- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

“Sitting in my driveway is a car I’ve always wanted,” Maury Cagle says. That car is a 1929 Studebaker Commander Regal four-door sedan, which carried a base price when new of $1,695.

Studebaker offered 26 models in 1929 with the aforementioned Commander near the middle of the lineup. The $1,045 Dictator Coupe was the least expensive Studebaker with the $2,495 State Limousine at the other end of the price structure.

Mr. Cagle has long favored Studebaker automobiles from any era. “For some time, I had wanted a car from the late 1920s, a period of great fascination for me. I love the music, the aircraft, the clothes, and especially the cars of that era,” he says.

In the spring of 2002 Mr. Cagle saw an ad offering the Studebaker for sale in Ohio. “The car sounded ideal,” he remembers.

The owner was contacted and after discussing the car with Mr. Cagle he said he would have a running Studebaker for him when he came to inspect the car.

“My wife, Alied, and I went to a jazz festival in Huntington, W.Va., in May. Afterward, we drove up to near Dayton, Ohio, to look at the car,” he says.

When they arrived, the owner was not happy. The day before, when he had changed the oil in the 250-cubic-inch, straight-eight-cylinder engine, pieces of metal came out of the drain plug. Those pieces were obviously from a piston skirt.

“The car itself was beautiful,” Mr. Cagle says, “and I was very disappointed.”

An engine specialist determined that it needed more than one new piston because at some previous point the pistons had been installed backward. The crankshaft also needed to be reground and the final assessment was that the nine-bearing engine needed a total overhaul.

“I fully expected the owner to tell me he had taken the car off the market, and would fold in the costs of the engine rebuild to a later, larger price,” Mr. Cagle says.

This is the point where we learn that it pays to deal with an aboveboard, honest person.

“He told us he had promised us a working car, and that he would deliver it to us at the agreed-upon price, if we would wait until the engine was rebuilt,” Mr. Cagle says.

The mocha-colored Studebaker looked great with the chocolate-brown fenders and orange wheels, each with 40 spokes. Each side of the hood was ventilated with 26 vertical louvers.

The only problem was under the hood.

“Some key parts proved to be difficult to obtain,” Mr. Cagle recalls. That’s to be expected on a car more than 70 years old.

“The engine was completely disassembled, the head milled, new valves, pistons and rings installed, new rod and main bearings, cam and crankshafts reground, new oil pump, new gaskets and the block painted in its original color,” Mr. Cagle reports. “Along the way, the clutch was rebuilt and the transmission checked out.”

A year passed while the engine was rebuilt. The annual jazz festival in West Virginia came up again in May and the Cagles attended, after which they retraced their path to Ohio to see the barely completed Studebaker.

“The car had five miles on the new engine when I sat behind the wheel and started it,” Mr. Cagle says. He recalls the hood was still off the car as he drove it up and down the country roads with the 5.50x19-inch tires on a 121-inch wheelbase soaking up most of the road roughness.

“It has a nice spring action,” Mrs. Cagle says, “It’s very comfortable.”

The long-delayed transaction was completed that day.

Mr. Cagle is extremely pleased with his fine Studebaker but also reassured knowing that there are still today people who are truly honest and committed to doing what is right, not what they can get away with. “That’s an intangible bonus that makes this the rewarding hobby it is,” Mr. Cagle says.

The Cagles drove home to await the truck transporting their car. They needn’t have hurried. The truck left Ohio with their Studebaker but before arriving in Virginia June 26 it made stops in New York, Connecticut and Maryland.

Mr. Cagle filled the 14-gallon gasoline tank and has begun driving the car enough miles this summer to properly break in the rebuilt engine.

“One of the amazing things about the car is that the interior is all original,” he comments.

Opulence was the order of the day when this Studebaker was designed. The three rear-most windows are fitted with shades, the face of the ashtray is upholstered, and small flaps in both rear armrests conceal small storage areas.

Rear-seat passengers are furnished a foot rest, a dome light as well as a robe rail where lap robes can be carried in the winter in case the “Ha-Dees” aftermarket heater isn’t up to the task of warming the occupants.

From the floor by the front seat sprout both the gearshift lever, attached to the non-synchronized three-speed transmission, and the hand brake. The brakes are mechanical.

The driver has a clear view of the 90 mph speedometer from behind the four-spoke steering wheel. Levers at the hub of the wheel control the spark, throttle and headlights, a typical arrangement for cars in 1929.

Front-seat occupants also had storage facilities in pockets in the kick panels ahead of the front doors.

The battery is in a well beneath the driver’s feet, which has no correlation to the fact the starter is foot-activated.

Although the history of the Studebaker is unknown, it is known to have spent some time in a museum. Other than that it obviously led a sheltered existence, which Mr. Cagle appreciates.

“There’s nothing quite like sitting behind that long hood, with the side-view mirrors on top of the side-mounted wheels, and listening to the smooth purr of that straight-eight engine,” Mr. Cagle concludes.

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