(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #118, July 2014)
It should come as no surprise that 1932 was a challenging year for automobile manufacturers. Ford and Chevrolet lost nearly half their sales from the previous year and the entire industry was struggling significantly. While still suffering like the other automobile manufacturers, Studebaker had a lot to be proud of in 1932. That year the company jumped from tenth in sales ranking to sixth, had been in business as a vehicle manufacturer for 80 years and had a decent side income by having ownership of the low-priced Rockne and luxurious Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Companies.
In 1932, Studebaker cars were offered in a single six-cylinder model with a 117” wheelbase and three different eight-cylinder models with varying wheelbases: Dictator – 117”, Commander – 125” and President – 135”. Horsepower ranged from the 80HP six to the 122HP eight installed on the Presidents. There were a total of fifty body styles offered across all of that year’s models.
Studebaker sales literature for 1932 features beautiful, full-color covers for the Dictator, President and six-cylinder offerings. A full-line catalog also exists but it is merely two-toned. One thing that all of that year’s pieces share in common is several pages in the beginning of each catalog dedicated to the praise of the company. Likely an attempt to reassure a nervous public, catalogs begin by reminding the consumer that Studebaker has been building fine transportation for “four score years.” This catalog introduction highlights that this history and experience has allowed the company to develop strong financial strength – a strength that allows them to take advantage of cheap raw materials.
Moving away from the company and on to the vehicles, sales literature begins to focus on new features for the year including refined freewheeling, synchronized shifting, automatic starting, automatic spark control, all-steel bodies and safety plate glass that came standard on every Studebaker offering. Each sales catalog cover also included an airplane in the illustration and this served to highlight the car’s sleek styling and new airplane-type instrument cluster. None of the Studebaker catalogs mention the company’s interests in Rockne or Pierce-Arrow.
The six-cylinder, Dictator Eight and President Eight sales catalogs each measure 9 ½” X 9 ¼” while the full-line catalog measures 8 ½” X 11”. The artwork on each of these catalogs is beautiful but my favorite cover is on the President Eight catalog. Here, silver ink is overlaid on a red background. The red cover is textured and feels soft like felt. Interior illustrations are colorful and vibrant giving the automobile a regal and opulent appearance.
The Great Depression would catch up with Studebaker but it wouldn’t be enough to destroy the company. By 1933 when they would eliminate the Rockne line and in 1934 they relinquished control of Pierce-Arrow. Their strong start to the decade and perhaps their beautiful sales literature carried them through the worst financial crisis in modern times. Studebaker would last until 1967 ending 115 years of vehicle manufacturing.