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1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

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  • 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

    I don't want to bore y'all with a lot of editorial and no pics but bear with me. Hope its worth the read!
    Like a lot of Studebaker folks, it's just in my blood. My grandfather bought a new 1950 half ton pickup
    because the Chevy dealer had sold out, and well here I am! When I was a kid back in the mid 70s I
    remember helping (more like watching) my dad as he built a 327 Chevy engine to put in that same
    truck that his dad had bought back in 1950. I drove it to school some, eventually wrecking, sub-framing,
    and eventually parking in a field. That poor old truck would have been better off if dad had not let me
    drive it. I loved it and the facts that it was pretty quick and drew a lot of attention had me hooked on
    Studebakers, Chevys, and hot-rodding. I learned a lot while swapping parts and adding the Trans-Am
    front clip. I went to college and had other obligations so the truck got parked. Today it remains parked
    in a shed in the back yard awaiting another chance to be on the road. Someday?

    Dad has always been on the lookout for Studebakers and has been a member of the Studebaker Driver's
    Club for as long as I remember. I got to see a lot of Studebaker cars in the pages of Turning Wheels,
    their monthly magazine. Currently dad has four nice drivable Studebakers, 1950 and 1952 pickups, a
    1950 1.5 ton truck and a 1965 Cruiser. The 1950 pickup is red and all original with a Champion six and
    overdrive. The 1952 is black and has a 259 Studebaker V8 with a T5 transmission and air conditioning.
    The 1950 big truck has a 289 Studebaker V8 with a truck 5 speed and a big custom flatbed. His Cruiser
    originally came with a 283 Chevy engine and has been upgraded to a 300 horsepower 327 Chevy engine
    with the original automatic trans. There have been many cars over the years that I have wanted, but a
    53 or 54 hardtop was always high on the list. When I saw Jack Chisenhall?s Cool 200 car in Hot Rod
    magazine, I knew that was the car I wanted. I actually called him and talked for a while and even got an autographed poster in the mail from him with best wished on my project! Mom had it framed for me and
    it's been on the wall ever since.

    I worked my way through school and finally graduated from Mississippi State University in 1999 with a
    BS degree in Mechanical Engineering. While still in school, I began looking for a decent car, under-
    standing that I should probably not cut up a nice original. I found a 1956 Skyhawk on eBay in Arizona
    and bought it. The car had sat a long time in an impound yard with the windows broken out. I was
    hoping the arid climate would provide me some rust free floors. They were in decent shape, but the
    car would need several patch panels. Over the next couple of years I bought a 1954 Champion Starlight
    coupe for the front cap and another 1954 Starliner shell from Houston, TX. At that point I had a yard
    full of cheap, junked Studebakers. But when I got out of school and had a good paycheck I wanted
    instant gratification! I realize this is a flaw of my generation. I found a 1953 Champion Starliner that
    had already been hot rodded listed on eBay in Houston, TX. It looked amazingly like the Vintage Air
    car I had been dreaming about. The car had a 500 Cadillac, TH400, 9" Ford drivetrain, which was not
    exactly what I wanted, but being different was interesting. Four wheel disc brakes, Vintage Air AC,
    leather interior, digital dash, smoothed firewall and slick as glass black paint all added to the smile on
    my face. Twice I was the high bidder, but both times the auction did not meet the man's reserve.
    Finally we agreed offline to a price and I headed westward with a trailer. I had asked the man if I could
    fly out and drive the car home. He assured me that I could, but hesitated declaring that it had never even
    been wet since it was painted four years earlier! The car was very clean and amazingly rust free and was
    only showing 460 miles on the digital odometer! The floors were as rust free as I had ever seen on a
    Studebaker! Remember that he said that it would have made the 500 plus mile trip. I drove the car around
    the block and all seemed well, but the alternator wasn't charging. No problem as I had a trailer with me
    so we loaded her up and I wrote him a check. And coincidentally he had the same Cool 200 poster on his
    shop wall! Finally on July 3rd, 2004, I had my Studebaker hardtop!

    Attached Files
    Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 3, 2013, 07:23 PM.

  • #2
    Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

    Golden! That thing is clean. So what have you done to or with it in the last five years??
    Escaped on a technicality.


    • #3
      Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project... to go change my pants now...
      If you can leave two black stripes from the exit of one corner to the braking zone of the next, you have enough horsepower. - Mark Donohue


      • #4
        Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

        All was well for a time, even though the car was running hot, and eating alternators and electric fans
        like candy I was having a blast winning car shows and enjoying my new hot rod. But the hot rodder
        in me wanted more. As time went by the more I found little things that drove me crazy. I couldn't
        drive around with rear seat passengers or the exhaust and driveshaft would scrub. I never got more
        than 20 miles away from home without the engine temp hitting 230s. It was always something. But
        this was my dream car and I had to fix the nightmare! I drove the car for two years changing almost
        everything except the engine to get it to run cooler with no luck. Over that time I also had to rebuild
        the rear axle. A mid sump 425 pan had been used and in high vacuum situations it sucked up against
        the 500 crank and sounded like a rod knock, which wasn't very impressive when cruising either! But
        the straw that broke the camel's back was a trip I had to shorten because the temp was at 270! After
        a cool down I drove it home and began an epic tear down and rebuild. It was exactly 2 years to the
        day after purchasing the car. July 3rd, 2006.

        I was tired of lying in coolant looking up at stuff I didn't like, so finally I decided the only way for me to
        truly be happy with the car was to start over or sell it. And selling it wasn't really going to cure my itch...
        Being a fairly well read hot rodder I had good ideas of what I wanted changed. At first the engine was
        on the chopping block in favor of a BBC. But everyone at the car shows just liked the Caddy power so
        that I decided to leave it, a decision that I often regret! All the parts of this car just kinda blend together
        so the project steamrolled.

        First on the list was more power. I found Potter Automotive (aka Cadillac Performance Parts) in Soddy
        Daisy, TN and decided to go with one of their engines. They recommended a girdle on the mains for over
        600hp which required a different oil pan with more clearance. The car already had a MII front suspension
        copied from a FatMan front stub, but my existing oil pan was almost riding on the rack not to mention
        the 1 7/8 header tubes needed hammer dings to miss the upper a-arm pivots. These issues led me to
        order up a new frame stub with changes to remedy the clearance issues. The front stub was attached
        high on the frame to get a low ride height with stock spindles. So I ordered a new FatMan stub with the
        center dropped 2" with plans to run 2" dropped spindles to get the same ride height and giving me a LOT
        more oil pan clearance. I also got the a-arms moved out 5/8" each side for more header room and am
        running narrowed a-arms to retain the track. I discovered later that the narrowed arms wouldn't work
        with the FatMan top spring hats so I converted to coil overs. In the end I am changing this again to have
        shockwaves all around...still working on that one... After all was worked out I was able to move the engine
        back a little farther and lower in the chassis also with plenty of clearance. If I were doing it all over today
        I probably would have cut into the firewall to move the engine back even farther.

        With a lot of time to think about what I was going to do and little money, I modeled the entire chassis in 3d.
        This comes in very handy when I contemplate changes and I can generate patterns for my parts....

        Attached Files
        Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 3, 2013, 09:39 PM.


        • #5
          Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

          Don't let Dwayne's modesty fool you guys. This Stude is one serious quality piece that he has invested several years of work and talent into.


          • #6
            Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

            The next item that needed changing was the rear suspension and tire combo. For the same reasons as
            not cutting the firewall I didnt want to chop on the wheeltubs or floors too much but I wanted as large
            a rear tire was would fit in the stock wheel wells. I also wanted a 3" exhaust to the back bumper so I had
            to keep that in mind while changing the suspension. Originally the dream was C4 suspension but the
            reality plan was to keep it simple. So after a lot of measuring and CAD time I developed a 3 link rear
            suspension that mounts 285-60-16 tires on 16x9.5 rims in the wheel wells with ample clearance. The
            rims I chose are appropriately American Racing Salt Flat Specials with 15x6 used on the front. I have
            retained the stock frame rails, just replacing the rear shock crossmember with a heavier shockwave
            crossmember. I decided on the shockwaves after seeing how much the car sagged in the back with
            passengers and having plans for pulling a small trailer and toting luggage on the Power Tour. I ordered
            the wheels and tires and positioned them in place to measure for the braced Strange 9". My suspension
            uses BMR adjustable lower control arms for the 4th gen Camaro along with a custom wishbone single
            top arm that should allow for axle pivot but retain the axle side to side so I won't need a panhard bar.
            I also built a rear adjustable anti-roll bar so the suspension can be pre-loaded as needed to keep the
            car going straight when I finally make it to a track. We'll just have to see how it works when I finally
            drive the car...

            And yes if you haven't noticed I am building this car with minimal tools under an open carport...
            Whatever it takes man!


            ps. Thanks Sean, nice to be among friends over here already!
            Attached Files
            Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 10, 2013, 08:23 PM.


            • #7
              Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

              There's always something new to learn.


              • #8
                Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                Love it!!!!

                Did you ever figure out the overheating issue? I ask because I've heard that putting the 425 heads on the 500 block without drilling the steam holes in the block will cause the overheating issue (which is something I'm doing with my Studebaker).
                Doing it all wrong since 1966


                • #9
                  Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                  Keep the story board going Dwayne ...
                  Awesome job !


                  • #10
                    Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                    *whistles* where is the drooling smiley?
                    Escaped on a technicality.


                    • #11
                      Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                      I never did really conquer the over heating. I think the radiator was just too small along with the car
                      being so aerodynamic that it really needed an air dam added under the front valance to help pull air
                      thru the radiator. If this new deal overheats I may just cry... Haven't heard about 425 heads having
                      steam holes but I have heard that they aren't very good for horsepower. Do you have a thread on
                      your truck? My ole truck may be a Studillac some day, depending on how well this car turns out.
                      Here's some pics of my dad's 1950 2R5 and his customary after car show pose...
                      Attached Files
                      Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 10, 2013, 02:42 AM.


                      • #12
                        Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                        Joe Roberts on here has a cool Lark PU - I'm probably calling it the wrong thing. Has a Stude V8 and is a neat old truck, as is your Dad's.

                        Your Raymond Lowey Stude is beyond wonderful. I think I'm having an organism (or something like that).



                        • #13
                          Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                          I'm a believer that a real hot rod has 3 pedals, so with that in mind the auto trans had to go! The
                          transmission was the only thing left of the original drivetrain anyway! I had always wanted a 6 speed
                          and at the time one that could handle the big Caddy torque I was planning on wasn't affordable.
                          I chose a TKO 600 with a .64 OD ratio. I sold my 55 Chevy 2 door hardtop BelAir project in waiting
                          to keep the Studillac project going. Recently I noticed there is a 6 speed available that is supposed
                          to handle 700 ft-lbs. Wish I had waited that one out... I used a BOP flywheel housing and bought a
                          custom SFI flywheel from MTS. The guys at Potters machined the crank for a pilot bearing. Only
                          little special thing I had to do was add a 3/16 spacer between the trans and flywheel housing to get
                          the correct distance for the hydraulic throw out bearing. I also fabbed up a tubular double hump trans
                          mount xmbr for maximum exhaust clearance. I also replaced the 4" driveshaft with a 3" chrome moly
                          Strange built one, giving me plenty of trans tunnel room so the floor didn't have to be cut for

                          While I was reworking the axles I decided to go ahead and upgrade the brakes. The front set-up is a
                          4 piston Wilwood with an 11.75" rotor to clear the small front rims. Would have been nice to have some
                          17 or 18 choices in the Salt Flat Specials but I am pretty sure braking is gonna be nice. On the rear I may
                          have messed up! I put a 12.19" Wilwood rotor with internal parking brakes since I had the larger 16" rear
                          rims. I wasn't thinking ahead to running drag radials. I hope I can find some rims to clear these rotors in
                          15" so I can have a good choice in tires. I like a tall tire and all the larger rim options seem short... Maybe
                          if need be someone will trade me for some 11.75 rotors and caliper brackets? I wont race it much but
                          when I do I will definitely need a good sticky tire.

                          I bought a brake/clutch pedal assy for a 2nd gen Camaro off eBay and modified it to fit my firewall,
                          keeping the hydroboost and hydraulic clutch master cylinder as far to the left as possible to clear the
                          engine. I changed to the hydroboost set-up because I had no idea at the time just how much manifold
                          vacuum would be available with a big roller cam. When I first put it together the master cylinder actually
                          hit the hood and I had to put a little more angle in it to get the hood closed!

                          Standing mile racing is also on my "to do" list for this car...guess that will be another set of tires too! lol
                          With that in mind and the fact that the Cadillac engine has copious amounts of torque, I didn't feel the
                          need for a deep gear. Here's another place I may have messed up a little bit. Inside the 9" is a Detroit
                          Tru-Trac differential with 3.25 gears. With the 29.5" tall tires and .64 od, top speed should be infinity
                          and beyond! Even with the big cam the engine would still idle around 850 to 900 rpms on the dyno but
                          not sure if the engine will be happy when cruising in od. The speed analyzer on Keisler's site says the
                          car should be doing 67 at 1600 rpm and a smooth 202 at the torque peak of 4800! So I may need to
                          re-gear the car soon after I get it going. Here's a link to that speed analyzer if interested:

                          Guess you can see it got out of control quick!
                          Attached Files
                          Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 10, 2013, 03:18 AM.


                          • #14
                            Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                            Am I the only one that thought this was a little scary?

                            I think you used more words in this post then I have in all my posts!

                            That is a sweet car
                            Cognizant Dissident


                            • #15
                              Re: 1953 Studebaker / Studillac project...

                              Someone get Dan a towel!

                              Dave you are right it was a little scary, but the blocks and jack are only holding up the rear differential
                              assembly and not the entire car. The small A-frames are toting the weight of the car. When its just you...
                              creativity is often needed! But there was once where my gamble didn't work out so well. I had the car
                              on 4 shorter ramps while I was leaning over in the trunk drilling some holes. I felt the car start to move
                              and off the ramps she went. Front bumper bounced off the brick wall and the passenger side door took
                              a dent from the big engine A-frame you can just see in the background of that pic. I've been a lot more
                              careful since. I've had the car that high many times over the last few years and its still scary every time.
                              Maybe one day I will get to build a shop with a lift!

                              I found these damage pics of when the Studebaker crashed off the ramps... The door was caved in worse
                              but luckily I was able to push most of the dent out from inside the door with my hand.

                              Sorry for the long essays, lol, just telling the story... and I'm leaving out a lot of details!

                              Attached Files
                              Last edited by 53 Studillac; February 10, 2013, 03:44 AM.