Updated – Selling new cars during the Great Depression was a very hard thing to do. Studebaker officials knew they had a winner on their hands, and set out to let the car buying public know that the “President” model had both record breaking performance and at the same time excellent fuel economy.
Record setter Ab Jenkins was working for Studebaker at the time to do what he did best, which was setting AAA records. Ab went to work and set up the small army that was needed to run a record attempt and worked with the AAA to officiate and time it. The Company’s Research Engineer George Hunt was slated to drive the “President” in the 1931 record attempt. Hunt was in charge of developing the racing cars and engines for Studebaker that it ran in competition events.
- George Hunt behind the wheel of the President “Speedway” Roadster with the AAA timing crew.
The first order of business to prepare for the run was to develop a 7 to 1 high compression cylinder head, a high-lift camshaft with .375 lift, a 3.47 rear axle and carburetor jet changes. For a production record to be recognized by the AAA it required a run of 100 of the modified roadsters to be built. Studebaker named the special car the “President Speedway” Roadster and offered it in grey or black with red chassis, wheels and leather upholstery and a flame red cylinder head. The 337 c.i. nine-main-bearing L-head eight produced 122 h.p.
The scene of the speed run was the Muroc Dry Lake in California were the AAA timing crew set up a circular course and its timing equipment. At the end of the day, 10-new records were set including both the one-mile standing (66.63 m.p.h.) and flying start (91.35 m.p.h) and a 100-mile flying start run covered at a 90.35 m.p.h. average. The AAA officials also tore the car down after the run to ensure that it was the same specifications as the production model.
Studebaker also proved that the President Eight was not only fast, but it also had excellent fuel mileage. The big eight and a six cylinder model were both entered in a Gilmore-Wrightwood economy run in California and ended with an outstanding finish taking first and second places. Mrs. William Hurter with five passengers in her “President” average 17.5 m.p.g. on the 200-mile run.
The record run photos are courtesy of The Revs Institute Research Library.
- George Hunt and Ab Jenkins stand behind the “Hunt Special” driven by Tony Gulotta in the 1931 Indianapolis 500. Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This car has survived.
George Hunt and Ab Jenkins also built the “Hunt Special”, the first stock block racing car for Studebaker. Apparently not willing to gamble its reputation on an Indianapolis 500 entry, the automaker let Hunt enter it under his own name in the 1931 Indy 500 race. It was driven by Tony Gulotta, who 80 laps from the finish was given the signal to run flat out. Gulotta passed 18 cars in the next 46 laps and was running in first place when he hit a patch of oil left over from a crash, and went into the wall ending its run.
- Russell Snowberger finished 5th in his own car powered by a Studebaker President engine in the 1931 race Indianapolis 500 Race. Photo courtesy of Racemaker Press.
Racing car driver and expert mechanic Russell Snowberger entered his own car with a Studebaker President engine in the 1931 race. He won the pole position with a speed of 112.79 m.p.h. and finished the race in 5th place. Studebaker made light of the engine’s performance in its advertising.
The Hunt Special Studebaker engine – “Automotive Trade Journal” July 1931.
The Hunt Special was repaired after the Indy 500 race and was entered in the 1931 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Driven by Chuck Myers over a rough course on the last run of the day, he tore up the hill and won the event while setting a new record of 17 minutes and 10.3 seconds.
- Chuck Myers wins the Pikes Peak Hill Climb – “Automobile Trade Journal” October 1931.