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SNAPSHOT 278: 1934 Studebaker Director saloon

This fine motor car is in Britain, far from its country of manufacture – but that was not the USA, it was Canada.  It is a right-hand drive car, built for the British market in Studebaker’s Canadian factory.

Although founded and thereafter based in South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker had many facilities.  The main plant covered 225 acres, with buildings occupying 7.5 million square feet of floor space.  Plant 2 made chassis for the Light Six and had a foundry of 575,000 sq ft, making 600 tons of castings every day.

Plant 3 was in Detroit.  It made complete chassis for Special and Big Six models in over 750,000 sq ft of floor space. Other plants in Detroit housed service parts, shipping and technical departments.  The Detroit facilities moved to South Bend in 1926, except that the Piquette Avenue Plant continued, to assemble the Erskine (1927 to 1929) and the Rockne (1931 to 1933).

But Plant 7 was at Walkerville, Ontario, Canada.  Complete cars were assembled from components shipped from South Bend and Detroit factories or locally made in Canada. They were destined for the Canadian (left-hand drive) and British Empire (right-hand drive) markets. In this way, Studebaker could advertise the cars as “British-built” and qualify for reduced tariffs.

The car in our Snapshot is a 1934 Studebaker Director – the name used in European and Australian markets – but that was not its name in the USA.  In the mid-1920s, Studebaker began renaming its vehicles. The Studebaker Standard Six became the Dictator during 1927 – with an internal model designation of GE. The name was intended to imply that the model “dictated the standard” that other automobile makes would have to follow.  The Dictator was Studebaker’s lowest-price model; above it were the Commander and, at the top, the President series.  From 1929 Studebaker offered an 8-cylinder engine for the Dictator series (221 cubic inches, 70 bhp at 3,200 rpm), designed by Barney Roos, though the 6-cylinder option continued for many years.  We do not know whether our car is a six or an eight.

It is surprising that Studebaker chose the Dictator name.  A writer at the time referred to this model name and noted the political problems that would make it unacceptable in European monarchies and in countries of the British Empire.  So it was that Studebaker marketed its Standard Six as the Director in these countries.

On 19 September 1928 the Royal Automobile Club produced a Report of Trial No. 675 of a Studebaker “Director” car.  The entry was made by Messrs. Studebaker (England) Ltd., of Glasgow Terrace, Grosvenor Road, London, S.W.1.  This shows that Studebaker were concerned about the Dictator name at least five years before our car was produced, so it is almost certain that it was sold as a Director saloon.  Incidentally, the Snapshot image shows the car carrying trade plates; it was thus possibly owned by a garage business. British garages were known to favour these relatively inexpensive but powerful cars.

Initially, the Dictator name caused no problems in the USA.  Americans only really knew of Benito Mussolini, whose popular image was one of audacity and strength.  But the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany tainted the word ‘dictator’.  Studebaker therefore abruptly discontinued the name ‘Dictator’ in 1937, reviving the Commander name which had been dropped in 1935.

Picture courtesy of James Loveridge


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