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Please note that P-5375 is this vehicle’s chassis number, not the engine number as stated in the catalogue; the engine number is 024.
From the Robert W. Valpey CollectionAb Jenkins, Salt Lake City, Utah (commissioned in 1931)W.J. Patterson, Salt Lake City, Utah (acquired from the above in 1939)Ray Donald, Balboa Island, California (acquired from the above circa 1960)Stanley B. Smith, Stockbridge, Massachusetts (acquired from the above in 1972)Robert W. Valpey (acquired from the above in 1988)
Indianapolis 500, 1931, Gulotta, No. 37 (DNF)Pikes Peak Hill Climb, 1931, Myers, No. 37 (1st Overall)Indianapolis 500, 1932, Meyer, No. 37 (6th Overall)Indianapolis 500, 1933, Corum, No. 47 (12th Overall)
Studebaker Traveling Auto Show, 1932New York Auto Show, 1933AACA Fall Meet at Hershey, Pennsylvania, 1987 (Second Junior)Mid-Ohio Vintage Car Grand Prix, 1988Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival, Connecticut, 1989Climb to the Clouds, New Hampshire, 1990, 1992–1994, 1996BMW Vintage Festival, Connecticut, 1992 (PaineWebber Cup)Vintage Celebration at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 2000, 2009Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance, Ohio, 2010Studebaker Drivers Club International Meet, Indiana, 2012Studebaker National Museum, Indiana, 2012–2013 (Studebaker at the Brickyard)Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2016
One of the most fascinating periods in the history of the Indianapolis 500 took place between 1930 and 1937. The “stock-block” or “two-man” era was the result of a major 1929 revision to the AAA Contest Board rule book, which upped the maximum displacement limit from 91 to 366 cid and required cars to have a riding mechanic. Envisioned by Eddie Rickenbacker, this change was intended to make racing less expensive and expand the field of entries. The effect was immediate. In 1930, about half of the Indy 500 entrants were built entirely from stock production parts.
Of all the manufacturers that competed at the Indy 500 during this period, none was more successful than the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana. The company had already made a name for itself at Indy in 1924, when Earl Cooper’s Miller-powered Studebaker Special finished 2nd. A strong showing by Studebaker-powered cars in 1930 convinced company president Albert Erskine and chief engineer Barney Roos that a factory racing team would add to Studebaker’s prestige.
This interest in racing prompted Studebaker’s director of testing, George Hunt, to become involved in the 1931 Indy 500 with the car presented here. Initially known as the Hunt Special, this car was built in partnership with famed Bonneville racer Ab Jenkins, who set many speed and endurance records with Studebaker cars.
With Studebaker’s blessing and Jenkins’ financial backing, Hunt ordered a racing chassis from Rigling and Henning, a popular Indianapolis-based fabricator. The car’s aluminum bodywork, built by “Pops” Dreyer, featured a pointed tail section and distinctive ornamental grille, cut down from a stock Studebaker President radiator. Back at the Proving Grounds shop in South Bend, Studebaker engineers fitted the chassis with a 336 cid straight eight from the top-of-the-line President. This rugged engine was specially equipped with four Winfield carburetors, a high-compression cylinder head, Scintilla magneto, steel tube headers, and high-performance cam. The rest of the chassis utilized stock Studebaker components, including brakes, axles, gearbox, and steering gear.
The Hunt Special, beautifully finished in Willow Green, debuted at the 1931 Indianapolis 500. Tony Gulotta – an experienced racer and former member of the legendary Packard Cable team – was contracted to drive the car. He qualified 19th with an average speed of 117.7 mph, just 1 mph slower than the pole-sitter. Toward the end of the race, Gulotta was in a battle for the lead when, on Lap 167, the Hunt Special hit an oil slick and crashed into the Turn 4 wall. Neither Gulotta nor his riding mechanic was injured, but the day was done.
After the Indy 500, the Hunt Special was repaired and preparations were made for it to run at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb that September. For this crucial event, Studebaker selected three-time Pikes Peak winner Chuck Myers to drive the Hunt Special. The last of 14 entries to run in the Open Class, Myers came in 1st Overall, winning by a 15-second margin over the Shultz Stutz Special. He also set a course record, covering the 12.4-mile climb in 17 minutes, 10.3 seconds.
The Hunt Special’s impressive performance in 1931 set the stage for a major factory assault on the Indianapolis 500 in 1932. Using Jenkins’ car as a prototype, four identical Studebaker Specials were built and entered in the Memorial Day race. This outing was hugely successful for the five-car Studebaker fleet, with the factory entries finishing 3rd, 6th, 12th, 13th, and 15th. This car, driven by Zeke Meyer and wearing race no. 37, placed 6th, posting an average speed of 98.476 mph. Interviewed after his impressive performance, Meyer stated, “I’m 41 years old and no chicken, but my Studebaker handled so easily I could have driven it 1500 miles instead of 500.”
During summer 1932, the Studebaker Specials took part in a traveling auto show that toured US cities promoting the company’s latest models. Following these duties, the no. 37 car was displayed on the Studebaker stand at the 1933 New York auto show. That spring, four of the Studebaker team cars were modified with new wind tunnel-tested bodies. This car, still technically owned by Ab Jenkins, kept its original body; the only visible changes were a streamlined grille and 18" wire wheels. Under the hood, the engine was equipped with a more radical camshaft and Stromberg carburetors like the four factory-owned cars.
In May 1933, the streamlined Studebaker fleet arrived at Indianapolis, joined by one of the new Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrows, which had been brought along for promotional purposes. In another successful outing for the team, all five cars finished, placing 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. This car, wearing race no. 47 and driven by L.L. “Slim” Corum, took 12th Place.
Studebaker’s racing program reached its zenith at the 1933 Indianapolis 500. The Great Depression hit the South Bend manufacturer particularly hard and racing was something that the factory could no longer afford.
At this point, Jenkins took his car home to Utah, where the only further racing it saw was the occasional run on the salt flats. In the mid-1930s, Jenkins’ son, Marvin, modified it just enough to make it roadworthy, and used it as a sports car through 1939, when it was sold to W.J. Patterson. Around 1960, Ray Donald purchased the Studebaker Special from Mr. Patterson and it spent the better part of the next decade resting in a South Los Angeles backyard.
The Studebaker was finally rescued in 1972, when it was sold to Stanley B. Smith, a passionate car collector and former Director of the Antique Automobile Club of America. A self-proclaimed “Studebaker nut,” Mr. Smith first saw one of the factory Indy cars as a teenager. He recalled that, “A Studebaker dealer arranged a procession as a promotion for the new 1932 cars, and the racer led the way. It caught my eye, and I guess I never quite forgot it.” Over the next decade, Mr. Smith and his son painstakingly restored the Studebaker Special to its 1932 appearance and specification. Completed in the early 1980s, the restored Indy car was shown at marque gatherings and other classic car meets.
In 1988, Robert Valpey, a devoted collector of all things Studebaker, purchased the car from Mr. Smith. Over the past three decades, this magnificent machine has been a centerpiece of his superb collection and participated in numerous vintage races, exhibitions, and concours. As recently as 2016, it was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® to take part in a special display of two-man Indy cars.
Today, this important piece of American racing history remains in outstanding condition, and it is presented with a truly impressive file of supporting documentation. Accompanying the car are numerous archival photographs, copies of internal Studebaker factory records, extensive information about the 1931–1933 Indy 500 races, the original 1932 AAA Racing Car Registration card, and extensive correspondence between Stanley B. Smith, Barney Roos, and Ed Reynolds.
Never before offered for public sale, the Studebaker Special is among the most important survivors from the popular stock-block era of Indy racing. Unlike the vast majority of two-man Indy racers, this car remains remarkably intact and original. Not only has it been certified by the AACA, it still retains the President Eight engine with which it ran three outings at the Indianapolis 500 and took an overall win at Pikes Peak. Furthermore, its magnificent design – characterized by outstanding lines, striking colors, and ample chrome – is a lasting testament to this vibrant era of motor sport.
Gooding & Company is honored to offer the Studebaker Special on behalf of the Valpey family and recommends it to any collector with an appreciation for important American-made competition cars.