The 40-Foot Studebaker

Few companies escaped the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that plunged the United States into an abyss of economic recession. One of the worst was the automobile industry, because it was almost impossible to sell cars to people who were out of work. Prior to the crash, Studebaker had been booming, manufacturing more than 180,000 cars a year. While the company barely survived the depression, a series of bad decisions sealed their fate. In the midst of their difficulties, Studebaker orchestrated one of the biggest automobile stunts that had ever been done. In 1931, in order to promote sales, the company built an enormous replica of the Studebaker President out of wood. The President, one of their premiere models, was released in 1926 with a 6-cylinder engine capable of delivering 122hp that made it a king in land speed records. The replica stood 14 feet tall and was 40 feet long — 2½ times larger than its production counterpart — and weighed over 5½ tons. The wheels, supplied by Firestone, measured seven feet across. The display generated a fair share of publicity, but because the company took no measures to protect the all-wood construction from the ravages of a harsh winter, the car fell into disrepair. It survived until the spring of 1936, when the company decided to burn it to the ground. Studebaker’s fascination with enormous vehicles didn’t die with the wooden President. At the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, Studebaker erected another giant — a model of their Land Cruiser, 80 feet long and 28 feet high — out of plaster over a wood framework. Below the running board, a door led visitors into an auditorium where films were shown extolling the virtues of the new Studebakers. The car was dismantled after the exhibition ended. Neither stunt resulted in an increase in sales. The company eventually folded in 1966.