Words and photography by David Traver Adolphus
1912 Flanders “20” Foredoor “Gentleman’s Roadster”
The tangled tale of the Flanders Model Twenty
Steve Dillon warned us repeatedly that there was something “not right” with the steering of his 1912 Flanders “20”. We thought he was underestimating our manly thews, but we weren’t laughing long.
The pressed steel bodywork sports a Dietzler Diamond Yellow finish that’s a real treat after the dark earth tones on so many brass-era cars, and makes it a popular attraction whenever Steve shows it. As a semi-retired teacher and a serious Studebaker collector, that’s part of the attraction for him, and he loves being able to use it as a platform to talk to younger enthusiasts about Studebaker’s significance in the early years of the industry. It’s a small car, but still sits up high to modern eyes, at 68 inches tall on 30-inch wood artillery-spoke wheels. He had the top up for us when we visited him, which adds another six inches of height.
Starting is straightforward, and easier than many brass cars. Open the clamshell front hood to expose the big 155-cubic inch, 20hp inline four, and turn the stopcock to open the gas line. Back on the dashboard, you set the Remy ignition to battery (“B”) from its off position, set the throttle and retard the spark. And make sure it’s in neutral, the wheels are chocked and the handbrake is on, while you’re at it, as more than one early car owner was killed when hand cranking a car left in gear.
Back under the hood, a brass priming-cup is located over each cylinder. Steve fills them to overflowing with gas from a plastic bottle (drenching the engine and whatever happens to be underneath in raw gasoline) and opens the petcocks to let gas prime the cylinders. Then, you’re ready to unstrap the crank at the front (held in the traditional non-thumb-breaking grip) and crank. Once it catches, it’s time to juggle the hand throttle on the steering column a little and switch the ignition over to the Splitdorf magneto. It sounds more complicated than it is, and aside from a little too much gas getting into the updraft carburetor at first, didn’t take more than five minutes until the car was ready to roll.
It’s a nicely broken-in straight-four, probably of about 4.5:1 compression—although no-one seems to know for sure—and not too hard to crank over. It sounds good, runs smoothly, and doesn’t require any spark adjustment for toodling around town after it’s warmed up, but boy, two 21st Century-sized people aren’t going to be strangers after five minutes side-by-side in the tufted-leather bench seat. After climbing up into the cabin, we had to use the door to squish ourselves in there. A toolbox on the drivers’ runningboard means both passengers enter from the other side. Once sitting down, we could tell how much change Steve had in his pocket, and the driver has to allow for the tall brass handbrake and shifter levers on the floor inside his right knee. We do not recommend slouching during gear changes.
The leather-faced cone clutch has a reputation for being persnickety, but Steve keeps his properly oil lubricated. The sliding gear three-speed transmission is located in a rear transaxle, and it’s almost like changing gears in a modern car. Brake and clutch pedals are located where you’d think and the contracting band brakes on the rear are certainly no worse than any of the car’s contemporaries—a very light 1,200 pound curb weight is a huge aid in this regard, and with a 4:1 rearend makes it quick off the line, too. Even the small accelerator pedal…button…between the two other pedals isn’t difficult to deal with, and the engine responds nicely to it.
But Steve wasn’t kidding about the worm-and-roller steering. Something was seriously out of whack, and it required a mammoth effort to get the wheel away from center, at which point the car darted nimbly for the ditch. And repeat, in the other direction. We paid so much attention to our drunken weaving that it was five minutes before we realized that we were being fooled by the reverse H pattern of the transaxle-mounted three-speed and grinding the gears, and there was nothing at all wrong with the drivetrain. “Keep trying,” said Steve, displaying no visible fear. Eventually, we settled into a steering rhythm and got the shift pattern down, and found that it was actually very easy shifting. In fact, the whole experience was quite easy and didn’t take much readjustment. Then we came to the first turn, and went sailing blithely off into the far reaches of the (thankfully deserted) intersection. For the record, Steve has since decided that a bad wobble in the right rear wheel was to blame: “What that’s doing is putting a torsional twist on the front axle. There also some loose play in the steering box; I’m going to have a machinist look at that, so hopefully I can drive it a little more safely in the summer.”
When it’s all sorted out, a Flanders “20” has a reputation as a fine touring car. Without shock absorbers, the light weight again comes into play and allows the use of relatively soft springs for a reasonable ride. Third gear is a nice 0.875:1 overdrive, and the car is happy making long distance runs, including as the 1911 Glidden Tour pathfinder tour car, where it ran from New York City to Jacksonville, Florida. Flanders “20”s made other pathfinder trips in 1911 and ’12, including Seattle, Washington to Hazelton, British Columbia (over 850 miles), and an astonishing “Under Three Flags” run from Quebec to Mexico City—well over 3,000 miles!
Of course, the Flanders “20” had to be good—Walter Flanders had it aimed straight at the Model T.
The Flanders occupied one brief, shining moment. Walter Flanders had entered the industry at Ford, where the huge man with the personality to match knocked heads with the puritanical Henry Ford. “The scuttlebutt that I’ve read is that [Walter Flanders] heard that Henry Ford was very jealous of him, because he was doing such a fantastic job in setting up some of the assembly lines and machine tools,” said Steve. “He heard Henry Ford was going to fire him because he was too good. So he ran up the stairs as fast as he could, and said, ‘You can’t fire me! I quit!’”
He turned up at E-M-F (as the “F”). Flanders had one mission in mind: Beating Ford at his own game, and the first E-M-Fs rolled off the line four months after Ford announced the Model T—and four months plus one week after Flanders walked out of Ford. But E and M—Everitt and Metzger—walked away from the company in 1909 to pursue other projects, sold their share to Studebaker, and took key personnel with them. While this elevated Flanders to President and GM, Studebaker, which was distributing the E-M-F, stocked the rest of the management at E-M-F with their people.
Second place had never been the goal for Flanders; he was determined to be one of the titans of Detroit. In July 1909, he convinced Studebaker to finance the acquisition of the assets of the DeLuxe Motor Company, whose factory and machinery he would use to produce the car that from job one would be made to beat Ford. Famously, Flanders opened his negations for DeLuxe in the morning, and two hours later started moving in. Poised to make the switch, he had 150 workers, materials and tooling on the way before the ink on the contract was dry.
At an announced price of $750, the Flanders “20” would beat the ($850) Model T at it’s own game, and offer more power and size, to boot. Few people have remarked on Henry Ford’s generosity to his competitors, however, and he wasn’t willing to be undercut in price by an upstart ex-employee for very long.
Flanders debuted his car on a 100-inch wheelbase, with the sound cast-en-bloc four it carried for the next three years. As with a few other cars of the era, the engine was completely separate from the chassis in a subframe, making it easily removable. If this sounds to you like a recipe for success in commercial applications, you’re right, and they had good sales in that sector. That was only a side effect of their aims, though: According to John M. Daly’s of the E-M-F Registry, company publicist E. LeRoy Pelletier said that: “We expect this feature to revolutionize present garage practice which necessitates laying up the car for days at a time while some minor repair is being made. In case of any repair or replacement in a Flanders “20”, however serious or simple, the easiest way is to replace the entire unit, send the owner away rejoicing with his car and then, when time best suits and with parts most accessible, make the necessary repair at a minimum of time and expense.”
If the car (with the exception of a short-lived and disastrous experiment with a two-speed transmission, each one of which Flanders replaced at enormous expense) was going smoothly, the relationship with Studebaker was going downhill fast. In a letter sent simultaneously to South Bend, the Detroit press and the major car publications, Walter Flanders declared their relationship “rescinded and annulled.” John Daly writes that Flanders blamed “the failure of the South Bend people to accept and pay for contracted cars; their unfair discounting of the cars; their advertising which misled readers into believing Studebaker owned a controlling interest in E-M-F, which it did not. Thus was begun what was called the "bitterest legal battle" (The Automobile) and the "most engrossing litigation" (Motor Age) in the history of the industry thus far.”
Studebaker’s Frederick Fisk brought out the big guns, and enlisted financier J.P. Morgan, who helped finance the acquisition of the remaining 64 percent of E-M-F they didn’t already own. For Flanders, this was Paul Revere riding with the news through his factory, and he realized that once again he was going to end up as second fiddle in the outfit. By February of 1911, he took Studebaker’s offer of $1,000,000, a $30,000 salary, one percent of the profits and a three-year contract as GM of Studebaker Cooperation in exchange for his interest. On Valentine’s Day, E-M-F and Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company merged.
Again, for Walter Flanders, nothing was simple. Even as he was assuming a leadership role at Studebaker, he assembled four other auto businesses into the Flanders Manufacturing Company. Studebaker was not amused, and while his contract there as General Manager seemed ironclad, that didn’t prevent them from creating a Corporate General Manager above him and installing James Newton Gunn.
Another acrimonious and public debate led to an unexpected result, when Flanders announced he’d reconciled with Everett and Metzger at the Metzger Motor Car Company (and if you’re not confused enough, they were building an automobile called the Everett 30 and later renamed the company for Flanders). Studebaker had enough, and to both parties’ relief, soon released Flanders from his contract.
At Studebaker, the fact that Flanders the man and Flanders the company were gone, and were now even competition, didn’t stop them from continuing to build a model with a sterling reputation. “The fact that Walter Flanders had struck out on his own had no bearing on Studebaker’s continuation of the model or name,” said Richard Quinn, Editor of the Antique Studebaker Review. “In fact it was the best-selling year with 14,562 units assembled,” or about half of total Flanders “20” production. John Daly adds that, “It may be more appropriate to call them ‘Studebaker E-M-Fs’ or ‘Studebaker Flanders.’ The technology used in the cars was purely E-M-F or Flanders, but after the acquisition by Studebaker, the Studebaker name started to appear more and more on the cars and advertisements.”
“I love it when people ask, well, what happened to E-M-F, what happened to Flanders?” said Steve Dillon. “I say, ‘Well, when you see a Chrysler going down the road, you can thank E-M-F and Flanders, because of the direct relationship between Flanders, Maxwell and Walter Chrysler.’ There’s a tremendous amount of early history there, all the companies were buying and selling and being taken over, but if you look at the flow diagram, it’s really neat to see that so many automobiles of today, even Cadillac, have roots to E-M-F.”
By the end of 1912, Flanders had discovered that the company he’d joined wasn’t able to live up to it’s commitments, and in a complicated deal with Benjamin Briscoe, unloaded Everett/Metzger/Flanders to U.S. Motors—which he then acquired. After selling off the dross, a new company emerged, one that would have great and complicated future of its own: Maxwell.
I’ve had in interest in Studebakers ever since I was 16 years old, and I used to get rides home from work with a fellow that had a ’57 Studebaker Golden Hawk. We used to drag race, and we used to kick ass on all the ’57 Chevys and the ’57 Fords and so forth, because we had a supercharger. Not quite so good off the line, but boy, once we got going up to 30, 40 miles an hour, when that supercharger kicked in, boy it was hell on wheels.
When I was 12 years old, my dad bought me my first car, it was a 1930 Model A Ford, and he said, “Steve, you’re 12 years old now, you’ve got to start thinking about what you want to do in life. I’m going to do like my dad did: I’m going to buy you a car, and we’re going to restore it, and you’re going to learn all the basics about automobiles, in case that’s something you want to pursue when you want to get older.”
Then I got into older Studebakers, and bought a 1921 Light-Six touring. I did a body-off restoration, and really enjoyed doing it, and enjoyed talking to people in the older Studebaker stuff, and that’s when I bought my Flanders.
One of the things I really love about the Studebaker, and the really early ones, is the fact that when you talk to people about Studebaker, they think about the bullet-nose, because they’re not old enough to realize that Studebaker has been around since 1902.
P.O. Box 244
Millington, IL 60537
The Antique Studebaker Club
P.O. Box 1743
Maple Grove, Minnesota 55311-6743
Dues: $25; Membership: 1,600
WHAT TO PAY
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$10,000 $15,000 $25,000
PROS & CONS
+Not another Model T
+Fun and cheerful
+Mad props from the Studebaker faithful
-Currently a handful to drive
-Keep that cone clutch oiled up or else
-Might as well move to Hershey
1912 Flanders “20” Foredoor Roadster
Base Price $750
Options on dR car Windshield
Type Straight-four, cast-en-bloc, cast iron pistons, straight tappets, external valves
Displacement 155-cubic inches
Bore X stroke 3.625 X 3.75 inches
Compression ratio N/A
Horsepower @ rpm 20
Torque @ rpm N/A
Main bearings 2 babbitt
Fuel system Single updraft carburetor
Ignition system Splitdorf magneto, Remy ignition
Lubrication system Splash
Electrical system 6-volts
Exhaust system Single cast iron
Type Three-speed sliding gear rear transaxle, cone clutch
Ratios: 1st 3.125:1
Final drive 4.00:1
Type Worm and roller
Type External contracting
Rear 9.5 X 0.5 inches
CHASSIS & BODY
Construction Steel body on full riveted tubular dropped underframe
Body style Two door, two-seat roadster
Layout Front engine, rear wheel drive
Front Longitudinal leaf springs
Rear Longitudinal leaf springs
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels 12-spoke wood
Front/rear 30 X 3 inches
Tires Universal four-ply
Front/rear 30 X 3/3.5 inches
WEIGHTS & MEASURES
Wheelbase 100 inches
Overall length 141 inches
Overall width 68 inches
Overall height 68 inches (74 inches with top up)
Front track 58 inches
Rear track 58 inches
Shipping weight 1,200 pounds
Crankcase 3 quarts plus reservoir
Cooling system 12 quarts
Fuel tank 10 gallons
Transmission 8 pints
Rear axle 8 pints
Bhp per c.i.d. 7.75
Weight per bhp 60 pounds
Weight per c.i.d. 7.74 pounds
0-25 mph 120 seconds
1912 Flanders “20” 14,562