by Vern Parker
Adversity often spurs us on to excellence. Some of the most beautiful cars ever made were created during the depths of the Great Depression. Studebaker manufactured 59,864 automobiles in 1934.
The Studebaker was 60 years old when Max Rubin decided he wanted a 1950 bullet-nose version. A veteran antique automobile admirer, Rubin knew the best way to locate a specific car was to join the appropriate club, in this case the Studebaker Drivers' Club.
He passed the word that he was shopping and then began scouring each issue of the club newsletter for likely cars that might be for sale. The cover story on the first club magazine he perused was about a 1934 Studebaker. He soon forgot about the bullet-nose Studebaker and began searching for a 1934 model.
He knew that locating such a car wasn't impossible, but he wasn't prepared to invest any more time in the quest. Another half year passed when an unexpected call came from Salinas. Word of Rubin's search for a 1934 Studebaker had stretched from coast to coast. What kind of Studebaker was it? he queried. He later saw pictures of a 1934 Commander 8 Land Cruiser.
A trip to California was planned so the car could be inspected personally. Rubin was somewhat disappointed when he first saw the car. "It had been painted a 1964 Pontiac Metallic brown," Rubin reports, "with black fenders."
"Despite the incorrect color, the beauty of the lines of the car shone through," Rubin said. Still, he had other cars with which to contend and decided to pass on the 1934 Commander. Besides, it was at the wrong end of the continent.
After returning home to Virginia, Rubin received a telephone call from the California owner reminding 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 car -- ever. That is when the owner said, "Sold." It was June of 1995. The Studebaker was transported cross country on a truck and was delivered to Rubin's home.
After he could no longer put up with the brown and black colors on the car, he took it to a nearby restoration shop. There the tired old engine was rebuilt. It came from the factory with aluminum pistons and an aluminum head. Rubin bought a rusted-out parts car that still had the much-coveted original carburetor. "It was a real problem finding parts," he recalls. Fortunately, the Studebaker must have spent its 60-plus years in California since there was no sign of any rust.
All four doors are hinged on the "B" pillar. Like most cars of that era, the top has a fabric insert, with all steel tops still two years away. In a departure from the "square" body designs prevalent in 1934, the lines of the Land Cruiser were a collection of harmonious curves, all complementing one another. Fender skirts were a unique feature in 1934, but the curvaceous skirts were standard on the Land Cruiser and appear to mimic the curves of the rear fender.
Studebaker offered the Land Cruisers in solid or two-tone combinations at no difference in cost. 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.
The car has no radio, although a walnut-grained dashboard panel in front of the driver's three-spoke steering wheel is there to accommodate such an accessory. A full complement of instruments surround the 100-mph speedometer in the center of the dashboard.
The 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. Rubin's 1934 Land Cruiser is the last year Studebaker used Bendix mechanical brakes. "They work really well," he said, "unless they get cold or wet."
The fastback style doesn't allow much space in the trunk. Since this car doesn't have spare-tire side mounts in the front fenders, the spare tire is horizontally mounted in the trunk, consuming precious cargo space. The trunk lid is supported by two brackets.
Now that the Studebaker Commander 8 Land Cruiser is completely restored, Dr. Rubin said, "I want trim rings for the wheels." That desire simply proves that when restoring an antique car, you're never done.
If you have an antique car of interest to ``Classic Classics'' readers, write to Vern Parker detailing its merits. (Please, no inquiries about selling or buying vehicles.) His address: 2221 Abottsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22818
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