Friday, November 21, 2008

Speedster Stuff

I own a very nice 55 Speedster, a 64 Corvette Roadster and a 1970 Chevelle Convertible. In my checkered past I've owned Ford Model As, Hudsons, An MG or two, Austin Healeys, Hillmans, Volkswagons and a 46 Dodge Convertible Coupe. I enjoy all cars from Classics to Hot-Rods, it's all good and all fun.

On this site I will try to answer questions on Studebaker Automobiles but especially 1955 Speedsters. I have lots of information on speedsters and will be posting info on this blog. A lot of it is independant research in Magazine articles from back in the day while some is from the awesome Studebaker Drivers Club forum.

My Speedster

The life and times of Suzy Studebaker

A while ago I decided to write about my favorite car, Suzy Studebaker. Those who know me best realize that I like all old cars while the car I’ve coveted forever is my Studebaker. I have loved the lines of the “Loewy” coupes since I was a teenager and they were new.

A little history is in order. When I was 15 my best friend was 18 and had a shiny new 55 Chevy, we street raced every night as kids in the 50s were wont to do. It was a Studebaker Speedster that consistently beat us. Through the intervening years I flirted with MGs, Austin Healey’s, Hudson’s, Chevy’s and Mopars but always the “Speedster” lurked back in the lizard part of my brain.

About 10 years ago the hidden urge was again triggered when I say a 3 tone Speedster at a show south of Syracuse NY. Now any car guy knows that the wacky yearning for a specific automobile is inherently nuts but impossible to ignore. A few weeks of unsuccessfully trying to fight off this urge and I placed an ad in Hemmings. The ad read simply, “Wanted a Speedster in good to excellent condition.” I know, I know it’s really stupid to advertise. Your essentially saying I want this so bad that I’m seeking you out. It’s akin to knocking on the door of a house and asking if they would please sell it to you. As luck would have it my ads were never answered but, but (feel the suspense building) a Speedster found me. In a conversation with my friend Jerry, a long time AACA Studebaker fan, about my search he told me of a friend of his in Maryland that had just decided to sell his Speedster and hadn’t yet advertised it.

We had a fitful series of letters and phone calls about the car. The Gentleman selling the car didn’t understand me any better than I understood him. I would ask about how it drove on tour and he would talk about the room full of trophy’s the car had won. I asked about spare parts and he said the mechanics had always found whatever he needed. The car was a very good, well-maintained car that he had restored to a high standard. At the end of the day it was mine.

In 1998 my friends began asking if I was going to reclaim my AACA Senior at the “Special Nationals” in Amherst, NY. I was eventually convinced that it would validate the cars value and Suzy Studebaker didn’t let me down.

Suzy Studebaker now resides permanently in Rochester and enjoys the many AACA tours, Cruise nights and Hot-Rod shows in our Upstate area. It’s become my wife, Joanne’s favorite collectable which is a kind of bonus. When we take it for a few days to events like the “Syracuse Nationals or the Studebaker regional ” it still manages to stand out in that sea of different cars. We live in an age of sameness, different is unusual, different is nice.

Suzy Studebaker has now reached middle age well beyond that 50 years old milestone. Born in early 1955 in South Bend Indiana she has seen a half-century of automotive life. Dressed in an elegant black and white color scheme she can remember when she was chosen to represent her Studebaker family as a model in their ads. How proud she was that all these ads were for “Studebaker-Packard.” It’s difficult to be young in a hyphenated family born half black and white but she really wanted to fit in even though she was seen as a “special” model. She was always much closer to the Studebaker side than the pedigreed Packard’s. Her swoopy, low, European lines just never quite meshed with the elegant behemoths commonly found under the Packard Cormorant. Suzy had been styled as a very low, luxurious touring coupe with a fashionably long front and rear deck; she knew that she was a trendsetter. It was always apparent that someone had to leave the corporate nest! It wouldn’t be the pretty Coupes.

She was wild from the start, beginning life with a high horsepower engine and full instrumentation encased in an engine turned dash replete with a bevy of aircraft type switches. Independent Road tests by “Motor Trend” clocked her at 125 MPH and 0 to 60 in 9.4 seconds. This was heady stuff in 1955 on bias ply tires. Her given name was “Speedster” and she tried hard to live up to it.

Of course she was always a bit of a brat, quick to flaunt her prominent front-end and slim, swoopy figure. Many of her siblings sported wild paint combos while her sedate black and white outfit was classy and formal. She knew that having a standard transmission and electric overdrive set her apart from her 2215 siblings with their slushy automatic drives. Alas, after a half-century only 119 of her siblings are thought to still exist.

Her pretty, leather upholstery and wire wheels were industry trendsetters for their time but her high cost of $3253 put her firmly into the mid-priced society whirl. At her coming out party she was quickly dubbed as “Studebaker’s Factory Hot-Rod.” There was an early rivalry with the pretty little white Corvette from Detroit but Suzy Studebaker was clearly the class act with many different color combos and a potent V/8 capable of easily showing her skirts to that fiberglass hussy. Imagine the little Corvette, so quick to drop her top, thinking that her hoary six-cylinder anchor could launch her into the “in-crowd.”

At “fifty” Suzy Studebaker can look back upon a life of service, first as a family sedan shepherding the kids to and thro. After a period of inactivity and neglect Suzy received a freshening restoration and entered the “show car circuit.” At first it was exciting being looked over and judged but too soon the excitement turned to boredom. After all how many awards and trophies can a girl use? Meandering across the country in a closed trailer for yet another judged event just didn’t get the old Girl’s juices flowing. A total of 187 miles in 12 years let her greases harden. Was there no end to this sterile existence?

In 1997 at 42 years of age our Suzy began yet another new life as a “Driver.” It started suddenly as the new owner drove her home on the interstate from Maryland to New York. What a hoot, back on the road again. On the interstate those new cars didn’t attract anywhere near the attention that the pretty coupe did.

At fifty Suzy’s rear sags a bit and she could certainly use a small bit of cosmetic work (who couldn’t) but now she commingles with Hot-Rods and feels young again. Its fun watching people smile at Suzy’s flirty, swoopy, lithe lines.

Lets raise a glass to Suzy Studebaker, A Factory Hot-Rod, Hoo-rah.