EAST BAY STUDIES: The first Studebaker Car Club
By Gary Talbert
Back in 1955, I lived in Danville, CA near Mt. Diablo, a 4,000 ft beautiful mountain among California Coastal Range of 2,500-3,500 foot foothills, located just about 4 miles up from our home that Dad and I built on a 1/3 acre. At that time of my life, I had graduated from Castlemont High School and was the proud owner of a '41 Ford 4dr Sedan, with a 59A flathead V/8, Edelbrock finned heads, 4BBL carb, headers and dual Douglas Steel pack mufflers. It was painted a turquoise blue with wide whites and 7:10x15 tires.
During Christmastime of that year, my best friend Leon's new fiancée and I had gone shopping in downtown Oakland for Leon's gift and one for my girl friend. In those days, there were very no stop signs or traffic signals. As we ventured through one of those downtown intersections, I looked to my left and saw this huge 1937 DeSoto limo (ex-taxi) barreling down on me. WHAM!!! Right into my driver's door at 35 mph! That pushed me backwards down a one-way street. All the while, I had jammed the gearshift into low and was trying to get some forward traction but it has just started raining so the pavement was greasy. About then... WHAM! I hit back-to-back against a cool '47 Ford Coupe. The coupe was raked so its back was up in the air and my '41 was lowered 5" all around. Well, you get the picture!
Anyway, that was the end of my nice Ford days. The insurance company only offered $50 for the totaled car. So, I got creative and removed all the speed parts, tires, etc. and sold them at several hotrod shops and machine shops. I even removed and sold the fenders and trunk lid. In all, I got over $600 for the parts! I then trailered the shell to the insurance yard where the agent reluctantly doled out the 50 bucks for what remained.
The question then was, what do I do for wheels?
That question was soon answered when I saw a want ad in the Oakland Tribune. It was from a hot-rodder in Berkeley, near UC that read, "1953 Studebaker Regal Commander Coupe for sale" The car had just 9,000 miles, A/T, radio and heater for $900. I'd never really heard of a Studebaker before, although my dad owned a beautiful, elegant 1951 Packard 400 Patrician 356 c.i. straight 8 cylinder.
Well, I purchased that very sleek, and powerful V8 coupe for $900. It had a Sahara beige exterior with plaid seat covers. Later on, I had the 70,000-mile engine rebuilt with a 3/4 Isky cam, 2-4BBL's, shaved heads, and more. When I drove it out of the engine shop and tried to drive it just across East 14th street, the automatic let go, so it had to go right back into the shop. We found a T-85 OD from a '56 pickup and had it installed. Now, I was really ready to go strong!!
A few months later, I sent the car off to the paint/body shop for a Jet Black w/silver metal flakes, larger 7:60 Firestone wide whites, '55 Speedster wire wheel caps, and black/white naugehyde interior.
Now to the part about how I started the East Bay Studies club.
One day, I was driving through Martinez, California to see another hotrod mechanic. As I was stopped at a stop sign, this fellow around age 40 came was walking in front He stopped and said, "I have a Stude Coupe like your car too" Want to see it?" I said, "Sure!" So, he hops in the car and we drive a few blocks to his place. His name was Louis and when he opened the garage door, there sat a beautiful 1954 Commander Regal Deluxe Starliner Hardtop with real leather interior, light green lower half, cream upper half, spoke wire wheels, straight stick with OD.
Then Louis and I both drove over to see Frank, the hotrod mechanic I was originally headed for. Lo and behold, we find out Frank owns a black 1953 Commander Coupe outfitted with speed equipment. Later on, at the Ben A. Begier Studebaker dealership in San Leandro, we met Dennis Mergel.
One thing led to another and I became President, Dennis became our Vice President, Louis was the Treasurer and Frank was the Club Mechanic. Voila, East Bay Studies!
While at Phil Begier's dealership, we shared what our plans were for a club exclusively devoted to Loewy Coupes/Hardtops and later, the Hawk. Phil Begier, his mother and Harold, their salesman, were very enthusiastic about our new club. Our first meetings were held at my parents' place in Danville, 28 miles east of San Francisco. Later, we often held our meetings in the Begier dealership garage area after hours.
By 1957 we were a full-fledged club with our own club plaque, places to go and things to do! In addition to original members Dennis, Louis, Frank and me, guys like Jim Betler, Chuck Wolfe, Harley Small, Lee Rousele and others would join in.
Our club activities included drag racing at Vacca Valley Raceway near Fairfield where we dusted off several Fords, Chevys, Buicks and Corvettes. Some of our favorite hangouts from '57 to '61 included Gordon's Drive-In in Oakland, Allen's Drive-In in San Leandro, Ben Begier's Studebaker, and various Drive-In theaters. We also had picnics in Redwood Canyon in the Oakland Hills area, participated in parades and car shows and, of course, worked until the wee hours on member's cars and learning more about Studebaker's powerful potential and their amazing durability.
In late in 1961, I noticed there was a national club being formed by some former Studebaker employees so I suggested we join it when it becomes available. Sometime later in 1968, the local Sequoia chapter was formed and we joined up with them. The rest, as they say, is history. The East Bay Studies club plaque can still be seen hanging on the wall at Vic Hubbard Auto Parts/Speed Warehouse in Hayward, California.
Today, I'm only 68 years young and still have a heart for the Studebaker and everything connected with it. My wife and I are now active members of the Heart Of America Chapter in Kansas City, I am also director of the 1956 Sky Hawk Register and I sing in a barbershop quartet!
Thanks for reading the story of the East Bay Studies!
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