1934 Studebaker: Beauty from depression

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Adversity often spurs us on to excellence; in fact, some of the most beautiful cars ever made were created during the depths of the Great Depression. Need proof? Studebaker manufactured 59,864 beautiful automobiles in 1934.

An antique automobile admirer, Max Rubin decided he wanted a 1934 Studebaker. Knowing the best way to locate a specific car was to join the appropriate club, Ruben became a member of the Studebaker Drivers’ Club.

He spread the word he was shopping, and then he began scouring each issue of the club newsletter for cars for sale. Word of Rubin’s search for a 1934 Studebaker stretched from coast to coast, and six months later, an unexpected call came from Salinas, Calif.

Rubin planned a trip to California so he could inspect the Commander 8 Land Cruiser personally. At first, he was somewhat disappointed: “It had been painted a 1964 Pontiac metallic brown with black fenders,” Rubin reports, “but, despite the incorrect color the car was a beauty.” Still, he had other cars under consideration and decided to pass on this particular model. Besides, he argued, it was at the wrong end of the continent.

After returning home to Virginia, a telephone call from the California owner reminded him of the sheer beauty of the car. For once, Rubin let practicality reign supreme. He knew the car needed both a mechanical and cosmetic restoration, and it was about a dozen states away — and some of those states were very big.

The two men couldn’t agree on a price. Finally, Rubin said he was done talking and didn’t want to hear any more about the Studebaker — ever. That’s when the owner said, “Sold.”

The 1934 Studebaker was transported across the country on a truck and delivered to Rubin’s home. Deciding he could no longer put up with the brown and black colors on the car, he took it to a nearby restoration shop where the tired old engine — which came from the factory with aluminum pistons and an aluminum head — was rebuilt. “It was a real problem finding parts,” Rubin recalls, so he bought a rusted-out car that still had the much-coveted original carburetor, and other parts he could salvage.

All four doors are hinged on the “B” pillar. Like most cars of that era, the top has a fabric insert. In a departure from the “square” body designs prevalent in 1934, the lines of this Studebaker were a collection of harmonious curves, all complementing one another.

Studebaker offered its Land Cruiser models in solid or two-tone combinations at no difference in cost. To keep with the correct color choices of the time, Rubin selected a subtle two-tone light-blue combination with navy blue pinstriping. The 14-spoke, light-blue Budd steel wheels are highlighted with navy blue pinstriping in a sunburst pattern around the chrome hubcap with an “S” in the middle.

A full complement of instruments surrounds the 100-mph speedometer in the center of the dashboard. The car has no radio, although a walnut-grained dashboard panel in front of the driver’s three-spoke steering wheel can accommodate such an accessory.

A three-speed gearshift lever sprouts from the center of the front floorboard, while the hand-brake lever, also through the floor, is at the driver’s left knee. The 1934 model year was the last year the automaker used Bendix mechanical brakes, Rubin explains, saying, “They work really well, unless they get cold or wet.”

The fastback style doesn’t allow much space in the trunk. Since this car doesn’t have side mounts in the front fenders, the spare tire is horizontally mounted in the trunk, consuming precious cargo space. Two brackets support the trunk lid.

Of his restored Studebaker Commander 8 Land Cruiser, Rubin says, “I still want trim rings for the wheels.” That desire simply proves that when restoring an antique car, you’re never done.

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