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1937 Studebaker Dictator was the last of its line

Louise Caulfield

When Donald G. Treco retired from the California Highway Patrol after 19 years of service, he started the Gumshoe Detective Agency in Auburn. The agency’s name is no fluke: Treco and his associates work out of a Livingston Building office decorated in 1930s and ’40s Art Deco style. Touches of Hollywood chic are everywhere. A Maltese Falcon statue has center stage in the reception area.

As a licensed private investigator, Treco and his two assistants work for private party clients. His cases range from child custody investigations to missing person searches. He also assists local law enforcement in some ongoing criminal investigations. Treco’s profession requires attention to history and detail, so it’s probably no accident that he owns a vintage 1937 Studebaker 6A Dictator Deluxe.

The Studebaker company started in Placer County. John Mohler Studebaker began the original enterprise in Hangtown, later known as Placerville, in the 1850s. J.M., as he was known, built wheelbarrows and mining carts for gold miners before opening his own wagon-making business. J.M. and his family eventually relocated to South Bend, Ind., joined with brothers and family, and

became a founder of the Studebaker industrial success story.

1937 saw the last of the Dictator line. By ’37, most Americans held small affection for dictators. World figures like Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini tainted the term. After 1937, the line’s name was changed to Commander.

For both the 1937 President and Dictator Studebakers, the company

contracted with Helen Dryden, a well-known Art Deco artist and industrial designer, to fashion the front grill, called the “Winged Victory” grill, and the interior. Dryden lowered the body frame 3 inches, relocated the stick shift from the column to the floor, raised the seats to living room furniture height, placed the radio speaker in the roof above the rear view mirror, and designed an understated, sleek dash board.

Lowering the car made it more accessible to women drivers. By 1937, women were a serious part of the work force in America. With well-engineered, easy-to-open doors and trunk and a comfortable interior, the Dictator line offered both families and women consumers an affordable, useful, stylish and comfortable automobile.

Studebaker even offered designer luggage as an option. Treco has an original set, complete with hat box, designed to fit in the trunk. The optional luggage was part of the marketing plan.

With a flat-head six engine capable of 90 hp at 3400 rpm, the ’37 was built for comfort, not speed. The smaller engine size contributed to fuel efficiency, and Triple A named the Dictator its fuel economy car of 1937 when it delivered an official 24.27 mpg.

Treco has reupholstered the front bench seat, but the color, “Beverly Blue,” is original. The bumpers are rechromed, yet the odometer shows only 69,500 miles on the original engine. And while he may use it to go to the courthouse on occasion, it doesn’t work well for surveillance.

Treco plans to show the ’37 “for enjoyment.” He wants to preserve it as part of his appreciation for the Art Deco era. The car is part of his company logo and can be seen on his Web site at http://www.gumshoeonline.net. Treco is also a board member for the Sacramento Art Deco Society, available on the Web at http://www.sacdeco.org

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