axle, with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes; wheelbase: 114”
As the 1920s dawned, Studebaker had ceased building horse drawn wagons and was concentrating on passenger cars, trucks and buses which were being assembled in three separate plants. Through that roaring decade, Studebaker offered vehicles between $1,000 to $2,500 and in a variety of model series which were usually identified by two letters and names like the “Special Six” or “Big Six”. In mid-1927, Studebaker changed their marketing plan and started their letter series; they began to attach model names that conjured up visions of excitement or power. What started off the 1927 model year as the Standard “EU” Series would be renamed the Dictator and by 1928, it was joined by Commander and President, series names which survived in the Studebaker lineup into the 1950s. However, due to changing political climates in the late 1930s the Dictator would become the Champion in 1938, and that name would live on for decades. In the early 1930s, Studebaker had its share of financial problems, just as with most other independent American automakers, but through a declaration of bankruptcy and a challenge to reorganize, excess weight was jettisoned and by 1935, the company had been reorganized and, best of all, recapitalized. Studebaker realized to sell cars, it helped what the outside looked like, and for the 1935 model year, the talents of Raymond Loewy’s team joined the South Bend-based company, which included one talented young man named Virgil Exner. The new Dictator 2A was transformed into a modern automobile with sharp lines, a long distinctive hood, swept back grille and a lower silhouette. Studebaker promoted this new look by claiming that these cars would “Dictate the Standard”, and they did. To go along with the styling, hidden features were also modernized starting with the ride. Touted as the new “Miracle Ride”, it was accomplished with the new “Planar” independent front suspension introduced with the mid-year 2A series. Coupled with coil springs and a longer wheelbase, all the components combined to help separate imperfections in the road from ever being felt by those precious passengers. The Dictator’s six-cylinder engine had been tweaked effectively for the 1934 model year to where the 205.3 cubic-inches had been beefed up with four main bearings, a new Stromberg up-draught carburetor, and was now rated at 88 HP, a bit more than Ford’s little V-8. Backing up the engine was a Synchromesh three-speed transmission, and Studebaker’s patented “Hill Holder” system which locked the brakes to prevent the car rolling backward when the clutch was depressed. Helping to stop the cars’ forward motion were larger 11.5” brake drums using the Lockheed hydraulic system.
America’s economy was starting to come back by 1935, and Studebaker recorded the production of over 35,000 Dictators combined with the 1A and 2A series that model year. For 1935, a total of six different body styles were offered in either base or Regal trim. However, in those listings there was no mention of a Phaeton or Touring Car, which leads us to the story of this car. Starting as a bare chassis set up for right-hand drive, it was crated up and prepared to be exported to Australia. Known in the industry as a knock-down car, these included the chassis and engine, partially assembled, and pertinent chassis parts such as the fenders, hood, radiator, cowl and if ordered, body panels. Once it arrives at its country of destination, such as in Australia, local labor is used to fabricate the body and mount the parts to the chassis. This method helped the consumer by avoiding heavy import duties paid on completely assembled vehicles. The completed car was downright handsome with its full folding soft top, complete with side curtains, and would serve its Australian owners faithfully for the next 36 years. In 1971, a couple of American Studebaker enthusiasts heard about this unique car and negotiated it's purchase. It was then crated up and shipped back to San Francisco for a reported $400. The new owners, Gene Thomas and Ralph Ingler, worked together to bring this rare car back to life. Mechanically it was found to be in very sound condition and with a few maintenance items needing attention. In 1979, another California-based car collector, Les Allen of San Jose, acquired the Studebaker. While it had been repainted and made roadworthy, it was still a long way from being show worthy. Thomas and Ingler had found the sheet metal to be in very good condition requiring minimal body work. They repainted the car in its original shade of maroon complemented by dark burgundy used on the fenders. Allen’s first point of order was to convert this car from right-hand driver, required in Australia, to left-hand drive, recommended in the USA. He then had a new top, complete with side curtains, installed in proper light tan canvas, then turned to the interior using fine tan leather for the seats and door panels.
Today this one-of-a-kind Studebaker Dictator Phaeton stands proud. It has been maintained in a museum-like collection and, while it has not racked up a ton of miles, it is reportedly in excellent mechanical condition. The chrome trim is deeply reflective and adds to the beauty of the design. The large “bullet” headlights stand ready to light the way with a pair of chrome horns able to alert an errant pedestrian or driver. For 1935, Studebaker redesigned their bumpers giving them a soft bow in the center and those on this car add to the distinctive styling. The top fits snug and shows no sign of staining or lifting and the top-mechanism is in equally beautiful condition. The wide stitched leather seats are soft and pliable with door panels duplicating the originals as to stitching patterns and color. The instrument panel is an Art Deco masterpiece with the large speedometer with black numerals against an ivory background, mounted in the center of the dashboard and four gauges placed in the corners of the central plaque. Another artful recreation is the brown and black mottled finish on the dashboard which is carried onto the massive original steering wheel. Directly in front of the driver are the controls for the AM radio which is powered on and off with a special key. Seating in this phaeton is comfortable for the driver and four passengers with typical legroom up front, but plenty more for those in the back seat. Reported to start easily and run smoothly with brisk acceleration, the transmission shifts with minimal effort and the brakes make sure it comes to a swift, sure stop. While the official Studebaker catalog of 1935 missed out on the market for a phaeton, it is evident that at least one motorist down under wanted the thrill of open-air motoring. A few years back, the Studebaker Driver’s Club could not locate any other 1935 Dictator phaetons which leads us to believe this truly is a “one-of-one” automobile with a well-documented and exciting past, thus making it a very desirable collector car indeed.