Students Travel Across Curricular Boundaries in Vintage Vehicle
An interdisciplinary collaboration at Pennsylvania College of Technology applied three-dimensional printing to a singular piece of American history, readying an electric 1908 Studebaker for display at a prestigious international automobile show in Florida.
Students and faculty in additive manufacturing and automotive restoration classes, based in separate academic schools but housed under the same College Avenue Labs roof, joined forces in prepping the vehicle for transport to the 23rd annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance from March 9-11.
While the college has made its presence known at a number of high-profile venues, this is its first trip to Amelia Island – considered one of the year's most significant automobile shows.
“We cannot thank them enough for their above-and-beyond efforts,” said Roy H. Klinger, an automotive restoration instructor in Penn College’s School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies. He said the faculty and students conducted all of the work outside of class time, devoting many evening and weekend hours to get the vehicle ready for the event.
“When this car was new, the Titanic wasn’t even built yet,” Klinger reminded students while they applied the finishing touches to the vehicle.
The Studebaker, one of two built to ferry subterranean passengers from the Old Senate Building to the U.S. Capitol, is on loan from the William E. Swigart Jr. Automobile Museum in Huntingdon. (Owner Patricia B. Swigart, among the earliest supporters of the college’s automotive restoration technology major, will join students and faculty at the Florida show.)
The automobile’s inclusion at Amelia Island was requested by event founder Bill Warner, as this year’s Concours pays tribute to “electric horseless carriages” and a 120-year-old technology that has been reborn in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.
Applying today’s technology to yesterday’s transport is par for the courses offered at Penn College.
“Additive manufacturing technologies have excellent uses in historical vehicle restoration,” noted Eric K. Albert, associate professor of machine tool technology and automated manufacturing. “Two components of the vehicle needing replacement were part of the contactor switch that chooses forward, neutral and reverse. There is a switch on each side of the vehicle and, thankfully, representative parts were available to copy.”
The dual-direction operation was necessitated by the narrow underground passage; the car moved backward and forward along its route, with the driver switching seats to face whichever way he was traveling.
The first component, Albert explained, is inside the vehicle and acts like a connecting fixture between the contactor switch and the long handle that protrudes from the side of the Studebaker.
“To reproduce this part, the remaining one was 3-D scanned and used as a reference during parametric CAD modeling,” added Albert, whose work is based in the college’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies. “A plastic version was 3-D printed in our additive manufacturing lab, then trial-fitted on the car.”
The first try fit perfectly, so a 3-D printed metal copy was made by sending the computer-aided design file to a service bureau in New York. Two weeks later, a solid metal reproduction arrived and was installed.
“The second part was a cover plate over the slot where the contactor handle itself emerged from the side of the vehicle,” he said. “One part was lost, and the remaining part had split in two.”
Benjamin T. Steimling, of Danville, an engineering design technology student in Albert’s Additive Manufacturing class, measured the original part and created a parametric model that was 3-D printed in engineering plastic. With minor hole-drilling and finish paint, it was a perfect substitute.
The pre-Florida assignment was the second go-around for automotive and restoration majors involved with the Studebaker since its arrival on campus in June. While a cosmetic makeover had been done in the 1950s, Penn College students were tasked with returning the vehicle to roadworthiness for last June’s Concours d’Elegance in Hershey.
“No documents on how the vehicle operated or how it was designed could be located,” recalled Christopher H. Van Stavoren, assistant professor of automotive, who said it was unknown if the vehicle was even in operating condition.
“Due to the historic nature of the vehicle and its wooden construction, extreme care was taken to determine if faults were present that could result in an electrical fire,” he said. “Three days of analysis and testing revealed short circuits that would preclude the use of the original wiring for the Hershey event.”
The automobile was outfitted with modern wiring to provide one-speed operation from one drive location, and off to an ultimately successful Hershey trip it went: The Studebaker won the show’s This Car Matters award, chosen by the Historic Vehicle Association.
In late December, the vehicle was brought back to campus for a more thorough operational overhaul prior to Amelia Island.
Van Stavoren said Norman Schwartz, a collector from California, provided working electrical drawings for the operation of a 1904 Studebaker runabout. The design of the Senate car is very similar to the runabout, he said, and the drawings were used to determine the operation of the vehicle.
Further analysis revealed the location of the wiring defects: Several electrical connections at the motor were improperly located, most likely during the ’50s restoration.
Electrical contactors were reproduced from a bar of copper and were installed by students on the rotary control drum on one side of the vehicle; the best of the original contactors were installed on the other drum. The vehicle is equipped with seven contactor fingers on each side. The best seven were selected and installed with the new contactors, while the remaining seven were installed with the original contactors.
In addition, all hardware was replaced with period-correct fasteners.
“The goal was to make the vehicle operate from both sides, with one set of controls being preserved as original and the other side being restored,” Van Stavoren said. “We were successful, and the car can be driven both directions.”
Additional electrical work included rebuilding the four-pole, double-throw knife switch on the restored side of the car; replacing the motor-connection hardware; and installing 80-ampere fuses in the positive cables for each of the two battery packs.
The vehicle now operates on four 800-amp, heavy-duty marine batteries on loan from Hurwitz Batteries in South Williamsport.
“Test-running the car on jack stands revealed a lot of noise from the drive chains, so each chain was removed and two links taken out,” Van Stavoren noted. “The chain was oiled and reinstalled, the chain-slack adjusters were reconditioned, and the slack was adjusted to provide smooth and quiet operation.”
For more information about the automotive restoration technology major at Penn College, email or call the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies at 570-327-4516.
For more about manufacturing majors, email or phone the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies at 570-327-4520.
Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.