Studebaker Stories:

1951 Studebaker Landcruiser Saga

By Andrew P. Kavulich, Mount Laurel, NJ

My Dad was a Studebaker buyer for many years - from the 1930s to 1950s.   The last one he bought was a 1951 Landcruiser.   He owned a grocery store and also had a 1948 Stude pickup truck to get groceries from a wholesale grocery warehouse and to deliver orders to customer homes.   His brother bought a Chrysler dealership in the mid-fifties and my Dad switched to Chrysler products.

My love of the 1951 Landcruiser started in the summer of 1960 (I was 17 years old).   The Landcrusier was in our garage and I wanted my first drive to be in the Landcrusier.   It had not been running for a while and I decided to get it started and take my girlfriend for a ride.   I had to get the battery charged and got it running fairly well.   I called my girlfriend to see if she wanted to go for a ride and she said OK.   We went for a ride on a hot summer day (90) and after an hour or so, the car started to get very hot inside.   I pulled over to see what was happening but could not find the problem.   We continued on our way home and the car got hotter (about 120).   I realized that the heater was malfunctioning and I could not stop it from running.   We opened the windows and tried to get a breeze inside and continued toward home.   That was the only ride I had in my Dad's Landcruiser and the heater problem was never fixed.   I graduated college, moved away from home and the Landcrusier went to the junk yard.

As I got older, I always thought of getting the same car my Dad had and hoped to enjoy driving it around.   I joined the Studebaker Drivers Club and looked for a similar Landcruiser for sale in Turning Wheels.   Month after month, I looked carefully at the For Sale ads.   Finally, after 18 mos. (July, 1999), I received the Turning Wheels on a Friday and there was a Landcruiser advertised that had the V8 and automatic just like my Dad's.

I called the number and I got a message that there was no-one there at the time and if it was an emergency, to call another number.   For me, IT WAS AN EMERGENCY!   I called the other number and a gentleman answered and I asked several questions about the car.   It sounded like it was in fairly good shape and I asked if I could see it.   He said sure and I asked where it was located.   I was in western NY at the time and he said he was located in Tipp City, Ohio, north of Dayton.   I asked if I could come out the next day – Saturday - to see it and he said OK.

I drove out Saturday morning and when I came close to the location, I was driving on Studebaker Avenue.   I was somewhat taken back by the number of Studebaker signs on the property.   I drove onto the property and noticed several more Studebaker signs and I thought, this was somehow, a Studebaker related property.   I pulled up to the long garage and went in.   There were over a dozen Studebaker cars and trucks of various years inside for sale.   A young gentleman came up to me and I said I was there to see the 1951 Landcrusier.   After asking him several questions, I realized I was on the property of descendents of the original Studebaker family.

Emmert Studebaker (great, great, great, great grandson of Peter Studebaker, immigrant and co-founder of American Studebaker legacy) owned the cars and the property.   I was surprised and in awe that a Studebaker descendent owned the car I was interested in.   Now, I was more excited about getting the car.   The process they had for selling the car was a 1-time bid.  I wanted the car and researched the value of the car with its condition, etc. It needed work, but the body was in good shape.   Rust was all over the underside and the interior had to be replaced. The engine ran and sounded pretty good.   I submitted a bid for a little more than the average value and could not wait to hear if I won.   A week went by and no response.   Another week went by and no response.   Now, I was getting nervous.   I called and a woman answered and I introduced myself.   After a few questions, I asked who she was and I was surprised by the answer.   She was Barbara Studebaker (Emmert Studebaker's 's daughter) and she was handling the sale.   She said she received a few calls about the Landcrusier and a gentleman in California offered her $1,000 more than the top offer she got.   She said she knew I was very interested in the Landcruiser and would get back to me in a few days.   She called me back and said that I had won.   HOORAY!!

I asked when I could come out to pick up the car and she said anytime.   I took the next Friday off from work and my wife, daughter and I went to Tipp City.   We stayed overnight and spent time with Barbara Studebaker and her husband.   I loaded the car on a trailer the next day and we transported it back to NY.   There were many "thumbs up" from passersby on the trip ba

Now, I got the car I've wanted after 1 1/2 years of looking.   How do I start to put it in good condition to drive around and both look good and drive well.   I checked into restoration facilities and the prices were very high.   I also checked into local shops with good mechanics/body work, etc. I could not afford it so I kept the car in the garage.

My wife and I moved back to NJ in 2001 and we moved the car with us.   In 2007, I decided to start taking the car apart to put it in a good condition to drive around.   I took off the front end and pulled the engine and transmission out.   I looked around for someone with some experience with older cars to take the body off the frame and I would assist in cleaning and/or replace the rusted parts.   I found someone and the more I got into looking at the parts, the more I wanted to restore it to its original condition.   We began ordering new or replacement parts and the costs started to mount.

When in NY, I came across an NOS short block and bought it from an outfit in Florida.   Since I wanted to restore the car to its original condition (all numbers matching), I was torn about putting the NOS engine in or rebuilding the original.   I decided to go with the NOS engine and possibly rebuild the original later.

After taking the body off the frame and dismantling the frame, I decided to have the frame and all associated parts sandblasted and powder-coated.   This would insure the finish would be stronger and last for a much longer time.   The frame was then reassembled and tires put on to allow a rolling frame.   Costs were mounting.

I cleaned ALL the rusted bolts, nuts, washers, springs and smaller pieces with a wire brush wheel on my bench grinder.   Larger pieces required use of a wire brush on an electric drill.   The gas tank was taken down to metal and my son-in-law said he never saw a cleaner gas tank.

I had the body blasted with a baking soda pressure washer and it cleaned all the interior and exterior surfaces very well down to the metal.    The best part was that it was environmentally safe and the excess baking soda just had to be swept from the pavement.   There were only a few rust spots on the body that needed metal repair.

In checking for places to do the re-chroming, I researched many companies and came across one that specialized in small metal part manufacturing and refinishing.   They did all the triple-plated re-chroming of the bumpers, grill, hood and trunk ornaments, fender ornaments, light bezels, interior door handles, interior light, horn piece, dash pieces, etc.   They cleaned and polished the stainless steel pieces - rocker panels, gravel guards, exterior door handles, etc.   Costs were mounting.

I had the transmission, starter, regulator and generator completely rebuilt and painted.   All original indicia were retained.  

I then ordered the carpeting, headliner, seat coverings, door panel fabrics for both the vinyl and cloth sections, rear deck panel, foot panels, etc.   When dropping off the items at the upholsterer, he told me about a company that restored cars.   I called them and visited their shop.   There were many cars in the shop and I asked for a quote on doing the body work and putting the Landcrusier back together.   He had restored cars that obtained senior AACA status.   We agreed on a price and I sent the completed rolling frame, body parts and all other parts to him.

He took 7 months to restore the car to its original condition.   He prepared the body for paint and put the primer on.   He then put four coats of enamel on the exterior and firewall, with fine sanding in between.   He painted the new engine and transmission the same olive green as original.   He installed a new wiring harness and checked the brakes, front end, drive shaft, etc.   The weekly visits saw the car coming together and it began to look great.

The new interior had to be installed before he could put the back window in because it goes in from the inside, after the interior was installed. He installed the new windshield.   It was then sent to the upholsterer and he put in all the interior items and headliner in a short period of time.   The rear window was then put in.

The car was FINISHED!!! YEAH!!   Now I can enjoy driving it around and seeing all the "thumbs up" and smiles.   Also, my wife only has to work three more years to pay for the restoration (just kidding)!

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