The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hey Stude! Don't Let Me Down

I've always had a fondness for Studebakers. My grandfather on my mother's side (we called him Great Daddy) was a Studebaker man and bought a new one about every three or four years. The first one I remember him having was the first new postwar car design, the 1947 Studebaker. His was a 4-door Commander.

This car was so radically different in design from all the other cars on the road that you would hear the following kind of dialogue when one approached.

"Goshdarn Marge, lookit coming there."

"Whut iz it, Horace? What iz it?"

"It's one of them new Studeybakers."

"Lord, you can't tell iffen that thang's a comin' or goin'."

Then, three years later in 1950, Great Daddy got that famous jet nosed Studey. This time he bought the revolutionary Starlight Coupe with the wrap around rear window. With that radical bullet nose grill, that thing looked like a rocket about ready to take off.

In 1953 when I was 13, my Great Daddy got another Studey, the best one of all in my book. He again bought another Starlight Coupe, this one in green and cream. Some people like the Starliner hardtops better, but I thought his coupe was a real beauty.

I'm not sure, but I believe my Great Daddy switched to another brand of vehicle after that '53. As a master carpenter/cabinet maker, he was a stickler for quality and could not stand inferior products. You probably know the story about how the Studebaker CEOs misjudged the market and had manufactured lots of 4 doors and standard 2 door coupes and weren't ready for the tremendous demand that the Starlights and Starliners generated. That led to rushed production and much poorer quality than what Studebaker was known for. Their reputation damaged, Studebaker continued to manufacture cars in South Bend, IN, until December 1963. They stopped production at their Hamilton, Ontario, plant in March 1966.

But Great Daddy's '53 Starlight wasn't the last Studebaker in my personal experience. In the mid '60s when I was finishing up my Ed. S. degree at Peabody in Nashville, I drove a '59 Studebaker Lark for a couple of months. This was the small car that actually saved Studebaker from collapse, at least for a few more years.

I was taking my last two courses that summer (1967) and also teaching a class down in Columbia, TN. Our family transportation was a dependable old 1950 Dodge 2 door that I had bought for $50.00. (I plan to do a post on that great old car sometime as well.) Since our son was going to kindergarten, my wife needed that car to take him and pick him up every day. Her sister Sandy was finishing high school and had an old, beat up '59 Lark that she loaned us until I finished teaching the class.

The old Lark, dark blue in color, was in fairly rough shape, and, if I remember right, had a peace sign spray painted on it somewhere, maybe the right rear quarter panel. It did run though and made the 60 mile round trip to Columbia every day for several weeks. There was only one instance where the old car let me down.

Actually, the Stude didn't let me down. In my abject poverty and perpetual state of absent-minded professoriness, on this one occasion I had failed to put enough gas in it to make the trip to Columbia. I ran out of gas I 65 South about a mile from the exit. I hitched a ride, found an emergency $10 bill in my billfold, bought a two gallon can and some gas, and walked back down the Interstate to the Lark. After gassing her up I finally made it to class. I was late but the students didn't seem to mind.

Hey Stude, I let you down...


  1. I'm wonderin' why you didn't include the Avanti in your post. That car was my favorite Studebaker, but I gotta admit the '53 Starlight was MOST beautiful.

  2. Buck, Avanti's are beautiful cars. My grand dad didn't own one though. Are those things still being made on a limited basis somewhere?

  3. The Wiki says replica and new design Avantis were made from the original tooling through 2006. So I guess not.