View Full Version : Driving a '57 President- Who has original experience?

01-13-2013, 11:20 PM
I have a 1957 President Classic. Original owner was my great grandmother, car has been in the family (barn) since 1976. I took possession of the car in 2009 and began the work to return it to drivable condition in early 2012. My goal is not to restore the car to factory or show condition, but rather to find and fix the things required to make the car a comfortable and attractive vehicle for recreational driving. I've modernized where it makes sense (Turner brakes, radial tires, 1403 carb...). The transmission-throttle linkage is adjusted per the shop manual but the steering alignment is just eyeballed for now.

I took the first drive outside the shop parking lot this week, about 10 miles. It was a unique experience filled with lots of new sounds, smells, and feelings. I've driven project vehicles before, but I always had driven the vehicle prior to the modifications or work so I knew what the baseline was and approximately what to expect from the changes. This leads me to my questions- having never driven a Studebaker when it was new (or current on maintenance...), what's it like?

What did it sound like? Does the engine have a "signature rhythm"? Were there any other sounds I should expect from things under the hood?
What kind of noises did the suspension make?
How did the car feel when accelerating? What did the engine sound like then? How fast did it rev up?
How high did it rev before shifting up? What did the shift feel like?
When driving up a hill, how low did the engine bog before the trans downshifted?
How did it feel when turning? Driving straight over moderately rough paved roads?
How much did the steering wheel float when driving straight?
Are there any particular smells I should expect from a car this old?

Thanks for remembering!


01-13-2013, 11:38 PM
Signature rhythm? Yes, the firing order makes a special music, most notable with dual exhaust.
Original four-blade fans can have a discernible aircraft prop sound.
A properly aligned and lubricated suspension will be as silent as any.
Acceleration is steady; how fast depends on gearing ratio.
How high it revs before shifting depends on the weight of your foot. Keep it in the floor and find out.
Shifts feel different depending on the trans fluid and, of course, condition of your clutches and band adjustment.
If you are attempting to maintain speed uphill, again, depending on band adjustment, there may be no bogging.
Heavy cars with soft suspensions tended to wallow in the turns; correct with heavy duty sway bars.
Running straight over rough roads can be smooth as silk with good shocks.
No float in the steering wheel with proper alignment.
Don't expect the smell of too much plastic.

Thanks for asking!

01-14-2013, 01:26 PM
Can't tell about a sedan, but can tell ya bout a 57 President Broadmoor I owned from 89 to 02. I used it in my business for years on the road. Comfortable ride, handles well, cruise with the pack and I was never worn out after 10 to 12 hours of driving. Easy to maintain, has no computor to keep ya out of the engine compartment and ya don't meet ourself comin down the road every minute or 2. Much more fun to drive as you intend, mechanically sound and cosmetically functional.

01-14-2013, 01:49 PM
That is a good model to start with. My first Studebaker was a 1957 President Classic that was used for one year before me. It was my only or primary car for years. It drove and sounded like a Studebaker V8 and was similar in riding/handling to other new cars of the time. Mine got some heavy use; long commutes, drag race on the strip and weekly 100+ MPH runs (the limiting factor was valve float). I later had a 1957 President four door sedan. It was my everyday work car. The President Classic with the longer wheelbase and more power was a nicer car to drive.

01-14-2013, 02:17 PM
My memories of the '57 President are pretty generic. It did everything well and no real vices. And yes, the President Classic rides and handles completely differently and to my taste much better than the short wheelbase sedans.

Since none of them I ever saw had a tachometer, RPMs were a guess, but the rear axle ratios were pretty well matched to the transmission. About the only thing I remember is the engine-driven cooling fan seemed a bit noisy by today's standards.

Signature rhythm? Yes, the firing order makes a special music, most notable with dual exhaust.As to the exhaust note, if someone replaced the exhaust piping without the correct mufflers or without a crossover passage, dual exhausts can have an annoying resonance at highway cruise.

jack vines

01-14-2013, 08:49 PM
It is hard to know what it is that the OP is really looking for. The best way to find out how they drive it just do it and that should be pretty much how a 57 year old Car of any make drives.

Now if you are comparing it to something like a 2009 Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, then we have a base to compare to.
The 57 year old Stude. would have a lot more interior space and better ride, much slower steering and brakes and a bit firmer suspension than most.

Also NO, seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, power door locks, keyless entry, moonroof, Leather, air bags, 4 way flashers, delay wipers, backup camera, heated seats and mirrors, tilt and cruise. :D And none of the problems they have when they die.

Dwain G.
01-14-2013, 11:59 PM
From the memories of a 16 year old, my parents '56 President 2 -door drove as well as any other car of the era. 4 barrel, dual exhaust, Flightomatic. It would get rubber in all three gears. I loved that car!

01-15-2013, 12:33 AM
Thanks for the replies, guys. I know my President isn't a new car and in no way did I expect it to be. My experience so far has been satisfying. I enjoy the focus on functionality inherent in "old things", especially musical instruments and tools. Rather than asking and looking for "what's wrong", I want to know what's right- then I can stop picking at that particular system. I like reading qualitative descriptions of the experience. It's hard to quantify the feelings of acceleration and handling, but overall impressions are helpful.

The oldest vehicle I've driven is a late '70s Suburban. Other than that, it's been late models and mid '80s Toyota trucks. Oh yeah, and a '78 Sedan Deville...

My steering actually takes a little less effort than the non-power steering trucks and gets lighter the faster I go. I've replaced the shocks, all the rubber in the suspension, and lubricated everything. There are plenty of bumps and rattles, but no creaks or scraping, so I feel pretty good about that. Both sway bars are installed. I can feel a little bit of lateral float, kind of like the '78 Cadillac, but I expected that from a big car.

It starts in second gear, so it doesn't exactly jump off the line. I can put the lever in "L" and get a little more pep. This is an area I could use some descriptions about. How does the power roll-on feel? When I push the pedal into the kickdown position, should I expect some lugging of the engine before the shift, or should the shift come first and allow the engine to spool up?
Transmission kicks down on hills just fine. It stays in second for a long time; I can feel it shift, it could be smoother, but it doesn't jar anything. My grandpa suspected the vacuum modulator was on its way out the last time he drove it (in 1976), so that could be contributing. The axle gears and driveshaft u-joints are inspected and freshly lubricated.

Turner disc brakes all around with dual circuit MC and all new lines. Brakes are awesome. They're very much balanced with steering effort.

The engine definitely has a rhythm to it unlike others I've heard. It sounds like a muscle car big block with a cam- "buh-buh, ba-buh-buh, ba-buh-buh...". The exhaust is currently single with lots of holes. I'm certain it's homespun. I'll be dealing with this soon.

Not a lot of plastic smells, pretty much just mothballs and mouse poop...

I got over not having outside mirrors, but not having seatbelts freaks me out...

01-15-2013, 12:37 AM
drove as well as any other car of the era.

This. What was it like to drive cars of the era?

01-15-2013, 02:07 AM
It sounds like the mechanical Throttle Pressure Rod may need adjustment judging by the late and harsh shift.

A Borg Warner Automatic is not supposed to be a smooth, soft shift, but if it "winds out" too much and is quite firm it needs less pressure.

This is what is used to take the place of other makes' "Vacuum Modulator" to control the shifts, it has none.

Quote: "What was it like to drive cars of the era?" Again, this is something you have to FEEL, I cannot describe it to you.
For one thing I have been driving Studebakers almost exclusively my whole life since I was 15 1/2 and I am 69!

01-15-2013, 07:24 AM
From the memories of a 16 year old, my parents '56 President 2 -door drove as well as any other car of the era. 4 barrel, dual exhaust, Flightomatic. It would get rubber in all three gears. I loved that car!

Ditto our '57 President 2-door at my exact same age, Dwain; kool kars! :!: BP

01-15-2013, 08:41 AM
Welcome to the Studebaker experience, Blake. I have been fooling and tinkering with these things for many years. However, some of our members are so technically "savvy" that I often feel like a "newbie" in comparison. Therefore, I often feel a need to declare a disclaimer when offering my opinions.:rolleyes:

So far, I have noticed mention of the nice exhaust note from these engines. However, be aware that since they are solid lifter engines, they will present you with a busy clickity-clacklity rhythmic mechanical sound under the hood. That is, if the valves are adjusted properly. Other rattles and noises can be due to aging door seal rubber, window channel seals, etc. Most of that can be sourced from various vendors. The more time you spend with the vehicle, the more comfortable you will become in identifying and correcting those issues. Since "Presidents" were higher end cars, they may spoil you as to what to expect from other Studebaker models.

I have never been in your state. I am in a rather small state and it is easy to get the impression that all Studebaker Drivers Club members know each other. I have been around long enough now to know better. Your state seems to have a very active population of club members. If you are able, attend some meets, compare rides, and get familiar with similar vehicles. So far, it seems to me that you have a good handle on the basics and are off to an excellent start. (Or with those Turner brakes...a better STOP!)

Good luck with your car...join us...you are welcome here.:):!!::)

01-15-2013, 10:15 AM
Blake, I saw this thread as soon as you first posted it. I've had alot of expeience with cars like your president thru my 40 years of Studebakering. I could've taken a shot at answering your questions, but I confess, I saw it as an exercise akin to trying to explain to a tee-totaller what a really great beer is like.
These cars - when new - had come quite a ways since the Model T and horse-drawn buggies. They were smooth and quiet, and if you did give it a thought, you wondered how they could be any better. AND...... to boot - they actually had some STYLING to them. There were folks called "stylist" who were tasked with making cars LOOK like they were in motion - even when they were curbside.
Beyond that - to try and prepare you for each squeak and scronk and clatter your President MAY have accumulated along the way..... I could just as easily climb Mount Everest. The brakes - before you improved them - were more than adequate for normal driving - the exception would be if you regularly drive on steep terrain. Unless you're coming down off your mountain every morning - or spending your weekends road racing - the big drums of Stude V8 cars after 1953 will do fine. The steering ratilo is slow by today's standards - all cars were like this for years even beyond '57. A number of us aging geezers on these forums have survived that era with aplomb and look back at them as more than just quait curios from a bygone era.
Like any other vehicle that's 56 years old, it wants to be tended to on a regular basis. Said "basis" being as spelled out in owners and shop manuals that are readily available. Other'n that - if it goes down the road with an even note out the tailpipe - if it doesn't rattle, clatter, shimmy, shake, knock or dive for the ditch - drive it. If after you get going, the generator and oip pressure idiot lites stay out (assuming they illuminate when the key's first switched on) - drive it. When your cheeks hurt from the constant grin - when you're tired of the interrogations and the stories from folks who's late uncle owned a Nash just like yours - put it in the garage for awhile. Then - after you've been bored into near trance by driving your wind-defying bar of Dove soap - get the President back out, invite your "first Lady" along and enjoy!

01-15-2013, 07:57 PM
Thanks again for the replies. I think the thing that makes folks think this is an unanswerable question is the fact that I'm not trying to solve a specific problem, or really a problem at all. For that, I would have posted in the Tech section. Really, I'm enjoying the banter about people's general impression of the car.

I saw it as an exercise akin to trying to explain to a tee-totaller what a really great beer is like.

This is the perfect analogy and as an avid homebrewer and long time craft beer enthusiast, I can relate. How about instead, you guys imagine that you're describing to a fellow beer enthusiast a fantastic beer you've had fresh from the tap at the brewery and I've only tasted that beer after it was packaged, transported, and aged in sub-optimal conditions.

I rarely post here, but I've been reading this board and absorbing as much relevant info since I became a Stude owner. You don't have to convince me that these cars are special! :D

Mrs K Corbin
01-21-2013, 09:34 AM
Had a '57 Commander 259/ 3sp O.D. for a couple of years.... Loved that thing!

01-21-2013, 11:15 AM
I just sold my 57 Champion 3sp o/d to a friend who had a 57 President back when he first got married (in Alberta). He loved the sound and handling--the authority--of the Classic, and with all the extras, he and his wife used it to go skiing in winter, and towing a trailer, I think, in summer. I'm sure he's going to be a little bit disappointed in his recent purchase by comparison <g> My favourite BIG Studebaker sedans have to the 57 Classic, the 54 and 51 or 52 Landcruisers

01-21-2013, 08:46 PM
The best driving car in my entire fleet is my 54 Commander Conestoga equipped with radial tires, power steering, rear sway bar and a 63 289 camoflaged to look like the original 232.