Some cars are bigger than others.
On the occasion of the current Fiat 500’s introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007, nobody could miss the enormous 500 replica that dominated the FIAT display; it was an impressive showpiece and even included a huge ignition key. Both the front and rear wheel could slide away to allow actual 500’s to be driven in and out. The giant 500 was certainly a bold, eye-catching idea, but Fiat was not the first to do it.
That honour belongs to Studebaker. In fact, over the years the South Bend firm produced not one but three gigantic promotional structures, one of which survives to this day.
2007 Fiat 500 and 1931 President Four Season Roadster
This wooden replica- 41 feet long, 13.5 feet high and 15 feet wide with a weight of 5.5 tons- was made for a promotional film named Wild Flowers. In the film, 22 members of the Studebaker Champions orchestra are seated in and on the car and play a musical score. The wood used was white pine, and all parts were produced at the factory in South Bend under the guidance of Paul Auman, director of the experimental body shop.
Firestone agreed to specially produce the enormous tires, provided the company name would be clearly visible on the sidewalls of course. The car was painted in a two-tone green colour scheme and was assembled and placed on a grassy hill near the main gate of the Studebaker proving grounds. For extra effect a silhouette of a man in a suit and tie was placed next to the front bumper, leaning on a sign with the words “This man is 6 feet tall”.
The huge President Roadster generated a lot of publicity for Studebaker and became a popular photo subject for visitors and tourists. However, after a few harsh Indiana winters the wooden giant was starting to look very much past its best and in 1936 it was decided to unceremoniously torch the car.
The 1934 Land Cruiser
The Century of Progress International Exposition was held on Chicago’s lakefront in 1933-34; its purpose was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s founding and to provide jobs and inspiration for a nation still in the midst of the Great Depression.
Studebaker themselves were also affected: They had fallen into receivership in early 1933 but, rather than be forced to liquidate, its management convinced the bankruptcy court that the organization would have a better chance of paying off creditors if it was allowed to stay in business than if the company was dissolved.
Several American car companies would have a presence at the fair, and each would try to attract the most attention. Studebaker decided to go big again- they had experience in the field after all. The all-new President Land Cruiser was chosen as a subject and this new giant replica would dwarf even Studebaker’s own previous President Roadster of 1931.
The basic frame was once again constructed of wood, but plaster was now used to shape the body. The gigantic Land Cruiser was 80 feet long, 28 feet high and 30 feet wide and painted in a fetching shade named Canary Yellow. So realistic was its finish that visitors would often scratch at the surface with their fingers to test the composition. Incidentally, the Canary Yellow paint would be made available as an option on Studebakers for a $80 surcharge which was not small change in those days.
Below the running board a door gave access to an 80-seat auditorium where promotional films were shown. Plaster was of course unsuitable for outdoor display, so the giant Land Cruiser was disassembled after the end of the exhibition and discarded.
As a souvenir of your visit to the world’s largest car, small die-cast pot metal models were offered for 25 cents each. Being among the early examples of promotional car models these little Studebakers are now highly sought after by collectors.
The 1938 Pine trees sign
To replace the larger than life President Roadster Studebaker planted 5000 pine trees in its place, spelling the word Studebaker in letters 250 feet tall. The total length is a little over 2000 feet, making this the largest piece of automotive (or perhaps any) advertising ever created. The company Studebaker is long gone of course but the pine trees sign remains. Normally one would need access to an airplane or helicopter to properly see it, but nowadays thanks to things like Google Earth, we all can.