Studebaker Stories:


by Fred Duplechin

When I was about seventeen, my older brother gave me a little blue '55 Studebaker Champion. Not only did it provide basic transportation, but it got me started in the world of auto repair, romance, higher education, and "learning how the world is." It was my first love.

My second love was a cute little 19 year old blond. I sold that little blue Studebaker for $400 to marry her. One marriage, 38 years, three children and countless automobiles later, I bought that little Studebaker back - for about $4,000. Well, it wasn't exactly the same little blue Studebaker, but it was very close and the value had appreciated nicely."

So begins the story of the "Little Blue Studebaker" on my web page ( ).

My brother has always been special to me. About 10 year older, Charlie enjoyed being my "big brother" and was always kind and generous to his "little brother." He was some cool. In the '50's he was James Dean in a tee shirt and leather jacket. In the '60's he had several bands and could sing like Elvis. He always had the best looking girlfriends and ... the best cars. Then he started flying. Four decades later, he's had lots of cars and winged toys; the latest is pictured with here with my Studebaker - a 1957 North American T28C. The T means Trainer, the C, Carrier. Only 299 of the C model Trojans with the carrier tail hook were built.

This is the same kind of trainer in which his son, Ricky, learned to land on aircraft carriers when he graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis. After getting out of his training pants, Ricky's fighter was the F-14. Ricky flew the F-5 fighter in the movie "Top Gun." The F-5 was the Top Gun instructor's aircraft simulating the Russian Mig.

Charlie's name is Charles Hammonds, we have the same mom, different fathers, so we're actually half-brothers, but we never let that keep us from being all the brother we could be to one another. Even though we don't share the same family name, we've shared lots of other things over the years, including a love of cars and airplanes. He doesn't own one now, but he's owned a host of classic cars. He's also owned or performed in many classic airplanes including the Grumman F8F "Bearcat", the bi-wing aerobatic Pitts Special, North American SNJ Trainer and the P-51 Mustang. Charlie learned to fly Cessna floatplanes for the oil industry here in South Louisiana and is a fixed base operator for land and sea based aircraft. He is a graduate of Embry Ridle University.

About 4 years ago, when I was ready to be a Studebaker owner again, I ran an ad on Studebaker websites and newsgroups. It read, "Mature white male [I lied a little bit] desperately seeking intimate relationship with '55 Studebaker. Good body essential. Faithfulness appreciated, but not expected (my ex left me on the side of the road many times)." I got a reply from a West Texas State Trooper. Fortunately, he was only interested in Studebakers, not my quirky, risqué sense of humor. He had an intact, almost rust free, '55 hardtop like I wanted. It had some collision damage and the rubber and interior were burnt to a crisp from almost 50 years in the desert sun, but I thought it was beautiful. After a three-year total renovation, a lot of people think it's beautiful, including my brother.

Intending to make my first renovation simple, I planned to only paint it, seal up the leaks and restore the interior. You've heard that story before. I had to rebuild the carburetor in order to get the car to move, since the accelerator pump and carburetor in general were shot. After getting the car to move, I had to get it to stop, so a rebuild of the brakes was next. New tires followed. "Wow, if only the front suspension didn't squeak, groan and rattle, this would be nice.okay, I'll restore the front end."

At the muffler shop, a lady waiting for her car said she loved the Studebaker. When she asked about my plans for it, I told her that I planned to do almost all of it myself. She explained that she was an upholsterer who once spent a lot of time upholstering classic and custom cars. "Give me a call when you're upholstering and I'll give you some pointers." I didn't know then what I was getting into. More about her later.

In order to get a good paint job, I had to strip the chrome and stainless, of course. The only significant rust was on the front of the rear fenders under the quarter window. "Hey, look at this - the rear fenders are just bolted on, how convenient! Just as soon take off the front fenders, too, and the baffles, and the rocker panels would be easy to change."

Chemical stripping of the paint turned my President into a shiny steel DeLorean Edition. After removing all of the interior, I brought the shell and pieces to the paint shop. Lots of priming, sanding and blocking couldn't get those front end pieces to fit right. Frame's bent. Off to the frame shop.

Then I retired. What to do with all this time? Anyone who's restored a car knows the answer to that question – cleaning, refurbishing, polishing, re-chroming, etc. No detail now escaped my attention, down to the instruments, clock and dials. The fantasy of a "practical" restoration vanished as the receipt file grew. When the engine inspection showed 63,000 miles of wear, I decided to rebuild it (got all this time anyway). Good decision. Only the .030" oversized Egge pistons are aftermarket. "Just as soon get the transmission done too."

Rewiring my car was one of the most satisfying parts of the renovation. I converted my President from 6V positive ground to 12V negative ground to allow me to put a modern sound system, air-conditioning, etc. I ordered a modern 22 circuit harness from EZ Wiring. It arrived promptly and I studied the simple 13 page manual. "Can't be that easy", I thought to myself. I dutifully filled out the pre-wiring planning section and got to work. I kept almost all circuits and converted a couple of the "extras" to serve for weird stuff like the transmission's "anti-creep" solenoid. I soldered a new set of wires onto the original turn signal switch. Those wires all hooked up to their corresponding wires on the new harness. NAPA (and probably others) sells replacement leads for the bulbs and even sockets if you need them. The harness comes with headlight sockets. EZ Wiring makes these harnesses with GM type plugs for the column type ignition switch and other column functions like turn signals, but it's easy to cut off those GM plugs and attach them to the Studebaker leads. Yea, it was a little tedious. Yea, I did get puzzled a couple of times, screwed up a couple of times, cussed a couple of times. But..., thinking back, I shouldn't have. Tech support at EZ Wiring is fantastic - almost like psychotherapy for your frayed auto restorer nut nerves, calmly, patiently, politely steering you back on track.

I also got a little 12V conversion help from Randy Rundle at Fifth Avenue Antique Auto Parts. He sent me a couple of "Runtz" to keep my 6V fuel and temp gauges, his 6 to 12 volt conversion guide (excellent!) and some good ol' free advice.

For you purists, Studebaker International still sells the original type harnesses for 6volts in two pieces, front and rear (at about twice the price). After doing it, I think you could get away with just the front harness. The rear harness is simple and made from vinyl covered wire. My rear wires were in good shape compared to the front wires (many of which were cloth covered. But, it you change only the front set, do change the door switch/dome light wires and any other cloth covered wires.

Eighteen months after bringing my car to the paint shop (are restorations always last?), beautiful blue parts started emerging – trunk lid, hood, doors, fenders and finally the shell - Carbon Blue with a white pearl top.

About that time I found out that I don't want to be a stainless trim polisher when I grow up.

Nor do I want to be a headliner installer! Otherwise, the interior was fun too. It's so exciting to see it all coming together. I discovered that I'd scratched the front and back windshields when cleaning them, so I bought a new front windshield and replaced the back with the one from my parts car. The seat covers from Automotive Interiors looked great and they were very good about re-making parts that didn't fit just right. For the custom parts – dash cover and door panels, I called on my old new friend - the upholstery lady from the muffler shop. Perry turned out to be not only a great upholsterer, but a great friend too. Talent beaucoup!

I will leave the radio block-out plate and instead hide a radio behind the speaker grille. A converted dash switch will cause the grille to drop down and the radio to slide forward. A vintage look-alike air conditioner will complete the picture.

This '55 President State Hardtop has the original 259 and automatic transmission. To the untrained eye, it looks original and I plan to keep it that way. It looks and runs great. I think my brother likes it. The red rims? I like 'em.

About the author: Fred Duplechin is a 58 year old father of 3, grandfather of 6, living with his wife, Debbie, in Coastal Louisiana. He has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. He served in various capacities for the Louisiana Office of Mental Health for 25 years and Regional Administrator for the Office of Public Health for 8 years. During this time he also conducted a part-time private practice in family counseling. After retiring from State service in 2003, Fred spent a year completing the three year restoration of his 1955 Studebaker President State Hardtop. Fred is Louisiana Regional Manager for Studebaker Drivers Club and Editor of Bayou 'bakers, Louisiana SDC's newsletter. He is currently restoring a 1981 DeLorean. He is a Member of the Lagniappe Chapter of AACA.

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