This Kid’s First Car Is An V8-Swapped Studebaker He Built For Under $2000, And It Absolutely Rips!

This Kid’s First Car Is An V8-Swapped Studebaker He Built For Under $2000, And It Absolutely Rips!

Here’s a question for all you BangShifters that you’ve probably been asked a million times by now: What was your first car?

Mine was a 1964 Buick Skylark Hardtop Coupe with the Fireball 225 V6 backed by a Super Turbine 300 2-speed automatic transmission. It was glacially slow, rusty, and a handful to drive, but I loved every moment of piloting that barge around. One regret I had with it was not sticking with the car and transforming it into the street/strip terror I always pictured when I squinted at it. I always pined for a honkin’ Stage 1-style Buick 455 swap or a Buick 3.8 SFI Turbo swap from a Grand National. Instead, I let it rot and sold it off, and I really wish I had it now.

Calvin Nelson, on the other hand, does not have any of these regrets.

You see, while Calvin is not really a kid anymore at age 23, he still has that 1st car of his: a 1963 Studebaker Lark. That car, originally purchased when he was a young teenager as a non-running father/son project, was tweaked, modded, and molded into the car he saw in his daydreams: a nasty, scrappy, V8-powered streetable track terror. And the best part? He built the thing with his own two hands, along with some occasional help from his dad Andrew, his brother Cameron, and even his mom Paula over the years. He learned how to weld, fabricate, and build potent engines by watching his dad thrash away on his fleet of race cars, and honed all his newly learned skills building the machine you see here.

Just so you don’t think this thing was always all killer stance and strip-punishing horespower, this car started out as a tired old hulk with a non-running original engine. The body, although a bit battered, was straight enough to serve as a clean slate for some serious speed. Calvin learned early that hard work pays off, and the culmination of that hard work is owning one of the coolest old Studebakers in all the land.

Wait… these names sound familiar, don’t they? Well, if they don’t, here’s a refresher: The Nelson family (aka PACC Racing) are well known for building unbelievable rides for pennies on the dollar, and compete in events like Hot Rod Drag Week, ECTA Land Speed Events, and the Grassroots Motorsports $20xx Challenge. In fact, these guys just got back from beating the General Mayhem at it’s own game at the Roadkill Zip Tie Drags with another budget-built creation of theirs: Bugzilla.

Calvin’s Studebaker is super cool, and he was able to run it in anger for the very first time at the Grassroots Motorsports $2016 Challenge last year with the rest of his family. It’s a heavily modified and massaged ride, running a lightly modified LQ4 6.0L Chevy V8, and man, does it go. With under $2000 into the entire thing, he was able to coax it to a 11.62 e.t. at 116mph during the event. Oh, and another tidbit of info: he had never driven the car AT ALL, let alone on a drag strip, before that night. Understandably nervous, he still clicked off an impressive 11.94, even with botching a couple shifts. Here’s video of it’s first-ever pass, racing against dear ol’ dad in his event-winning American Graffiti-inspired VolksRod:

This really makes me wish I did all those pipe dream mods to my poor old Buick. Good on you Calvin for not throwing in the towel. This thing is the epitome of being BangShift Approved!

If you want to know more about Calvin’s sweet Stude, check out the rest of the story from our friends at Grassroots Motorsports! 


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20 thoughts on “This Kid’s First Car Is An V8-Swapped Studebaker He Built For Under $2000, And It Absolutely Rips!

  1. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie

    Yes – the familiar pattern emerges,

    I look at a truly beautiful car, and am inerested in it as the builder is so young. So I scroll down until the usual indeed sadly expected Chevy powerplant emerges. What is wrong with people these days? Surely someone from such and illustrious family must know there are other makes of engines out there?

    I would have slotted in a late Studebaker V8 running either twin turbos or a Paxton blower which would have been much more fitting. The Studebaker Lark influenced several British car designers working for major companies such as the Rootes group and this heritage would have been secured with that. But no – its easier to swim with the tide than do that. Perhaps the poor lad was just too tired to think of anything more original, so here’s hoping for his next car he’ll source a better and more original motor before he even starts building it!

    1. bob

      Ahh, kids today, Why would they put a readily available, really cheap LS motor that has tons of aftermarket support, has a bullet proof bottom end that takes endless amounts of boost & spray, & makes 600 hp easily, when they could pony up $10k for an original 289 with the supercharger that makes 300+ hp. Hmm.

    2. geo815

      You would have done no such thing. With tbe LS swap, he saved 300 lbs or so, doesn’t have to worry about leaks, valve lash, where to get the next reground cam, how to keep that old, overbuilt mill cool, and he saved himself hourz upon hours of head work, too. I’m a purist, and a Studebaker fan, too, but if your game is going quick in a Lark, best thing he did was to ditch the 60 year old running gear.

    3. doug

      here you go a little food for thought…. i personally know the nelsons and they are great people.. but as far as putting the boy down for not using a studebaker engine you first need to know the whole story this car was built for the grass roots which you have a budget you cant go over so everything that was done was done very well thought out and at grass roots this car did very well as do the rest of the nelsons builds so my thoughts are know the whole story before you go putting someone down because they did not spend thousands of dollars…. congradulations calvin and the rest of the nelson family for a job well done!!!!


      Long overdue for life-hatin\’ Geordie to post some photos (or even one photo) of his \”project(s)\”.
      I thought so.

    5. RWDT100

      The $2000 price tag in the title was kind of a hint that this was running a GM power plant.
      Building a Stude engine would have cost 3-4 times what got spent on the whole car.

    6. Jason

      I think you’re missing the point. He built this car on a meager budget, and he’s having fun with it. In the end, isn’t that all that matters? I’m much rather see this young man having a blast with a car that he built, than have him sitting at home playing video games or sitting in front of a computer.

  2. Henrik

    Im sure that if someone had the money and talent they could have build a studebaker with a studebaker engine and so on. But Being a Young guy you need to learn how to do things, you dont start with the hardest Challenge first time around. Second if you dont have stacks of cash laying around, you find the best powerplant for money availeble. Then you begin by putting together a project that you can manage and be sure to finish. So im impressed with the project this Young man was able to get together.

    Instead of jumping on the kid for not putting a ton of money in an engine for his hotrod, you should be happy that he picked an old american car to be his first project and put an american made V8 in it, he could have chosen a honda or another fast and furious joke. So im thinking he did alright and should have applause for his choice and taste in cars, and applause for his first try i Think he did a pretty damn good job chevy motor or not.

    Im not sure why people hate on guys putting a reliable cheap and fast engine in Their hotrods. Im thinking it is better to get it on the Road and have a blast with it. Than having it sit in the garage while you save up for an engine that is harder to find, work with, more expensive, less durable, and that performs less. So get over it and enjoy the looks and sound of a classic getting used and stop the snop thing.

  3. 75Duster

    I commend Calvin for building the Studebaker with a LS, he built it on what he could afford, he learned valuable skills building his car and he didn’t waste his time with video games and social media.
    Above all he has my respect!


    Geordie\’s \”just\” a hater \”who would have\”………………. .

  5. aussie351

    Nice work.

    Oh, and much more creative than Geordie’s broken record comments.

    I’ve had well over 30 vehicles, none of them a GM product, none with a LS, mostly Fords.

    But I appreciate anybody who builds their own car, no matter what it is. Especially if it’s out running 11s.

    Unlike a certain keyboard warrior who thinks he’s funny and tries to wind people up, but in reality just talks shit

  6. Lark

    I am proud of my son! He lives up to my expectations. Works hard. Conducts himself like a gentleman. Treat people with respect. Makes his own decisions. Geordie, while we don\’t agree, we respect those who choose Stude power. Unfortunately many in the Stude club snubbed me when I ran a SBC powered 51 Stude in 1980. My son received similar snubbing when we went to Stude events here in PA. We see why many clubs are dying on the vine and our local Stude club has stopped holding an event that was held for 45 years because of the lack of participation and support. Many have expressed dismay as to why young people wouldn\’t join. Funny part, some of those who snubbed me in the 80s were the same snubbers who showed their colors to my son. We have 5 Studes. 4 Chevy powered running and raced, one all original sitting because it won\’t run.

    1. Bill Mesker

      Don’t listen to him Lark. He’s just an asshole behind a keyboard. I am impressed by Calvin with this. It does get tiring after awhile listening to him blathering on about how much he hates anything GM especially Chevys, hence the name he has.

  7. Lark

    It’s all good. You get used to all the crying when you drive a repaired (read swapped) and functional unit. The purist forget that even Studebaker put Chevy’s under the hood the last 2 years they were produced. The damage was already done and the engine reputation was too deep to save them from shutting down, even with the superior engine being installed the last 2 years. No offense to my Stude purist friends. I appreciate the pure stock stuff too. Just cant afford it.

    1. BRAVO

      Calvin Nelson saved another Studebaker from the Reaper.
      Sound work with your own hands AND keeping the budget at $2 grand.

      Father and son projects will never go out of style or function,either.

      Sweet Studebaker!

  8. sbg

    then I shouldn’t mention the 64 Buick Skylark wagon (non-glass top) that I’m putting a GNX motor into and will likely have less the $2500 in it done.

  9. TheCrustyAutoworker

    Love the Studebaker, and I also love that it tripped my own fond memories of my first car. While Crusty’s first ride was no where near as cool as Calvin’s it did share two things a low budget and my own hands doing the work, and that experience will never be topped.
    There is nothing that feels better than knowing you built it yourself, way to go Calvin your ride is a beauty and you did very well. – Crusty

  10. T. Turtle

    I\’m a Studebaker fan but I can\’t argue with the logic of stuffing an LS into such a car. By the way, 65-66 Studebakers all had SBC as original equipment anyway.

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