1910 Studebaker Electric Coupe.

   Many people today are shocked when they are informed that electric and hybrid cars are nothing new. The first electric vehicles date back into the late 1800s and the first hybrid was rolling along the streets in 1896. One company in particular worked hard to establish electric vehicles in the USA, and, although no longer in the ranks of automobile manufacturers, their history is considered by many to be national treasure. 

   American depended on horse drawn transport for centuries and that was the centre of the Studebaker family’s business. In the mid-1800s Studebaker was one of, if not the, biggest manufacturers of wagons and buggies in the world. Such a successful history that spanned over 100 years should not easily be forgotten.

   Emigrating from Solingen, Germany, in 1736 the Stutenbecker blacksmithing family sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, to arrive in Philadelphia, USA. Their name soon became Anglicized to Studebaker. 

   Metalworking skills were in high demand as the colonies expanded. The Studebakers ability to form metal got them involved with making ironwork for Conestoga type wagons, for carriages and for the harnesses for horse drawn vehicles. It has even been reported that one Clement Studebaker built his own wagon around 1750. 

   Around 100 years later on the 16th of February, 1852 brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana, under the company name H & C Studebaker Company.  A few years later in 1868 other brothers, Peter, John, and Jacob joined the firm and together the Studebaker brothers incorporated the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, still in South Bend. At first the firm, like their ancestors, they made the metal parts for freight wagons. Later the firm expanded to manufacture ranges of wagons, carriages and buggies. The Studebaker name was becoming woven into the history of the United States and would go one to become a name recognised around the world. 

   The firm had great success, demonstrated by being in a position to build a solid brick works covering 20acres (81,000msq), then the “largest vehicle house in the world", on the site of their previous works which had burnt down in 1874. Many historical events followed which greatly increased the demand for wagons and the metal fittings required in their construction. A civil war and Gold rush created a boom period further reinforcing Studebaker’s position as the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. 

   By mid 1890s the South Bend works even had its own spur line to the Lake Shore railroad which allowed access to the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad, so, Studebaker products could reach all parts of the US by rail and/or steamship. However, it remained a family firm. Even after the five brothers retired, Fred Sr's son, Frederick Studebaker Fish, who had served his own apprenticeships within the family firm, served on the board of directors and became chairman of the executive committee in 1897. 

   The younger generation of the Studebaker family were keen for the firm to explore the new automobile ideas but the older generation were set against it. John M. Studebaker is recorded as saying “Gasoline-powered cars are clumsy, dangerous, noisy brutes that stink to high heaven and break down at the worst possible moment” and Clem’ Studebaker was dead set against them too. However, the matter was debated and the firm consider steam, gasoline and electricity as the driving force for a range of horseless carriages. 

   Realising the danger to the core business, and aware of the elders’ objections, Frederick S. Fish cleverly steered discussion around the clean, quite electrical option and in time started to win round the board and the family. 

   As early as 1896 the firm hired George Strong, an electrical engineer to provide guidance and designs for a battery powered vehicle. Although unable to get the complete backing of the board Fred Fish was able to convince the board to provide $4,000 for development of the idea and in due course one electric vehicle was produced. Still the board were unconvinced of the horseless carriage idea so F. S. Fish and the board agreed to use their company’s coach building skills to provide bodies for electric vehicles Albert Augustus Pope’s Electric Vehicle Company sold; largely as taxis for The New York Electric Vehicle Co. 

   By 1900 Studebakers were employing around 3,000 workers, and manufacturing over 100,000 horse-drawn vehicles a year. But the world was changing fast as it moved into the new 20th century. 

   Edison, Ford, Porsche, Marconi, Bell, and many more were pushing the world into a new, faster, more connected whole. Rather than a huge globe of vaguely related countries far apart where goods, people and mail travelled for days and even weeks, Telegrams, telephones, automobiles and aeroplanes would see the world shrink hugely in the first few decades of the new 1900s. The automobile, which had been little more than a novelty a few years earlier had proved its worth and reliability in many contests and conditions. Even the prices were becoming more reasonable as this play thing for the rich started to become more readily available for rest of the upper classes. 

   As the younger members of the Studebaker family moved ever higher in the firm the idea of producing the whole electric vehicle, rather than providing bodies for other manufacturers, grew. They could see the new innovation was going to start eating into their business, so it was a good idea to get ahead of the game. Late in 1901 the last hurdle to a true Studebaker automobile fell when Clem Studebaker collapsed on arrival back in the US after a transatlantic voyage from London. A few weeks later Clem passed away. 

   Studebaker’s foray into electric automobiles started great looking line of vehicles going on sale from 1902 in a variety of body styles that followed the lines of their passenger carriages. But "The Studebaker Brothers Mfg. Co." prices weren’t exactly cheap. The two passenger Electric Runabout with a buggy top was $950.00. The Stanhope with a closed top $1,303.00, Victoria-Phaeton with close or quartered top $1,600.00. By 1910 the Coupe was $1,850, over US$50,000 in today’s world. Between 1902 and 1912 Studebaker also had a line of electric commercial vehicles including Electric wagons and stake trucks, a panel side wagon, a 14passenger omnibus and an ambulance. Colours evolved but the main three were black, blue and Studebaker red. 

   The cars had side tiller steering, oil headlamps and pneumatic tires. The 48-volt Westinghouse vehicle motor was suspended from the body and passed power to the rear wheels through 3 forward gears and a reverse gear, using chains for the final drive to the rear axle. It took a battery of 24 cells weighing over 970pounds (31kg) to power the motor with each charge being worth around 40 miles. Speeds up to 21mph (33kph) would be achieved and eventually as much as 70miles (over 110km) could be obtained with steady driving skills. Studebaker batteries of the time were certainly durable but not of the same high-capacity other electric automobiles enjoyed. 

   Apparently one Mr. F. W. Blees of Macon, Missouri, bought the first Studebaker automobile, five days before the company's 50th anniversary. The second is believed to have been purchased by none other than the luminary, Thomas Edison. In 1902 twenty electric vehicles were sold while Wagon sales yielded more than $4,000,000. These vehicles worked well in towns and places without petrol stations but the truth was the oil lobby was already pressuring the politicians and buying public to follow the internal combustion engine route. 

   Fred Fish could see what was happening and pushed the Studebaker firm towards the gasoline powered automobile. Studebaker’s world was still body building, although having a good distribution system they had little knowledge of chassis engineering technology and no engine building expertise at all. However, the Garford Company of Elyria, Ohio, was making decent chassis’ for a number of firms and entered into an agreement with Studebaker to provide the complete chassis and engines for Studebaker to put the bodies on. Petrol powered Studebaker-Garford cars, listed as 8hp five-seat touring cars, went on sale through the Studebaker dealer network. 

   These cars sold quite well but by 1910 Garford were focusing more on their own cars and letting Studebaker down. Around the same time, over the state border in Detroit, Michigan, the E-M-F Company of Barney Everitt, William Metzger and Walter Flanders were producing cars of their own working out of the old “De Luxe” car company plant and were looking for a marketing partner. E-M-F did a deal with Studebakers to sell through the Studebaker network. 

   By 1910 Fred Fish, as Studebaker's president, was unhappy with the situation with Garford and dissatisfied with the poor quality of E-M-F's vehicles. So, he bought out E-M-F and Studebaker took control of the assets and plant facilities, at the same time parting company with Garford. By 1912 the future of the firm was in the gasoline-powered cars leading to the Studebaker Corporation declaring: 

The production of electric automobiles at South Bend has ended. . . It has been conducted for nine years without much success, and ultimately the superiority of the gasoline car (is) apparent.

   The much admired electric-powered Studebaker cars were gone. In all, 1,841 Studebaker electric vehicles had been built. Two of which were of particular interest in that they ran for 7 years in an underground tunnel unseen by the public. The two cars, nicknamed "Tommy" and "Peggy", were custom built by the Studebaker company in 1909 for a very specific task; to transport people through a one-fifth-mile-long tunnel from the U.S. Capitol building to Russell Senate Office Building. These interesting little electric vehicles had two driver seats set in the centre of the vehicle, one facing in either direction. At each end a set of steps gave passenger access to bench seating for six people giving a total passenger capacity of 12 people. The driver took them to the other end of the tunnel, swapped to the other driving seat, took on more passengers and went back down the tunnel in the reverse direction. Each of these vehicles cost the US Government $3,000, the Government sold them in 1939 for just $35 each. Fortunately, they have both been conserved and restored by two different museums, and are saved for future generations to enjoy the design and manufacturing skills of the wonderful Studebaker firm.

1/32nd scale kit.
Built by Ian.

   Plastic injection moulding was becoming a regular way to manufacture combs and other cheap items but it wasn’t until the late 1940 that companies started to produce models of specific subjects in a kit form. Promotional items and souvenirs were being made in what was then a cheap alternative but the idea of a kit for people build wasn’t. Traditionally, ‘kits’ were sheets and blocks of wood supplied with a set of instructions and plans relying heavily on the builders carving and woodworking skills. 

   When Gowland & Gowland released their plastic kits in the 1/32nd scale Highway Pioneers range it was a much greater success than they could ever have known. 70 years later the kits are still sort after, and built, which is a testament to design work of the original team. They may not have the total accuracy, or parts count, of a modern kit but they have an interesting array of subjects and enough detail for the casual hobby enthusiast. If you have the desire and skill to exploit the kits then you can make some very nice models from the range, at which point the overly thick nature of the mouldings pays dividends as it is generally easy to carve and sand to get rid of thick mudguard stays and lamp mountings. 

   Originally released in 1952, and indeed it does say very clearly on the mouldings “Copyright 1952” our kit is actually from a 1990s release by Dapol in the UK. The success of the range is in evidence by the sheer number of releases there have been. In 1953 Revell released the model as kit # H-41. In 1955 Gowland’s released the kit again under their own name. In 1958 the range appears in a promotional role with Lodela/Orange Crush in Mexico, and of course has a suitably Spanish title “STUDEBAKER 1910 CUPE ELECTRICO”. This was a clever marketing trick which not only saw the Orange drink get a leg up, but the idea of plastic kits was starting to be exported around the world. Then for some time this particular kit seems to have been neglected as the world of high-tech injection moulded kits moved on quickly. The next release of this simple kit was again in Mexico, this time Lodela partnering Revell more directly with a “Colleccion de Oro Studebaker 1910 - 30 Anniversario” edition. Minicraft then obtained the moulds and released the kit, as # C-103, in the 1990s followed by two further 1990s releases by Dapol. 

   Dapol supply an interesting history-cum-reasoning of their own which is supplied with the kit. Interestingly the kit has had no alterations of any sort in its almost 70 years of life. For much of the time it doesn’t seem to have had an actual kit number visible on the box either. The same is true of the Highway Pioneers series generally making them quite unusual in a world where most kits evolve and are developed to gain the maximum monetary value, a number of kit numbers then becoming associated with a primary model. 

   The kit is a very simple item with an awful caricature of a figure that detracts from, rather than adds to, the overall image of the vehicle. Even hidden inside the body of a coupe the figure wouldn’t look right so Ian left it out. Instead, he made a serious effort to remove the central mould lines; not so hard on the outside but very difficult on the inside. Plastic card and strip made a new false interior roof and dash’, in a plain wood style, with paper liners for the back covering the difficult to hide rear body joint, which was a fabric covered liner in real life so added a but of texture and reality. The interior door handles, shut lines and flower containers were also scratch built. 

   The exterior is painted with brush applied Humbrol enamel paints in a style in keeping with the era of the original kit and with the fact that ever as late as 1910 cars were often still hand paint in the traditional coach building manner. The black pin-stripe is applied decals, although the kit has the elevated mouldings these are very hard to paint by hand and at the centre joint lines had become a little less distinct in the process of removing said line. 

   The windows are supplied as a sheet of acetate which the builder cuts and applies from the inside. Ian did this with all the windows except the front windscreen which on some cars could be a separate front opening unit for ventilation. As such the glazing was cut to fit inside the aperture rather than just on the inside; the joint being hidden by a scratch-built frame from half round plastic strip. 

   Much of the visual appeal of this model is from the small changes like drilling out the solid plasit lights and adding candles and new glazing to more readily resemble the carriage lights of the period. Also, the enormously thick mudguard mounts were cut off and new scrat-built wire stays made. Much more closely matching the real cars. 

   There seem to be quite a lot of examples of the built model kit to be found on the internet, which is great and proves the depth of interest there is for these old kits and models of vintage/veteran cars.

   Built by Ian during late 2020 and finished in April 2021.