Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Studebaker

Something without cleavage this time.

1947 Studebaker M5 Pickup.

Beginning as a builder of wagons in the 1850s, Studebaker progressed from Prairie Schooners and buggies like the one in Gone With The Wind to electric cars and finally gasoline powered cars and gasoline and diesel powered trucks.   They built heavy trucks as well and hundreds of thousands of military transport trucks that were shipped to the Soviet Union during the Second World War so Stalin could concentrate on building tanks.  At one time, prior to the Great Depression of the 1930s, Studebaker was the #2 builder of cars in the Country.  Their electric cars were never recalled either.  That might be because they were not known to spontaneously burst into flames.

They did some things that they didn't have to do like using roller bearings on their axles instead of ball bearings and replaceable rod and main bearings in their engines fifteen or twenty years before Chevrolet.   They used a harder iron in their blocks than they needed to use.  (That made their piston rings wear so they often smoked before they really should have.   The local machinist that I used back when I had my Studebakers hated to seem me dropping off a block because they were a pain to bore).  That and the fact that they never took a strike and always caved into union demands drove their costs up to where, by the 1950s, it cost them several hundred dollars more to build each car than it cost GM. 

By the late 1950s, they were producing some innovative designs with high performance engines but their quality was also slipping.  Machinists have told me that they can tell when a Studebaker block was made in the 1960s because it will have more flashing in the coolant holes than an older block.

Management decided to diversify during the 1950s and they got into several different industries.  Most notably, Studebaker-Worthington, who built nuclear reactors for power plants and other heavy construction. 

They had one of the largest foundaries in the industry and by the early 1960s they weren't building enough cars and trucks to support it so they started buying Chevrolet engines from GM's Mckinnon Industries plant.   They shut down their plant in South Bend Indiana with the end of the 1964 run and became an import, building what they built their last two years in Canada.  

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