It was an old and proud company with roots as far back as 1852.
There were five Studebaker brothers. Two had lived in Placerville during the gold rush era, but they weren't chasing gold. They made wheelbarrows and sold them to the miners chasing gold.
After a few years, the two brothers returned to South Bend, Ind., with $8,000 they had earned and invested it with their brothers in what was to become the Studebaker Corp.
By 1900, the company claimed to be the world's largest wagon manufacturer. But with wagon sales dropping, Studebaker got into the horseless carriage business starting with an electric car in 1902 that could go 40 miles on a single charge.
In 1910, Studebaker bought Everitt-Metzger-Flanders, which was the second-largest automobile manufacturer in Detroit. From 1911 on, Studebaker's primary business was automobiles. Horse-drawn vehicle production ceased in 1920.
By the time this 1923 Studebaker Special Six Touring car was built, Studebaker had been a major player in the automobile business for more than a decade.
Pleasanton resident Gary Schellenberg bought this classic car, sight unseen, about 18 months ago. It was listed for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $12,000.
"The car was located in Oklahoma, and the pictures of the car looked great. The bids were increasing daily with a closing date in three days," he said. "I was afraid I wouldn't get it. I contacted the owner by phone, and he told me how well the car ran and that he drove it around all the time. I offered to buy it for $22,000, a little more than the current bid, and he accepted." It was trucked out to Pleasanton.
It may be hard to believe, but the seller may have stretched the truth a little in describing the condition of the car. When the old Studebaker arrived, it didn't run. He also forgot to mention that somewhere in its history, someone ran into a post or tree, and the front bumper and bumper support are a little cattywampus. Plus it drips oil, water and transmission fluid. And periodically, when the gas line accidentally sprays fuel on the exhaust manifold, it catches on fire.
I didn't detect any bitterness with Schellenberg regarding the surprise defects. "It's an 88-year-old car, and just like an 88-year person, things are going to break, and you just have to be prepared for it," he said.
It took Schellenberg about a year to find a mechanic and necessary parts to get the car to run properly. But now, it purrs like a kitten.
The old car has been nicely restored. The period correct maroon body with black fenders was one of three color combinations offered. When new, the Special Six Touring model sold for $1,275. Studebaker also offered a Light Six model for $995 and a Big Six model for $1,750. For comparison, a Model T Ford Touring car sold for less than $300.
The interior is black pleated leather, which is comfortable and has a luxurious look. It has a padded and retractable footrest for the rear seat passengers.
Of course, I wanted to go for a ride. Climbing in the car, I noted a small plate on the dashboard stating the car was originally sold by Lundblade & Jewett, the Studebaker dealer in Eureka. Schellenberg believes the car spent most of its active life in Oregon.
The car has an electric starter, unusual for the time. The owner started the 50-horsepower engine by pressing the floor starter button while adjusting the spark advance lever on the left side of the steering column, the choke on the dash and the accelerator on the floor.
It's a real effort to turn the impressive tongue-and-groove steering wheel made of five curved sections of oak wood.
"The engine temperature is measured by a motometer, mounted on the radiator cap," Schellenberg said, "and popular with thieves."
The transmission is the standard three gears forward and one back. Once under way, the owner had to reduce the spark with the left hand lever.
"Driving at 35 mph is a very comfortable speed," Schellenberg said, "at 45 to 50 mph, there is some play in the steering."
The brakes are mechanical clamp-type, rear-only brakes that make contact on the outside of the brake drums. "If you are going 45 mph, you better know when you are going to stop. If someone pulls out in front of you, you're going to be in trouble," he said.
Schellenberg believes the wooden spoke wheels are original, and he thinks even the spare tire, with the Wards Riverside brand stamped on the side, may be original as well.
Does anyone care that the old car drips some fluids and catches on fire once in a while? For Schellenberg, this 1923 Studebaker is a keeper. He also keeps drip pans and a fire extinguisher handy.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at email@example.com.