Bob's Studebaker Resource Website

Six Volt Studebaker

Here it is, just over 7 years to the day the car was delivered and I thought this was a good time to write this....

If you have heartburn with your six volt car starting, keep reading...

Bought the 1955 President State Sedan in 2002. Original car with 52k miles, Automatic Drive. The anti-creep even worked. 6 volt, positive ground.
The six volt system was always a mystery to many. Besides the low voltage, the polarity was reversed and used the (+) battery post for the ground pole. In a six volt system the operating current on any component, is twice as high as it is in a 12 volt car. This is the reason for the heavier wiring. The other item that is often not dealt with well, is that the grounding of components is the utmost importance. If you have a 10% loss of amperage on, say the headlights, due to a bad ground (from corrosion), the headlights will drop almost half their intensity. Grounds are very important and especially if you don't use your car very often or leave it out in the weather. Imagine what a slightly corroded ground would do to a starter motor?!! I can testify that it will drive you up a wall with concern about everything, EXCEPT the ground.

My story.<> From the beginning, not being that familiar with the virtues of a six volt system caused me to constantly attempt to upgrade things to assure the best possible performance. I based the starting system performance on what it was like when I received the car. Since everything else was in such pristine condition for it's age, I presumed that the starting system was in great condition. Even though it only cranked about 2-3 revs every 5 seconds, I though that was optimum. It got worse from there and I treated everything I could possibly think of. Even the ground situation was attended to, but it wasn't until that magic moment, when the problem was unknowingly solved, that it was realized the system had been compromised much earlier.

So, the car was purchased to make a long, cross-country trip, with our Chapter of SDC. To prep the car for the journey, everything I could think of was renovated. New radiator, exhaust system, battery, valve job, brakes, belts, water pump, suspension, dual master cylinder, rebuilt hydrovac, new radial tires, 6 volt alternator, new 4 barrel carb, (new horsehair carpets), etc. I even talked the techies at Pertronix to develop a module for the system and it took about 6 months, but I got maybe the third one they sold and it's worked like a million bucks since.
The starter worked, what else could I say. It wasn't the keenest performance and certainly not as crisp as everything else, but it was 6 volt, so thought to be a bit anemic (this is the misconception). The car made the trip with bells on. Not a hint of anything serious, but we did have an overheat problem, due to a leaking vacuum hose. So the President made history and was the center of attraction for the next few years. Minor adjustments and tune ups were always tended to and the car was kept in good care.

Over the years the cranking issue was tolerated, but once the car started, it ran very well and drove very nice. What was there to complain about? Others gave me advice about installing an 8 volt battery or retro fitting to 12 volts, etc. The issue was bypassed, that is, until it started to spoil the trips. The performance slowly deteriorated to the point that, a hot start was taken on with a hope and a prayer, that we wouldn't spoil the tour for the others. I installed an electric fuel pump thinking the carb was boiling dry and to alleviate the prolonged, antagonistic slow cranking.....but once it caught, we were back on the road all smiles again. (and forgotten about again).

It was in 2007, during a tour on the Eastern Shore, that the first real trouble caused me to change plugs, thinking they were worn to the point of failure. That trip was late in the year, so the car was sidelined after that and covered up in the driveway. In January 2008, I pulled the car in and took everything apart. Replaced the ignition switch, starter relay, the battery, completely renovated the starter with a new armature, brushes, springs, bearing, etc. The heavy wiring was replaced with heavier yet. Using #0000 welder cable from the starter to the relay and from the bell housing to the (+) post as a ground. The starter relay received an extra ground from the base mount, at the inner fender, to the (+) on the battery as a redundancy. All connections were sanded and treated with electrolytic grease. The result was a better starting engine, but not much better than it was from the beginning. But it was back!....or so I thought. It was taken on 2-3 trips in 2008 and sort of settled back to a strained crank around the end of the season. At the end of 2008, my Hawk was launched and the Pres stayed covered in the driveway.

The only times I started the Pres in 2009, was in the early spring to get it out of hibernation, but it reverted back to the poor groaning crank of the previous period. I charged the battery many times, but that wasn't the problem. I was thinking about the field coils being bad and was ready to take the starter to a rebuilder in Manassas. That would have to wait until the weather was good enough for the GT Hawk to be kept in the driveway, so a month or two.

June and the weather is getting better. This year there's been a lot of rain on the East Coast, so the yard and house didn't get their usual pointing up, until all this passed.
When the time came for the driveway to be sealed, the Pres had to be rolled back so I could start at the top. When I got down to the Pres, I stopped and would let everything dry until the next day. So then the Pres had to be started and driven back up to the top of the driveway... It balked, and groaned and cranked so extremely slow, that with a wisp of smoke from under the hood, gave what was thought to be it's final notice that the starter was gone. I looked under the hood and found the small ground wire from the relay to the battery had the insulation melted. The charger was again set up and we waited until the next day.

In the meantime, I fabricated a new, larger gauge 'helper' ground for the solenoid. There was a some braided 1/2" cable with a rubber sheath in my stash and this was perfect. Two #4 copper lugs from Lowes and they were soldered on. Next, a heavier yet, ground cable from the 1st exhaust manifold bolt to the inner fender below the battery. This was made by doubling the sheathed strapping and using two #2 gauge copper lugs, soldered on.

When the battery was charged, I tried the starter again and what a surprise. It cranked more vigorously than ever before and started withing 3 turns of the engine. So the answer all the time was the correct and proper grounding of everything.

My solution was the following grounding scheme;
battery (+) to bellhousing, at starter holddown bolt ( #0000 welder cable)
engine to chassis (passenger side, factory webbed strap)
starter relay base to battery (+)(1 X #4 gauge webbed strap, #4 copper lugs)
engine to body (inner fender)  (2 X #4 gauge strap, #2 copper lugs)

This lesson only took 7 years to learn...