Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 26, 2020

In Praise of Studebaker

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:19 am
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stude logo

Ahhhh, Studebaker.
I was born into a Studebaker family, a blue 1952 Champion (prior to that, when my father came back from WWII, he got a used 1939 Stude). My father took me on some road trips in it, just the two of us. Later we got a used 1959 Ford wagon, and I remember my father always kept a 5 quart jug of oil on the rear passenger floor because this car burned so much oil you always needed to pull over and add a quart. The Studebaker then became the secondary car, but my father was nice enough to use it when he and I would go out to do something, as he knew how attached I was to it.
Finally, in 1968, my father decided to get the family’s first-ever NEW car, a Chevy Impala. Since we did not have room for three cars, something had to go, and it was the Studebaker. Not wanting to hurt my feelings too much, my parents junked it one day while I was at school. I came home, and it was no longer there. I cried the way you’d do if you’d lost your dog.
About a week later, a maroon Impala arrived in the driveway.
Things were never the same. No other car had that special combination of style and functionality of Studebaker. The GM Saturn subsidiary later tried to do something bold and original the way Studebaker had (I owned a Saturn wagon, and it was a mixed blessing—-smart engineering mixed with obvious functionality flaws, as if the cutesy  innovations blinded them to the more mundane workaday features anyone would expect in any basic car), but the world wasn’t ready, and eventually Saturn became just another GM subsidiary, making cars based off of European GM models not sold in the US because the “originality” angle did not make adequate profit.

Many years later, in the late 1980’s, my wife and I were living in SW Virginia, and I saw a small used car lot on the outskirts of town. It had a rusting once-white 1963 Lark 4 door that had written in soap on the front window in large letters “DO NOT DRIVE—-NO BRAKES!” I have always had a policy of pulling off the road to look at any Studebaker I see–I still do today and will chat with the owner if they are around—-Stude owners are ALWAYS happy to talk about their cars. The guy at the car lot could see that I was a Studebaker lover, not someone who was going to be buying anything immediately, so he just waved at me and left me to look at the car, which was unlocked. I sat in that front bench seat, smelled the old car smell, put my hand on the gear shift (on the wheel, of course), and dreamed. Of course, there was no parts distribution system for Studebakers anymore—-you had to get any parts on the secondary market, often through Studebaker owners groups. Most shops could not work on them. Many Stude owners who worked on their cars had a second car, a junker of the same year and model, that they would cannibalize for parts, and I imagined doing that, finding another Lark. Of course, my auto mechanics skills consisted of being able to change the oil, change the spark plugs, change the air filter, and change a tire, but I did not let that get in the way of the fantasy.

As I sat on that stiff but lumpy front bench seat fantasizing about being a proud Studebaker owner and tooling along the tree-lined thoroughfares of Roanoke and Salem, Virginia, in my 1963 Lark, my wife peered in the window, smiled, and said, “don’t even think about it. It would be a money pit.” I opened my eyes, saw the DO NOT DRIVE–NO BRAKES message three-feet wide in soap in front of my face, and agreed. People who love you do you a favor when they politely bring you back down to reality….

stude champ

1952 Studebaker Champion 

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stude larkk

1963 Studebaker Lark

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stude lark ad

Thanks to CS for inspiring this reminiscence….

stude service

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