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Somewhere in your family history you probably have some connection with a vehicle built by the Studebaker Corp.
As the largest wagon and buggy manufacturer in the world, Studebaker built the famous Conestoga wagons, bringing thousands of people across the country to the Golden State. The company got into the horseless carriage business with the 1910 purchase of Detroit's second-largest automobile manufacturer, the Evert, Metzger and Flanders Co.
Orinda resident Whitney Haist has restored a couple of dozen vehicles and currently has about six in various stages of restoration. But his favorite car is one he didn't restore. He bought this 1915 Studebaker Model SF at a Los Gatos estate sales auction in May 2010, paying $18,000. The car was already completely restored.
"I had to do some mechanical restoration as the car had been sitting for a long time," Haist said. "The fuel tank had to be removed and boiled out, and the whole fuel system cleaned up, but it's a great-running car. I just did a 100-mile tour with it in Amador County."
His Studebaker has a period-correct navy blue body with black fenders and hood. It is a four-door with no exterior door handles. The comfortable seats are pleated black leather, and the fold-down top is black.
"It was called a one-man top," Haist said, "meaning one man could raise or lower the top, but I think that one man would need four arms.
"This was actually a mid-year model that came out in July of 1915 called the Sixteen Series. It offered substantial upgrades over the earlier 1915 model. The four-cylinder engine has about 10 more horsepower at 40 HP, a longer wheelbase at 112 inches, and one inch taller wheels at 34 inches.
"The car has a transaxle, meaning the transmission and differential are together in the rear end, just like some high-priced performance cars today," he said.
Studebaker also lowered the price from $1,195 ($27,162 in today's dollars) to $895 ($20,343), a 25 percent reduction.
In 1915, when Studebaker manufactured this vehicle, there were already about 195,000 Studebaker cars and trucks on the road. Studebaker was considered one of the most-advanced cars in the domestic market, yet the company, because the European countries were well entrenched in World War I, was still building horse-drawn wagons and gun carriages for England, France and Russia as well for the U.S. military. The company continued producing horse-drawn vehicles until 1920.
Haist's Studebaker has an electric starter, something the Ford Model T didn't have until 11 years later.
"The transmission is a three-speed using the traditional 'H' pattern," Haist said.
The clutch is cone shaped, lined with leather, and it slides in and out when shifting. Haist said it works "like those sleeves that Starbucks gives you with your hot coffee, that slide on and off. That's exactly how a cone clutch works."
Then I learned it is important to keep the leather clutch lubricated with Neet's Foot Oil, now used more for conditioning baseball gloves than lubricating clutches.
Haist's vehicle is a seven-passenger car that seats two in front, three in the rear and two in jump seats ahead of the rear seat. The jump seats fold into the floor when not in use.
One can witness how some of the mechanical parts operate. For example, this Studebaker has rear-only mechanical brakes, and I could see how they grip the brake drum around the exterior of the drum instead of pushing out from the interior.
Through the wooden spokes on the right front tire, gear teeth and a cable are visible. They transfer the speed and mileage to the speedometer and odometer in the dash.
Studebaker had both good and bad ideas. On the negative side, to fill the car with gas, the filler pipe comes through the dashboard, inside the car, right in front of the passenger seat. On the positive side, the inside rear-view mirror is split and angled so the driver looks at the left side of the mirror to view what is directly behind him and the right side of the mirror to check the blind spot on the right side of the car.
Haist didn't do much of the restoration work on his 1915 Studebaker, but he estimates the current market value to be between $35,000 and $40,000. He has no plan to sell; he just enjoys driving his appreciating asset.
David Krumboltz at [email protected]
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