Potomac Chapter, Studebaker Driver's Club


My First Year With A Brilliant Studebaker
Steven C. White
November 1, 2014

    Owning a Studebaker in the 21st Century is full of fun, pleasure, and new friends. Yes, there are some drawbacks associated with an antique car but it pales in comparison to the joy of a beautifully styled car waiting to be driven. I see smiles and get waves from other drivers when I am driving my brilliant 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk on a sunny Saturday or Sunday morning. People come over and ask questions about the Hawk whenever I stop and park. A couple from India came over at a gas station and told me about a Studebaker in their family while in India; they were happy they were to see one again.


    My desire to own a Studebaker started in high school like many classic car aficionados. I had a 1955 Studebaker two-tone green Commander four-door sedan and it was fast and fun. It was the early 1960s when the manufacturing of Studebakers was coming to an end. I always looked forward to driving my Commander because of its unique looks and substantial power. We sold it when I went away to college I can’t remember seeing too many Studebakers during the next 40 years. I always felt nostalgic when I saw one.


    I had a strategy to get a Studebaker in the 21st century. For at least two years, searching the Internet, especially eBay and Hemmings, was a daily ritual. When one surfaced in Virginia it was time to get very serious and close the hunt. My wife agreed that this was the right time. I was retired and could devote time to finding, maintaining, improving, and enjoying a classic car. One of my best friends, Ken, had been after me for about 14 years to get a Studebaker. He would send me articles and talked about classic cars every time we got together. Ithaca friends Susan and Dave Wohlheuter always asked me when I was going to get my Studebaker.


    I tried to be as realistic as possible about finding a Studebaker. I read how restoring a car was an expensive proposition and I did not have any experience with such a task. I learned that you rarely recoup the money spent on a major restoration so it must be a labor of love by a knowledgeable person. I was not the person for such a challenge. I decided to look for any age restored Hawk or Avanti or a 1955 coupe.


    I found my GT Hawk in Waterford, Virginia listed on Hemmings.com by a former member of the Potomac Chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club. Tom made it easy to schedule a test drive of his Hawk. I went to Waterford with another close friend, Mike. Mike, another car guy like Ken, had been to Mecum Auto Auctions and owned a fine classic Cadillac. Mike and I were amazed at how terrific the GT Hawk looked. Driving the car took me back to my high schools days – even better. I knew there could problems lurking under the surface of the black beauty, but Mike’s magnet found nothing but metal. Tom’s GT Hawk had a four-speed and that made it easy to think about buying. The engine sounded good and Tom was clear that it was a typical Studebaker – it leaked oil even though he had the engine rebuilt. Tom showed us pictures of the engine rebuild, the restoration of the body, and the change from a dull white paint to an effulgent black. “Effulgent” is quite a word but it describes my GT Hawk well. If something is so brilliant that it gives off or reflects light it is effulgent. I learned the word from watching a W.C. Fields movie “Poppy.”


    It was time to learn about the technicalities of buying a classic car. I checked the Maryland Vehicle Authority pages and the online sites for antique car insurance. I was determined to stay within a specific budget. I talked with Tom and we agreed on a price on my return trip. It was time to get the GT Hawk to Rockville and get it registered. I decided which was the best classic car insurance to buy. The staff at the MVA was very helpful and interested in learning about the car. A classic car registration must have been a nice change from the routine. The next step was to join the Studebaker Drivers Club and the Potomac Chapter. A month had passed – it was June 2013 and time for fun.


    I started searching the Internet for basic information. I learned that today’s gasoline might be harmful to the GT Hawk’s engine because it is composed of 10% ethanol. I bought two containers of a lead additive to use with each fill up. However, I read some things that changed my mind about using lead in my 289 cubic inch engine. Maryland Public Television personality and mechanic Pat Goss says that there is little cause for concern about using today’s gasoline. He wrote, “… along with the changes in fuels, the myths abound; the internet is full of these dire warnings about what’s going to happen to our older, collectible and classic automobiles if we put E10 in them. Well, they talk about engine failures and all sorts of things like that. Isn’t going to happen folks; yes, there may be some minor problems but they’re easily corrected.” (https://www.motorweek.org/features/goss_garage/ethanol_classic_cars) Goss recommended replacing hoses and other engine parts with modern components as the old ones deteriorated; that would keep ours engine going. Some of my new car guy friends also said not to be concerned with using today’s fuel.


    I was fortunate regarding the routine maintenance of the GT Hawk. Our mechanics Shawn and Moe at A+ Auto Services work on classic cars and were of the opinion that they could fix most anything if I could supply the parts. They have helped stem some of the oil leaks by locating the source and using replacement parts I brought to their shop. I realize that if I want to get the engine and drive train in first class condition, I have to locate a Studebaker specialist who knows the peculiarities of all things Studebaker. That brings me to another guide I had during the hunting process.


    Another friend, Paul, educated me regarding choosing the right car and the value of attending car shows especially the ones in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Paul met a Studebaker specialist while at a Carlisle show – Ross Miller of Speedwell garage in Parkton, Maryland. I plan to see if he can do an engine analysis.


    Other issues surfaced in my first year with the GT Hawk. I didn’t drive at night during the first few months I owned the GT Hawk. I liked being in the car when I could see everything well but the daylight hours were getting shorter. I noticed that my brake lights weren’t working. I was able to get this problem fixed thanks to Chuck at Studebakerparts.com. He said I could get the part at the local NAPA store and put it in the engine myself. I made my first successful small repair with my wife by my side in our garage. Earlier, I was able to convince Tom to help me with the installation of a new headlight switch after buying a replacement through Studebakerparts.com. Tom did most of the work replacing the switch and giving me advice on how to work under the dashboard.


    During the 2013-2014 winter months a seemingly unending part replacement problem occurred. My speedometer stopped working. I brought my car to Ken Martin, a Rockville auto body restorer, so he could repair and paint a rust patch on the trunk lid. Ken M also checked my nonfunctioning tachometer and speedometer. The trunk now looks great thanks to Ken M. However, he said I needed a new sending unit for the tachometer and a pinion for the speedometer cable at the point where it connects to the transmission.


    Little did I know what a figurative pinion headache was in store for me. I have been searching for that devil of a pinion for more than six months. None of the Studebaker parts suppliers have the one that I need nor does the shop that was my last lead – Northwest Transmission in Ohio. Potomac SDC President Ron Salen was kind enough to ask our fellow members if they knew of any local Studebaker mechanics but none have been identified. It looks like I will have to go to Parkton for help with the speedometer too. My local mechanic, Sean, tried to install the tachometer sending unit. Sean told me that the rewiring of the engine during the rebuild did not follow the correct color-coding necessary for replacing the sending unit. Also, Sean tried to use the gear from another Studebaker speedometer pinion with the rest of the unit. Unfortunately, it did not work. I need the whole pinion 1552965 with 17 teeth for a 4 speed 3.31 axle.


    Now back to the fun part of owning a GT Hawk. Owning a classic car has prompted me to visit three auto museums during our vacations this past year. I saw some amazing cars including Studebakers of all years and body styles. In May 2014 we went to the Deer Park Winery and Classic Car Museum in San Diego County where they not only have some fine Studebakers but a great display wine bar with a large neon Studebaker sign behind the bar (see picture). Two months later we went to the Seal Cove Auto Museum in Mt. Desert, Maine, while visiting friends. The Seal Cove Museum specialized in classic New England cars. It didn’t have any Studebakers but many other beautiful classics were there. I went to a museum in August with my 93-year-old mother. It was like a trip down memory lane for her. The Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, New York, is not to be missed if you are ever in the Cooperstown area. The museum has an amazing collection that includes a 1916 Studebaker Model ED-6 Limousine and a 1927 Studebaker President Big Six. All of the more than 160 cars in the Northeast Classic Car Museum were in pristine condition. A volunteer guide took us through the museum buildings where he pointed out the major features of the cars as the cars evolved.


    The best place to finish is with the car club, cruise-ins, parades and car shows. Until I owned the GT Hawk I was never a member of a car club, never went to a cruise in, or participated in a parade. I only attended one classic car show before. That has changed in a big way. My wife and I have enjoyed attending two Potomac Chapter Studebaker Drivers Club events. I have become a frequent participant in the Shady Grove Sunday Cruise-In. It is a relatively small gathering but is always fun because of the extensive knowledge of the other car guys. I am usually the only Studebaker driver there but other orphan cars show up periodically. The other guys really appreciate the beauty of the GT Hawk and I like learning about their terrific rides. I brought my car with the Studebaker Drivers Club to the 2013 and 2014 Rockville Classic Car Shows. It was terrific being in the Studebaker row and talking with the other classic car owners and the visitors. Driving the car for people to see is terrific too. I’ve driven the GT Hawk in the Shepherdstown, West Virginia, July 4th Community Parade on two occasions. My friend Ken rides with me. He’s a member of the Shepherdstown Rotary Club and the Club sponsors the parade.


    I’m very happy I bought the GT Hawk. Owning it has provided me with good times because so many people enjoy classic cars – either owning them or simply looking at them. There’s nothing like a 1962 Studebaker to get people’s attention on sunny days. I thoroughly enjoy driving my car. I even get a kick out of washing it. I’m learning more about the Studebaker story every week from the Internet, the Studebaker Drivers Club, and new and old periodicals and books. The GT Hawk now has 1962 Maryland license plates. The fun continues.


    Please note that the second and third photographs are courtesy of Ross Stansfield Productions.