Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Dick Lane got the ride of his life a few years back in a beat-up old 1925 Studebaker. It was a time-warp experience, bouncing through some dusty roads in rural South Dakota with his wife’s grandfather, Jack Ferber, behind the wheel.
“The first time I saw this car is when he threw open the shed. I said, ‘My gosh, I’ve never even been in a car like this before.' And he kicked the blocks out, threw the doors open and backed it out, the dust was flying!” laughs Lane, a resident of Appleton, Wis. “My wife [Kathleen] and I got in — this would have been about ’85 or ’86 — and he took us out driving in South Dakota and it was like turning the clock back for me … It was acres and acres of farm in sections and the wheat was turning white and we’re buzzing down the road and the dirt is flying behind us. I kept making him stop at every corner so I could take pictures. It was like going back in time.”
At the time, the Lanes had no intention of getting into the collector car hobby, but they also had no intention of letting “Grandpa’s Studebaker” — the car that had been in the family since it was new — ever leave the family tree. When Grandpa Jack got too old to care for his Studebaker, Dick and Kathleen decided to adopt it. They simply couldn’t bear the thought of letting it go.
“Every child, great-grandchild, in-law, out-law — everybody in the family has ridden in this, so it was really sad to hear that somebody else might buy it, so we bought it — knowing nothing,” Dick chuckled.
That was in 2007, and today the Studebaker is not only still in the family, but it is a true show-stopper that turns heads whenever it appears in public. Surviving 1925 Studebakers are a rarity. Studes that are 87 years old and have never left the family are rarer still.
“Grandpa Jack was with his father on the day they bought the car. In fact, he took the car back to get the [optional] front bumper on the car, was told not to pick up any girls, but did anyway,” Lane said. “Grandpa Jack drove this car on his wedding day, and kept it running. He inherited the farm from his dad. Then 50 years later, he drove this same car to his 50th wedding anniversary. He still drove it and then after Grandma died and he was about 90 years old, he couldn’t stay on the farm anymore and he decided to sell the car. No one in the family — none of the third generation — was interested in it, so when we caught wind of it and heard it was going to be sold outside of the family we didn’t want that to happen.”
Not long after the Lanes took the car home and began working on restoring and reviving the venerable Studebaker, the couple realized Grandpa Jack had his 100th birthday coming up. The idea to surprise him with a ride in his old ’25 Stude quickly took flight and the race was on to get the car looking good and running good enough to appear at the birthday celebration in the tiny town of Corona, S.D. (population 109).
“When we first got it, we had to do the brakes, the clutch… the exhaust manifold … some of the wiring,” Dick recalled. “It was a solid car, but the body was just bent up and the chrome was pretty much shot.
“When we realized he was going to turn 100, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to bring it back for his birthday? And I found a friend who was willing to take on the project and I worked with him. It was kind of this timeline race, and I was really worried that Grandpa wouldn’t live to see the car, or that I wouldn’t get the car done in time. But the timelines crossed and he rode in it when he was 100.”
The return of the Studebaker helped make the birthday party an especially memorable occasion for those who remembered the car, including the birthday boy. “He was pretty frail and, of course, he wasn’t able to drive it, but he was thrilled,” Lane said. “His first words were, ‘I never thought I would live to be 100, and I never thought I would see the Studie again. It looks just like it did when I used to go pick up the girls.’”
“There were a lot of neighbors there — you know, from a small town. And as kids they could remember Great-Grandpa Fred picking them up and giving them rides when they were going to school, so they got to ride in it again all these years later. And people could remember him pulling hay wagons with it. It’s had an interesting life.”
The Lanes’ long-lasting four-door sedan was one of 80,365 Studebakers built for the 1925 model year. The 113-inch-wheelbase Model ER Standard Six was the base series for the Studebakers at the time, one step below the Special Six (Model EQ) and two rungs below the top-level Big Six (Model EP), which both rode on 120-inch wheelbases. All three levels offered a variety of two- and four-door sedans, phaetons, coupes and roadsters. A four-door Standard Six sedan such as the Lanes’ was priced at $1,595, which was more than twice as much as the priciest Fords or Chevrolets of the day. “I think they were viewed as a solid car, but they were a little more expensive,” Lane said. “They were a little more of an investment.”
The bottom-tier Standard Six series replaced the Light Six on the Studebaker menu, which underwent a significant restyling for 1925. The shortened hoods were rounded and taller than in the past, and the vertical hood louvers on the sides were part of a raised panel with rounded corners. The rear fenders had a more backward-stretching rear curve, and drum-type headlights were mounted on either side of a thicker, rounder nickel-plated radiator shell. Standard equipment included balloon tires, shock absorbers and heaters on closed cars. Interiors of the open cars were finished in leather, with closed cars generally getting Angora mohair fabric. The sedan's one-piece windshield tips out to allow fresh air in, and a prominent sun visor hangs from the front end of the vinyl-covered roof.
The engine in the ER line was the 241.6-cid inline six rated at 50 hp. The Special Six engine was a beefier 288.6-cid unit rated at 65 hp, while the Big Six lineup had the 353.8-inch engine rated at 75 hp. “It doesn’t go very fast. It maybe can top out at 30 and then it starts to sound like it’s going to fly apart,” Lane joked of his Standard Six. “It’s kind of funny, it doesn’t have a fuel pump. It uses a vacuum to pump gas... then it gravity feeds, so if you go up too steep of a hill, it will konk out and you have to back up the hill!”
Other accoutrements on the 1925 Studebaker included electric start (with crank backup), lighted dash, fuel gauge, oil gauge, odometer, clock, single windshield wiper and a foot rail for passengers in the spacious back seat area. “A little boy came up to me and asked, ‘Why does your car have kneelers in it?’” Lane said. “I said, ‘Well, first I pray it starts. Then I pray it stops.’”
One of Lane’s other favorite quirks of the car is ball-style throttle pedal. “I found old advertisements that refer to it as a ‘comfort ball’ and women in high heels can put their foot anywhere … It’s literally a ball, which is kind of cool.”
After getting some dents and dings straightened, the Lanes had their car repainted its original Studebaker Blue — or at least as close as they could come to it — with black fenders. “It had been hand painted twice by Grandma and the family, so it had brush strokes on it,” Dick said. The chrome was all re-done, some broken spokes were fixed on the wooden wheels, and a bent axle was straightened. A lot of the car is still original, however. The interior is all intact with the exception of some new window shades in back, and even the frayed spark plug wires are original.
“The inside is still all original. We haven’t done anything to the engine. I think he had it rebuilt — rings and things, probably, in the ’70s. It runs great. I had to do the rear wheels first because the brakes are attached to them. The drum is part of the wheel.”
Lane said one of the biggest pluses that the car had going for it was that the wooden supports of the cab and body were all in good shape. “It’s basically a wood coach on a metal frame, and the tops are made with just a vinyl thing over cloth," he noted. "Once they start to leak, the wood rots and then they implode, and that’s why there aren’t too many around. Ours was in good shape. There was very little rot. But there were several mice nests, and I found a really cool skeleton of a mouse.”
“I built new running boards for it. The original ones had Grandma’s nice kitchen linoleum on them, a nice plaid linoleum. I still have those.”
Lane jokes that Grandpa Jack “kept every car he ever owned. He would buy a new car and the old car would be for driving around on the farm and the new car would be the go-to-church car." Every so often, the car would have to be patched up and be jury rigged to keep it running. The Lanes have already done far more than that, but Dick wants to be careful not to go overboard and “over-restore” the old Studebaker, either.
“I hesitate to do much to it, because this is the way it was,” he says. “[The upholstery is] starting to go on the seats. I may have to do a little patching, but I kind of hesitate to do anything. People ask me when I’m going to re-do it, and I say when the third generation grandma turns 100, and I have about 30 years for that.”
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