Studebaker and the Land Cruiser: Background information when reading The Lincoln Highway

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The Lincoln Highway

A Novel

by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles X
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
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    Oct 2021, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Studebaker and the Land Cruiser

This article relates to The Lincoln Highway

Print Review

Studebaker logo on green vehicle In The Lincoln Highway, the main characters undertake a would-be cross-country road trip in Emmett Watson's pride and joy, a 1948 powder-blue Studebaker Land Cruiser.

The Studebaker company, now known as a long-lasting and iconic automotive manufacturer, was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1852. The Studebaker family had emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia in the 1730s. Peter Studebaker made wagons in colonial Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was his grandsons — the five brothers Henry, Clement, John, Peter and Jacob — who set up the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. It initially produced other types of vehicles, like buggies, carriages, coaches and covered wagons; in 1902, it began producing automobiles.

During World War I, Studebaker manufactured thousands of cars, ambulances and transport wagons for the Allied Powers. The business declared bankruptcy in 1933 following the impact of the Great Depression. The president of the company at the time, Albert R. Erskine, was laid off and a few months later died by suicide.

By the end of that year, however, the company was reporting a profit. This was also the year that the Land Cruiser sedan, with its streamlined design and wraparound rear window, was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair. The Land Cruiser retailed for around $1,500 — about $30,000 in today's money — and Mickey Rooney featured in the early advertising campaigns. A radical redesign in 1947 offered a lot more legroom for backseat passengers, and featured rear "suicide doors," which hinged at the back and opened toward the center of the vehicle.

Studebaker again produced military vehicles during World War II, this time focusing on trucks and personnel carriers. The Land Cruiser continued to be produced in the postwar years, with 35,731 manufactured in 1948. Today, cars of that vintage are reasonably rare but still show up on classic car websites. (For some stunning photos of a 1948 Land Cruiser restoration project, see Brian Earnest's Old Cars Weekly article on Edward Philie's work.) The Land Cruiser was discontinued in 1954.

The Studebaker company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1952. The 1950s designs, low to the ground and with a "bullet nose" at the front, were considered to be less clunky than previous models. In 1954 Studebaker was purchased by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit and the company was known as the Studebaker-Packard Corporation until 1962. In 1963, the South Bend operation was closed, but Studebaker cars continued to be made in their Hamilton, Ontario location until 1966.

The Studebaker National Museum, opened in South Bend in 2005, commemorates 114 years of Studebaker manufacturing history as well as the city's industrial heritage more generally. An Adopt-A-Car scheme allows the public to be involved in the museum's vehicle conservation efforts.

Studebaker logo. Photo by Thom Quine (CC BY 2.0)

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Lincoln Highway. It originally ran in November 2021 and has been updated for the October 2021 edition. Go to magazine.

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