Lest you think electric vehicles have come to the market recently, consider that Studebaker designed and produced an electric car in 1902, designed by none-other-than Thomas Alva Edison. Two years later, their first gas-powered vehicle came on the market. However, across the previous 40 years, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company produced covered wagons. Many a Studebaker Conestoga took many a pioneer family to settle the American West.
Three of the five ingenious Studebaker brothers (there were five sisters, too) established their business in 1868 (or 1852 depending on the source) in South Bend, Indiana. A 4th brother joined the firm later, and they called themselves “The World on Wheels”.
Studebaker was a popular automobile in the 1920s, then took a hit in the Depression years of the 1930s. The company emerged from bankruptcy with models which incorporated better steering gears, a silent gear transmission and free-wheeling brakes.
From 1942 to 1945, Studebaker did not manufacture cars, but was active in the efforts of World War II, producing army and cargo trucks. The company also manufactured 63,789 Wright Cyclone 9-cylinder radial engines for the B-17 Flying Fortress, a low-wing, heavy bomber.
With lofty car model names like Commander, Skyway Champion, President and Pinehurst, the firm continued producing cars until 1966. In the middle, 1954 to 1962, Studebaker was part of the Packard Motor Car Company.
The deep maroon, 1932, 2-door sedan pictured here was owned for decades by J.C. and Kathleen Absher of Christiansburg. The couple toured all over the country in this vehicle, and the car won a dozen or more show awards as well. About a year after Kathleen died in April of 2021, J.C. needed extra care, and their precious Studebaker sat idle.
Chester Linkous, also of Christiansburg, stepped in and purchased the classic car in mid-2022. He enjoys carrying on their legacy of caring for it, driving it and showing it in the warmer months. The car sports an automatic 3-speed transmission with a 289 Ford engine under the hood. The trunk looks like an add-on in the back, and 1932 design changes include the oval headlights, vee-shaped grill and sloped windshield.
“It’s 90 years old,” Linkous relates, “and it looks like it just came out of the showroom. I did a few small cosmetic things, but any restoration work was all done, and it runs fine.” Linkous has owned other old vehicles during his career as a trucker. The New River Valley native is especially humbled to own and appreciate the Abshers much-loved Studebaker.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson | Photos by Tom and Christy Wallace