Studebaker Stories

Thank you Mrs. Bourke

By Alan D. Reed

I have an affinity for Studebaker Starliner cars.

As a youngster dreaming about cars that could be candidates for the first, small cars seemed to best fit for bill for me.  An MS was smaller than most, intriguing, sporty, and not common to my home town area of Silver Lake, Indiana.

My mother's 46 Pontiac was mine to drive the first few months of being 16 years of age.  It was (seemed) very heavy, large, not streamlined, but with moon caps and fudged up dual pipes with chrome tips it provided solid transportation.

In early 1958 my parents took me to South Bend car shopping.  So many car lots, so many cars...but non of them appealed to me.  Finally on on car lot there sat a 1954 Starliner Commander Coupe.

Black on the roof with Safford Cream on the rest.

I was aghast at the remote possibility that such a streamlined car could become mine.

We were told that it had been a Studebaker Executive's car from the accounting department.  They took the Pontiac in trade and we headed home with the Starliner.

Many years later I wish I had had the good sense to walk a few blocks and meet the designer, Mr. Robert E. Bourke.  That was of course that last think on my mind at the time.  Nobody near my home town had such a splendid car.

Later the V-8 was using some oil, so with the advise of John Teeter and Bill Gillespie (who ran the Standard station close by) I overhauled my first car engine.

It ran like a ribbon.  The next week returning with my girlfriend from church in Claypool, a harsh gust of wind wrapped the hood over the roof.

With a used hood, my girl's help and a lot of elbow grease the car was nosed, decked, the headlight and tail light rims painted on the outside edges (chrome inside), aluminum mesh in the grill openings, the car was painted black all over.  It was beautiful and the snap on wire hub caps set it off.

The interior was redone by painting the vinyl panels silver/black, new mostly black seat covers, black dash and trim, and the steering wheel was painted black and white.

Later at a gas station in South Bend, the attendant shouted to his friends "get out here, this is the sharpest Studebaker you are ever gonna see".  Cool.

A couple years later the repaired rust areas came back and in a weak moment I traded the Starliner.  I have regretted it ever since.

Time passes quickly.  We married half way through my college, graduated in 1964, went on to raise two boys and have many life experiences together.  I traded cars many times but I kept the girl...that is as long as I could.

In the fall of 1999, widowed, I visited the National Studebaker Museum in South Bend.  Passing by the carriages, trucks and cars, I found myself reading the placard in front of a black 1954 Starliner Hardtop Convertible.

A chill went down my spine as I said aloud, "Cindy, there's our car!"

The majestic Starliner was designer Bob Bourke's personal car, which he had customized in 1955 trying to influence the Executives at Studebaker to move toward changes, which eventually led to the Hawk design.

Bob Bourke's customizing led him to shave and deck the car, remove the excess decorative trim, remove the bar grill replacing the turn signals with small lights mounted below the bumper, installing stainless mesh grill material, and installing wire wheels.

This experience inspired me to gather my thoughts, do some research in the Museum Library and begin to write about my Studebaker experiences a young man.

It was completed and copyrighted in early 2001.

I donated a number of the "Starliner Love Story" to the museum Book Store for the store to sell and continues to be available there.

During the formulation of the story learned that Robert Bourke's widow was still alive, living in Connecticut.

With the advice of Lee [sic] Morris (then editorial critic for Turning Wheels) I sent a copy of the book to Mrs. Bourke.

But a few months later while reading Hemmings Motor New I ran across in the Jaguar section an ad picturing a beautiful black Jaguar XKE.

The ad said "From the estate of Robert E. Bourke".

Wow!  Now I was not in the market for a Jaguar but figured that if I dialed the Connecticut number that I would get a niece or nephew of Bourke's and hoped to get some more information about his Starliner on display at the museum.

A small frail voice answered the phone.

I inquired "to whom am I speaking please."

The response was "this is Pearle Bourke, Mrs. Robert Bourke."

WOW!!  I said, "Pearle, this is Alan Reed."

"Alan how nice of you to call!  Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your little book The Studebaker Love Story.  How wonderful and exciting that you and Bobby customized your Starliner almost exactly the same at nearly the same time and didn't even know each other."

Pearle and I enjoyed our "car talk" for nearly a half hour.

God lover her, I still get a tear when I tell that story which has been the highlight of all my car experiences!

Thank you Mrs. Bourke!

(A true life experience of Alan D. Reed, Fort Wayne, IN.  Now renovating my third Starliner.)



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