IT’ S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT THIS 1958 STUD E BAKER CHAMPION HAS CLOCKED JUST 128 MILES SINCE NEW ...
A TRUE 128-MILE SURVIVOR
In 2014, the Ellerslie Classic Car Show introduced the Survivors Class into the Intermarque Concours d’elegance competition to be judged alongside the Masters Class and Teams Event entrants.
The idea of including a Survivors Class section for unrestored vehicles had been discussed at length by the event organizing committee for a few years, and, after a remit was passed at the AGM in 2013, the green light was given to proceed.
The criterion for any car club member to enter their car into the competition under this category was quite simple — the more original the better, eligible vehicles being those that are predominantly original, unrestored, and not modified in any way; in other words, ‘survivors’. These cars wear their original, factory-applied paint; some are incredibly well preserved, while others show varying degrees of visible patina. Interiors will have been well cared for, perhaps complete with threadbare carpets, and, under the bonnet, a nicely preserved engine bay, complete with the original motor, as well as all related drivetrain components. These cars are judged on originality, age, condition, preparation, and history.
This year’s winner, by a clear margin, scoring 909 points out of a possible 930, was Stuart Bilbrough’s unbelievably original 1958 Studebaker Champion. After being disqualified from last year’s event for not displaying a current registration and warrant of fitness (WOF), the win this year was a just reward for the laborious process of getting the Stude road legal and ready for the show.
Get one with a great story
Stuart’s uncle, Bill Clark, owned and restored the 1935 Alfa Romeo P3 raced by Tazio Nuvolari, which Stuart remembers well in the garage full of other classics in Tai Tapu, just out of Christchurch. Bill was also a founding owner of Auto Restorations in Christchurch. Stuart clearly recalls his uncle saying, “If you are going to own a classic, try and get one with a great story”.
Stuart’s first real classic was a 1974 Citroën DS23. He purchased the car in 1999, sold it in 2006 (before heading abroad for work), and then bought it back seven years later off the chap who he’d sold it to (Rosco Pennell from Kaitaia). Unfortunately, in June 2016, his beloved DS23 was written off in a bizarre accident, the driver of another car falling asleep at the wheel while driving through Huntly and crashing into it. As luck would have it, Stuart had just stepped out of the car to get a mussel fritter from one of the roadside food caravans, and his decision to sit by the Waikato rather than get back into the car was indeed a fortuitous choice.
When Stuart saw a Newshub story in July 2016 about a rather special, low-mileage Studebaker that was about to go up for auction, and with his uncle Bill’s advice repeating in his ear, Stuart thought, why not have a crack? In hindsight, Stuart admits that, at the time, it was possibly classic car–loss grief rather than an astute investment decision that was the real reason for the opportune bid. He’d just had the Citroën insurance payout deposited, which went a long way towards a modest bid on the 1958 Studebaker Champion with only 74.6 miles (120km) on the clock.
The origins of the Studebaker Corporation date back to 1852, when brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker eventually became a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons. Around the turn of last century, the company entered America’s burgeoning auto industry, launching an electric car in 1902 and a gas-powered vehicle two years later. Studebaker continued to make wagons until 1920. Albert Erskine (1871–1933) assumed the top job at Studebaker in 1915. Under his leadership, the company acquired luxury automaker PierceArrow in the late 1920s and launched the affordably priced– but– short-lived Erskine and Rockne lines. During the early 1930s, Studebaker was hit hard by the Great Depression, and, in March 1933, it was forced into bankruptcy. (In April 2009, Chrysler became the first major American automaker since Studebaker to declare bankruptcy.) New management got the company back on track, dropping the Rockne brand in July 1933 and selling Pierce-arrow, among other consolidation moves. In January 1935, the new Studebaker Corporation was incorporated. In the late 1930s, the French-born industrial designer Raymond Loewy (who redesigned the Coca- Cola bottle among other things) began working with Studebaker. He created iconic and popular models, including the bullet-nosed 1953 Starliner and Starlight coupés, both of which would evolve into the Hawk model, and the 1963 Avanti sports coupé. By the mid 1950s, Studebaker, which didn’t have the resources of its Big Three competitors, had merged with automaker Packard and was again facing financial troubles. By the late 1950s, the Packard brand was dropped. In December 1963, Studebaker closed its South Bend plant, ending the production of its cars and trucks in America. The company’s Hamilton, Ontario, facilities remained in operation until March 1966, when Studebaker shut its doors for the final time, after 114 years in business.
“The Most Unique Studebaker in the World” stated Tony Ford, former joint owner of the 1958 Studebaker Champion between 1993 and 2016.
“The most unique Studebaker in the world” stated Tony Ford, former joint owner of the 1958 Studebaker Champion between 1993 and 2016. This is a very bold statement that you would expect to be easily refuted— easily refuted, that is, if it were not for the fact that this 60-year-old piece of iconic Americana’s incredibly low mileage was genuine.
It has been kept in near-pristine condition and is a perfect time capsule of production quality — or lack thereof — of the time.
The story of the rock ’n’ roll– era 1958 Studebaker Champion begins with its order, directly from the South Bend, Indiana, production line, in early 1958. The production order obtained from the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend shows the initial order was written on February 12, 1958. The final assembly date of this right-hand-drive Champion was recorded as March 7, 1958.
When the Champion was first registered on June 25, 1958, it was to Vincent Kilburn Roberts, a plumber from Kilbirnie, Wellington. It was reportedly a honeymoon gift for Vincent’s wife-tobe. There are no recollections of what happened between Vincent and his soonto-be bride, but the marriage did not take place. Sadly, the car was parked away in mint condition and unused for the next 26 years, some say as a monument to the bride and reminder of lost love.
The Champion was periodically