STUDEBAKER CHAM­PION

IT’ S HARD TO BE­LIEVE THAT THIS 1958 STUD E BAKER CHAM­PION HAS CLOCKED JUST 128 MILES SINCE NEW ...

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Ash­ley Webb, Stu­art Bil­brough Pho­tos: Adam Croy

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.

STUDEBAKER COR­PO­RA­TION

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.

Time cap­sule

“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

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