My events reminder says that today happens to be International Drive Your Studebaker Day. Normally, I ignore reminders like this because they’re irrelevant to most people. In fact, I was about to ignore the commemoration because I don’t have, nor ever have owned a Studebaker. However, nostalgia about the car brand soon kicked in.
The Studebaker Company was an independent automobile manufacturing company that built sturdy vehicles from 1852 until 1967. The Studebaker brothers started out building wagons for farmers and industry, then branched into automobiles after cars became economically viable products. Their vehicles were rather plain, sturdy things, but sometimes the company built more interesting models. I won’t go into the company history here, but if you want more information, there is a comprehensive Studebaker article on Wikipedia you can check out.
Even though nobody in my immediate family owned a Studebaker, some of the cars figured into my early years. The reminder about Drive Your Studebaker Day triggered some fond memories of the brand.
One of dad’s cousins owned a 1951 Studebaker Commander four door sedan. The faded green car was arguably the ugliest vehicle wherever it went with the exception of My uncle Lester’s Nash Ambassador. The one design element that I liked about the Commander was the bullet shaped “nose cone” at the very center of the car’s front-end. It’s a design feature that still fascinates me. If I was skilled at auto-body work, I’d buy an old Studebaker nose cone and incorporate it into the front of my Camry.
Anyway, the old faded Commander was a common sight at family reunions and get-togethers. I rode in it a few times, but the memories of doing so are unremarkable and dim.
The coolest Studebaker of my youth belonged to my friend Evan’s father. His weekend car was a Studebaker Silver Hawk. It was a truly stunning car even though the styling was controversial in its day. Evan’s dad kept his Silver Hawk in showroom clean condition. You could tell he took great pride in ownership of the vehicle. That said, he wasn’t afraid to load the car with his family or friends for special outings. I was fortunate to frequently accompany Evan and his brother Edward.. Sometimes it was just extended drives around Lincoln (Nebraska) just to “blow out the cobwebs from the engine”. I will always associate Silver Hawks with good times.
There was another Studebaker that figured strongly into my childhood. It was a red Studebaker Lark four door sedan. It belonged to dad’s best friend Carl, who lived in the trailer park near our home. I often tagged along whenever Carl and dad went places in the Lark. Even though it was classified as a compact car, there was plenty of room for people, and the trunk was always chock full of Carl’s belongings. The Lark was a car I envisioned owning someday.
Then there was the Studebaker Avanti. If ever there was a rare beauty of a car, it was the Avanti. My friend Evan’s maternal uncle from Chicago owned a 1963 white Avanti. I only saw and rode in it once. The uncle took Evan, his brother, and me on a “joyride” around Lincoln. Since that day, my admiration of Avantis has never faded.
The short lived model was discontinued in late 1963 when Studebaker closed its South Bend, Indiana assembly plant. The Avanti was so admired by car aficionados that after Studebaker went defunct, a few entrepreneurs continued to custom build limited numbers of the cars as an independent brand. These replicas and variants were sold through the 2006 model year. The Avanti Owners Association is a very active group that also publishes a quarterly magazine devoted to the cars.
If there was a Studebaker in my garage, I’d certainly want to drive it today. Even if it happened to be one of those ugly Commander sedans, it would certainly turn some heads around town.
By the way, members of the Studebaker Drivers Club will be driving their vehicles to car shows and events around the United States and Canada today. The events can be found by Googling the Studebaker Drivers Club Forum.