The Norman Transcript

November 2, 2013

Noble man’s 1948 Studebaker a commanding ride

By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — James Frame of Noble loves old cars. He may enjoy trading, buying and selling elderly vehicles even more than actually owning them.

His household has seven automobiles and trucks. Frame’s recently-acquired 1948 Studebaker Commander Land Cruiser is the most senior in his stable.

“I saw that Studebaker sitting on a trailer at the All Transportation Swap Meet at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds,” Frame said. “I looked it over, had the owner crank it up and I liked it pretty good, so I traded him a 1973 yellow Corvette for it.”

Understand that Frame grew up learning the art of swapping iron from his daddy and brothers in Waveland, Ark. At one time they had 38 vehicles around the place. They’d buy a jalopy, fix it up, use it for awhile and, best case, re-sell it at a profit.   

“I’ve always wanted a Studebaker because they were a top-of-the-line car,” Frame said. “Those cars were known to be very safe to drive. They have good solid bodies that were well-built with features ahead of their time.”

This is the first Studebaker Frame has owned himself but back in the day a neighbor had one.

“I’d drive her to the hospital in Ft. Smith, (Ark.,) in that car,” he said. “It was a 1948 two-door with the bullet nose.”

Frame had to do some work on his Commander, but fundamentally it’s a sound ride. The exterior paint and interior upholstery were updated a few years back. All the trim and glass appears to be original and in place. It has rear center-opening “suicide doors” and a “baseball cap” visor over the windshield. Inside and out, the car has an attractive art deco vibe. Frame is the car’s third owner. The odometer reflects more than 100,000 miles and he reckons the engine has been rebuilt. The motor starts effortlessly and purrs quietly as a kitten.

This era Studebaker was marketed with the swell advertising phrase, “First by far with a postwar car,” boasting that the body design was all new. The cars were assembled then at a plant in South Bend, Ind., the same small city where the firm had its roots as a farm wagon maker in 1852. The first Studebaker automobile was an electric-powered contraption built in 1902 and the last was a conventional gasoline engine 1966 cruiser model that rolled out of a Hamilton, Ontario, factory.

Frame’s Studebaker still has its factory-installed vacuum tube radio that warms up before sound comes out and then works like a champ. The original owner’s manual was in the glove box and is a remarkable 65-year trip back in time. The booklet’s refreshing brevity and English language phrasing from a distant era is delightful. At the end, there’s a “10 Point Pledge to Drive Safely.” It includes taking care around pedestrians and bicyclists, no boozing it up before driving and slowing down at sunset so you won’t “over-drive” your headlamps.

One fascinating paragraph in the operation section describes the “Automatic Hill-Holder.” While stopped on a hill the mechanism retains brake pressure to keep the car from rolling backwards as long as the clutch is depressed. That way the driver can accelerate using the right foot instead of having it on the brake. Studebaker was the first to offer this Bendix-made option but it was later picked up by other builders. It’s still a feature on some modern cars such as Subaru.

Frame has reworked the braking system himself. Studebaker parts are available because they’re a collectable car. Frame’s has an in-line six cylinder engine with standard transmission shift on the steering column and overdrive operated by pulling a rod in and out on the dash.

“I changed the oil when I first got it but had trouble finding a replacement filter,” he said.

After trying several, Frame found a Wix filter made for some other vehicle that he modified to make fit.

“They’re the best filters because they have a valve that holds pressure against your main bearings,” Frame said.

He has a 1948 license tag for the Studebaker from his home state, back when Arkansas’ motto was “Land of Opportunity.”  

We went for a spin on US 77 south of Noble. Frame ran that baby up to 60 mph in a jiffy. The Studebaker rode smooth as silk, with none of the shudders, rattles or instability you might expect in an automobile of that vintage.

“I like the way it drives even though there’s no power steering,” he said. “It’s in good shape and is a good running car.”

As much as he enjoys trading vehicles, it will take some outstanding deal for Frame to ever part with this exceptional ride.

Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.