There were two model years when American car shoppers had 47 station wagons to consider. Care to guess?
With the rise of the minivan in the 1980s and the SUV in the 1990s, most Americans lost interest in buying station wagons. Oh, sure, you can still buy a new wagon here today (all of which come from European marques, if you still count Volvo as European), but there was a time when the station wagon was so mainstream that American car shoppers could choose from dozens of different longroof models. The important question here is: what model year had the most new station wagon models available in the United States? Yes, we’re going to determine the year of Peak Wagon now!
Second, ordinary Americans had to be able to obtain a mass-produced wagon from a licensed dealer in America, and it had to be highway-legal here at the time of sale in order for it to count toward Peak Wagon scoring. That means no oddball wagons imported by servicemen stationed in Naha or Grafenwöhr, no backyard-built wagons with hand-carved poplar bodies and steam engines, no swoopy atomic-powered wagon prototypes built for World’s Fairs, no onesy-twosy imports of Soviet wagons by spirally eyed fly-by-night entrepreneurs (this one really hurts, because I was dying to include the available-here-in-theory GAZ Pobedas and Volgas, not to mention the Moskvich 402/407), no bracketed-by-asterisks homologation specials, no wagonified Detroit luxury sedans or muscle coupes custom-commissioned by high-ranking Detroit executives for their wives. No, no, no!
Three-on-the-tree is one of my favorite setups to drive. When I saw the clutch pedal and column shifter in this 1951 Champion, I grinned. You see, I had a ’50 Champion with the same arrangement, and I drove it all over Michigan’s Lower Peninsula back in 2015.
Well, not exactly the same arrangement. For one thing, although Mark Klinger’s bullet-nose is generally similar to a ’50, the ’51 cars were pretty heavily reworked right from the factory. More importantly, this one is hiding a V-8 surprise.
“Foul!” some purists will cry. “A hot rod in the pages of Hemmings Classic Car!” But consider that even the Studebaker faithful love this one, which we discovered back in late August, at a regional Studebaker Drivers’ Club gathering in Rutland, Vermont, just an hour or so north of our Bennington home offices. Lucky us, because the car had been driven the four hours from Auburn, Maine, where Mark and wife Lynn run the Sleepy Time Motel, which itself looks straight out of a 1950s road trip.
A big factor in the acceptance of Mark’s car is the Studebaker V-8 used in the conversion. It’s a 1964-vintage 289-cu.in. version, which would have been rated at 210 or 225 horsepower, depending on whether it was topped with a two- or four-barrel carburetor. It has a four-barrel now. At first blush, it seems like it would be a pretty straightforward swap, as the Commander used an earlier version of the engine in the same chassis, but the original builder, an engineer, went above and beyond the factory in making the conversion as dialed in as it could be.
Even barring an engineering background, Studebaker owners from the beginning of the V-8 era have a lot of options to make their cars road ready just by combing through the factory parts bins. The new-for-’51 front suspension design, for example, was essentially the same as that used under the final Studebaker Larks in 1966. The design remained in use in the sporty fiberglass GT, the Avanti, up through 1985.
Thanks to that, rebuild parts for the 1951 chassis, along with brake and handling upgrades, remain remarkably accessible thanks to a large cache of Studebaker NOS items built at South Bend in the days before its 1964 closure. It was the foundation and remains the core of the Studebaker aftermarket. It also helps that Studebaker used the same Carter carburetors, Borg-Warner manual transmissions, and Dana 44 axles as much of the rest of the industry
All of that is to say we didn’t even realize we were looking at a non-stock Studebaker at first. Sure, the blue hue seems a bit brighter than the Maui or Aero Blues of 1951, but you could write that off as variations in modern paint mixes and the bright sun. That’s a 1952 steering wheel, but unless you’re already an expert on 1947-’52 Studebakers, that’s not obvious. It’s got bias-ply whitewalls and full wheelcovers, for Pete’s sake. And, as hinted above, there’s little external difference between a Champion and Commander, which can make them difficult to tell apart.
The big clue ends up being the body style. It turns out Studebaker didn’t build a Commander Business Coupe in 1951 (some records suggest they built only one —but this isn’t it). That three-passenger light-weight was exclusive to the Champion line with its 85-hp, 170-cu.in. flathead six, barring would-be scorchers from the potentially most potent power-to-weight combination. If you wanted a Business Coupe with the brand-new 120-hp, 233-cu.in. OHV V-8, you’d have to build it yourself. Instead, the few buyers thinking that way just settled for the gorgeous five-passenger Starlight coupe with its wraparound rear window and 65-pound weight penalty.
A fellow named Dave Carter, then in California, now in South Carolina, originally put this car together back in 2005-’06. Mark bought it this way, back in April of 2021, after he found it for sale in Tempe, Arizona. Luckily, Mark is from that area originally, and his brother (who owns a 1952 Starlight) was willing to go check it out for him. The modified ’51 appealed to Mark for the same reasons it appealed to us: Aside from some non-stock details, it feels just like something Studebaker could have, should have, and maybe would have (had anybody asked) built back in 1951. Right down to the column shifter.
Lightweight body aside, Mark’s car ups the ante with what was originally the 225-hp, 289-cu.in. engine in a 1962 Hawk. The Hawk was Studebaker’s creative but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to keep its 1953-vintage bodies relevant as a sporty, full-size car into the ’60s. This engine has been bored over 0.080-inch, bringing its displacement to over 302 cu.in., but “as far as I know,” Mark says, “it’s otherwise stock.” The engine’s current horsepower is unknown, but presumably a skosh higher than the original 225, which was already more than double that of a ’51 Commander engine. Nevertheless, the 289 is very mildly built, with road manners suited to interstate driving rather than drag racing.
In fact, Mark observed that the current 3.31 final drive ratio (in a ’64 Hawk Dana 44 with relocated spring perches) don’t necessarily play well with the Borg-Warner R10 overdrive (pirated, along with its siamesed T86 three-speed, from a 1959 Studebaker Lark) and somewhat hamper acceleration from a dead stop. Overdrive cars in the era of 55-mph roads usually came with a ratio in the 4.10s or deeper, suggesting something around 3.90:1 would be suitable today in the flyweight coupe. With the 0.70:1 gearing in the overdrive, the current 3.31s cruise along like a set of 2.32s, while 3.90s would act like 2.73s.
None of this is to say that the Stude’s performance was in any way lackluster. Accelerating with traffic was no difficulty at all: with 3.90s it would probably outrun most of today’s milder commuter cars from stoplight to stoplight. Front discs, from a conversion kit supplied by Turner Brake in South Carolina, mean the car can stop just as well as it accelerates
Just so you don’t start to think that Hemmings editors are the only ones who get distracted from finishing their long-termcarprojects, let’s catch up with Jonny Smith, the British enthusiast of American cars and host of the Late Brake Show, and his 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS lowrider (yes, a lowrider in the UK), a project that has been ongoing for close to 20 years now thanks to a few instances of hard luck, a lot of time spent away from the garage, and all the other nuisances that keep a project from progressing. But now it appears Jonny’s got some help in finishing the project, so perhaps his lowrider will soon be three-wheeling it around England’s country lanes in style.
Just because the Falcon was a low-priced economy car, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t satisfying to own. Ford referred to the redesigned 1964 and 1965 editions as its “Total Performance” compact.
That philosophy also extended to the larger models and took into account styling, handling, roadability, acceleration, braking, efficiency, and more.Sure, a buyer could’ve gone the bare-bones route in 1964 and become a fuel-savings connoisseur by driving a base Falcon two-door or four-door sedan, featuring the standard beige cloth-and-vinyl interior (more colors for 1965) with a full-width front seat, rubber floor mats, and 144-cu.in. straight-six (170-cu.in. for 1965).
Yet, with the 1964 and 1965 Falcon lineups providing avenues for boosting image, power, and comfort, why stop there?Stepping up in price, the 1964 Futura two- and four-door sedans added full carpeting, chromed horn ring on the steering wheel, courtesy lights, rear armrests and ash trays, lighter, and upgraded color-keyed upholstery choices and exterior trim.
The 1964 Futura hardtop and convertible also had the full-width front seat, but the sport coupe and sport convertible came with buckets and a console. A Thunderbird floating rearview mirror was included, and the droptop had a larger 170-cu.in. straight-six and a power top.
Understandably, it’s hard to put a price on this 1964 Chrysler Turbine for sale on Hemmings.com. Most of the remaining examples now reside in museums and Jay Leno’s not likely to let go of his anytime soon, so this one – chassis number 991231, which for many years the late Frank Kleptz had in his collection – will likely be the only one we’ll see for sale for quite some time.
What’s more, it remains functional and roadworthy, and would steal the show every time it drove in and started up. Just trying to get a ballpark estimate on it would be a challenge – after all, what other recent sales would one compare it to? Whatever it sells for, here’s hoping it does get out and make the round of shows and public appearances. From the seller’s description:
Today all nine of the legendary Chrysler Turbine Cars remain yet only two are in private hands – one in Jay Leno’s Collection and the other chassis number 991231 is offered here for the first time in over 30 years.Chassis number 991231 is the crown jewel of the Kleptz Collection with the distinction of being the only Chrysler Turbine car available on the open market today. As offered it is in exceptionally well-preserved condition finished in its original metallic bronze paintwork with complementing upholstery all original fittings and fixtures and a host of spares documents and technical information. It is believed that 991231 spent much of its service life on the West Coast performing “VIP duties” meaning it was retained by Chrysler and loaned out weekly to executives sales managers award-winning salespeople and anyone else who Chrysler Corporation thought should experience this wholly unique automobile. Allegedly it was initially slated to be one of two cars donated to the Natural History Museum in LA likely to save on shipping costs back to Detroit. William Harrah approached Chrysler requesting one of the Turbine Cars for his museum and the company obliged giving him 991231 along with a spare engine
Automotive history books are brimming with iconic vehicle names, both domestic and foreign, that have left an endearing legacy in the minds of millions. They’ve originated from all eras, no matter how narrow or broad each is defined: brass, prewar, postwar, and so on. And while each era can arguably claim a rich legacy like no other, perhaps some of the most indelible names appeared when the first, true postwar designs from Detroit emerged in the late 1948-’51 period.Take General Motors, for instance, and its collaboration with Fisher Body that resulted in the first mass-produced hardtop body style.
Buick took full advantage of it in 1949, using it first in the Roadmaster series when the Riviera moniker was applied to the striking design. Cadillac called its hardtop the Coupe de Ville within the Series 62 line, while Oldsmobile chose to name its hardtop the Holiday coupe. Chevrolet’s Styleline series received the Fisher hardtop a year later and called it the Bel Air. The same year, Pontiac’s Chieftain Eight and upscale De Luxe Eight lines received the hardtop, which was bestowed with the Catalina name.In due time, nearly all the carefully selected hardtop names—which obviously or subliminally provided a greater sense of exotic driving pleasure— graduated from trim level nomenclature to full-fledged stand-alone series.
Among them was Catalina, which became Pontiac’s new entry-level model when it replaced the Chieftain line in a calculated move that coincided with GM’s corporate-wide 1959 redesign. The all-new Catalina, offered in five body styles (in addition to six- and nine-passenger station wagons), all with a bevy of standard equipment and a price tag that ranged between $2,633 and $3,209, attracted 231,561 buyers in its freshman year. It also eclipsed the prior year’s Chieftain series by nearly 103,000 units.
I’m curious what you think of the compact sedan pictured here, and I’m especially interested if you’re a longtime Studebaker enthusiast. Why? Because this was almost the future of Studebaker cars worldwide. Presenting the almost 1966 Studebaker Bellet, designed by Isuzu— the car that really might have saved the company.
By 1964, Studebaker car production for the U.S. and Canada was centered in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1965, the president of Studebaker Canada, Gordon Grundy, was searching for an import car to supplement the Studebakers his dealers were selling (and, possibly, an import that could be assembled in Canada). Studebaker Canada was already involved with importing foreign cars via a deal with Volkswagen of Canada, which was paying a hefty duty on cars brought in from Germany. With the new Canada/U.S. Auto Pact agreement, Studebaker was allowed to import any foreign car, duty-free. So, Grundy made a deal to import 31,600 VWs at a duty-free savings of $165 per car. These were sold to VW Canada at $150 profit per car, pocketing a net profit of $4.74 million—while VW saved $474,000. It was strictly a paper transaction, and all perfectly legal.
Looking for other ways to generate profits, Grundy met with Nissan in Japan to acquire the rights to sell Datsuns in North America. Some of the Datsuns would be badged as Studebakers, and eventually, even built in Canada. But, in the middle of negotiation, management instructed Grundy to break off talks with Nissan and pursue an arrangement with Toyota. The end result was that neither company wanted to do business with Studebaker. The lawyer behind this unfortunate debacle? Future U.S. president Richard Nixon.
Grundy next looked at the Prince, a Japanese auto they could offer as low as $1,895. Also investigated was the DAF line of cars; several were brought over from Europe for testing. In the end, neither Prince nor DAF were considered viable because they wouldn’t have appealed to enough Canadian drivers. But the next car investigated, the Isuzu Bellet, certainly would have.
CNN.com — A retired salesman in Canada is heading to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, to be reunited with a Ford Mustang he accidentally sold 55 years ago. Ahead of the launch of the Ford Mustang in 1964, car dealerships were sent a preproduction vehicle to display. They weren’t intended to be sold to customers, […]
Yesterday’s post got me thinking about financial responsibility and how we all justify this thing of ours. In most cases, obviously, there just isn’t justification for the money we spend on this stupid old stuff. You can talk about the appreciation of ’32 Fords or the investment side of collecting, but at the end of the day – if you buy or build any old car and then drive it regularly, you aren’t going to come out ahead in the end.
I’d argue that’s simply not the case. In fact, I know from experience that a very good way to get value out of an old car is to drive the damned thing every single day. Let me explain.
For almost a decade I didn’t own a car made after 1965. Instead, I avoided a car payment by driving whatever old heap I had at the time every single day. The best example I can give is my 1964 Ford F100. I drove it every day for five years
The muscle car world is in a real state of change right now. Can you feel it? We know we can: there’s so much great stuff going on and so many amazing new go-fast goodies being designed and unleashed on our poor, overheated credit cards that we can barely stand it. If you hear anyone say that this ain’t the Glory Days of muscle cars, tell them to come see us and we’ll get ’em some religion.
And what does all that literal tonnage of new speed parts make us want to do? Go find a killer, old carrying case to bolt it all into, of course! So, when we see a kid pull something like this ’64 Ford Galaxie out of a backyard, get a buddy to drag it onto a trailer, get another known accomplice to help, all the while fully-geeked that he actually owns the thing, well, friends…it just warms our little black hearts.
Whoever said that the kids don’t care about old cars is either not hanging out with the right kids or just isn’t paying close attention. In the words of Ricky in American Beauty, “…it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.”
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