Monday, March 30, 2009

Studebaker Dictator

Studebaker Dictator 4-Door Sedan 1937

1937 Studebaker Dictator coupe in the collection of the Studebaker National Museum.

The Studebaker Dictator was an automobile produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana (USA) from 1927 through 1937. Model year 1928 was the first full year of Dictator production.

In the mid-1920s, Studebaker began renaming its vehicles. The model previously known as the Studebaker Standard Six became the Dictator during the 1927 model year; internally these models were designated model GE. The name was chosen to imply that Studebaker's model "dictated the standard" that other automobile makes would follow.

Dictators were the low-end price leader of the Studebaker marque, followed (in ascending order) by the Studebaker Commander and Studebaker President series. In 1929, Studebaker began offering an 8-cylinder engine for the Dictator series. Dictators were available in a full range of body-styles.

At the end of the 1935 model year, Studebaker suspended production of the Commander, marketing only its Dictator and President series in 1936.

Consequences of the Dictator name

In retrospect, the choice of the model name might seem unfortunate. Benjamin L. Alpers begins his history of American perceptions of dictators, Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s, with the introduction of the Studebaker Dictator: "There were, of course, some political problems connected with the name 'Dictator'. A number of the European monarchies to which Studebaker exported the car were wary of the moniker. Diplomatically, Studebaker marketed its Standard Six as the 'Director' in these countries. In the United States, apparently, the name appears initially to have caused no problems."

Studebaker had chosen the Dictator name at a moment when the only dictator that would have immediately come to an American mind was Benito Mussolini, who was widely admired in the US for the image of audacious boldness and strength that successfully sold cars, in spite of well-publicized fascist violence (Alpers 2003). However the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany tainted the word dictator, and Studebaker abruptly and without fanfare (or surviving internal correspondence) discontinued the Dictator at the end of the 1936 model year, and replaced it in the 1937 model year and beyond with the Studebaker Commander moniker.