Studebaker Stories:



Studebaker Commander FXX 533: a WW2 survival story

By Mike Whitby

Editor's preface : It is quite common for Studebaker owners to park their beloved conveyance by a famous landmark or scenic overlook and snap a photograph or two. But, for SDC UK member Mike Whitby and his rare 1939 Studebaker Commander export model, his photograph is a "homecoming" photo and one of historical significance. Here's Mike's story:

The car in the photo is a 1939 export right-hand control 12-volt Studebaker Commander, FXX 533, which is shown in the required WW2 white stripes and headlight deflectors as it was displayed last May in London at some of the events celebrating the 60 years since VE day, Victory in Europe (May 8, 1945).

The aircraft is a Spitfire, one from 607 Squadron stationed on rotation at the Biggin Hill RAF Station, a major hotspot in WW2. 607 Squadron was one of over 20 squadrons of fighters stationed there and RAF Biggin played a key role in the Battle of Britain and was a major target of German bombers.

The Spitfire is mounted on a pole outside the RAF Memorial Chapel built in 1951, along side a Hurricane that is mounted on another pole. The buildings, houses and shops in the Biggin area might look old, but they are not. You see, Biggin was completely destroyed in WW2. The Chapel at RAF Biggin Hill commemorates the people from many countries who gave their lives in defending the UK in WW2. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was a frequent visitor to RAF Biggin, said after the war, "Never have so many, owed so much to so few".

This particular Studebaker is the only known complete survivor from the 10 vehicles built in 1938 and shipped to the UK for the 1939 motor show normally held at Earls Court London. Due to the war emergency the show was cancelled and the cars were sold off in the London showroom. FXX 533 was purchased by a Mr. Tubby, a weapons engineer with Vickers London. He was "called up" and given the rank of Major as his special skills were needed. He was given an army staff car and driver, so the Studebaker was placed in storage at RAF Biggin Hill.

As RAF Biggin was flattened, it was obviously not a very good place to leave a new and unusual vehicle. Consequently, the Studebaker suffered considerable damage. Around 1946, Major Tubby was not impressed with the wreck of his motorcar and said he "got some of his 'chaps' to fill in most of the bullet holes and rust holes with the new filler they were using on the aircraft" , the product we now call fibreglass filler. Only black paint could be found so the vehicle was painted black, leaving the inside blue.

The Studebaker was only used as a shopping vehicle as fuel was still on ration until the 50s. Major Tubby did take his wife on a tour around the UK to some of the MOD places where he and his staff created what he called "wizz bangs" – explosive devices for Special Services. An example is the exploding mouse – pick it up by the body, Okay. Pick it up by the tail. "Oh, Dear" , was all he said.

Major Tubby had a stroke in 1950 and the Studebaker was left in a leaky damp garage. Though it only had 10,400 miles completed, it rotted away. I knew Major Tubby for many years (he never left the house) but his stories about what he and his 'chaps' created were always very interesting.

Major Tubby died in 1981 and I purchased the Studebaker Commander as a wreck. Over the span of two years, it was rebuilt, stripped and re-painted in the original blue. I shipped the vehicle to the US for the 2002 meet in South Bend, and then returned it to the UK. Coincidently, the vehicle was used in the Mick Jagger film "Enigma" , the true story of the code breakers in the UK who cracked the German Enigma code signals.

Today, the mileometer is at 30,842, and with 10% diesel in the fuel tank to improve the running of the engine, FXX 533 is still running strong – a testament to Studebakers and all those who proudly and bravely served at RAF Biggin Hill, whose motto is. "The Strongest Link".

NOTE: For more information on RAF Biggin Hill, several books are available, including: " Biggin on the Bump: The Most Famous Fighter Station in the World" by Bob Ogley "Ghosts Of Biggin Hill" by Bob Ogley, and "Biggin Hill" by Graham Wallace. On the Internet, check out www.bigginhill.co.uk and www.bigginhill-history.co.uk

 

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