In Which I Acquire A Studebaker

I’m fond of the muppets. I don’t know if it’s that they seem to say there are a lot of great ways to be and we can all get along anyway or if it’s just that they’re fun and I appreciate their style of humor. The first time I saw Fozzie movin’ right along “in [his] natural habitat, a Studebaker” I decided I had to have one someday. A Studebaker, that is, not a lousy comedian/bear. I try to not focus too much on material things as they can tend to let you down but there was just something about that car. The shape was so modern yet so alien. It’s like the future we somehow missed.

I’d squirreled that desire away in my mind. I figured it’d be something in my distant future. Last I had checked, a specimen of the models and condition I wanted was out of my price range.

I was on the phone with my mother a couple days ago and mentioned I’d been casually shopping Karmann Ghias but that I really kind of wanted Studebaker yet I didn’t think I’d find a good fit. Out of curiosity, I hopped on Craigslist and lo and behold, there was THE car. A 1952 Studebaker Champion with inline 6 and manual transmission. Right price. Right place (just a few miles North of me). And it looked pretty dang good from the pictures.

I practiced as much restraint as I could muster and waited a whole day before messaging the gentleman. I pulled the page up on my phone and passed it to anyone that knew anything about cars. They all went on about how cool it was, how good it looked and how fun it would be. I kept searching for words of warning. Something to scare me away from something I didn’t want to be let down by. Maybe I just selected the wrong sources but that failed to deter me.

The next day, the ad was still up. A part of me hoped it wouldn’t be and that that would be the end of it. Am I afraid of getting what I want? Maybe it’s more that I’m afraid of finding out it wasn’t what I wanted after all. I sent the message and arranged to meet pretty much as soon as I could get there.

I summoned what may be my last Uber for a while and rode on over to the retirement community where the Champion was parked. Enjoyed a few minutes of getting to know my driver. We talked about what we’re each excited about and looking forward to, things we both enjoyed and some about where we’re from. I always enjoy that about getting a ride from a stranger.

Once we made it to the community it took a little advice from the owner on the phone, help from the guard at the entrance gate and guesswork to locate my new friend Rob.

previous owner and myself in front of 1952 Studebaker Champion

Rob had driven almost exactly this car when he was in high school. He totaled his dad’s car being a dumb kid to which his dad responded “that’s alright” and sold Rob’s car to help pay for a replacement. His step-mom took pity on him and sold (gave) him her green ’52 Studebaker Champion for $50. The main difference between this one and the one he drove in high school was that this one had no factory radio. It still has no radio.

He and his high school buddy (and neighbor) told me of some of the great times they’d had in the original Champion such as stuffing a couple buddies in the trunk to sneak them into the drive-in theater. “We’d keep them locked in there and not let them out telling them that people were looking.”

Rob had purchased this Stude from a woman in California. He watched a listing on eBay that hadn’t sold and contacted her about it afterward. He was the 3rd owner, insured it as a classic and just drove it for fun. He never took it cross country and seemingly always had it garaged.

I poked around, kicked tires, called my dad and an uncle with lots of automotive, classic car and hot rod experience. He wanted to make sure I knew I would not be getting a modern car and gave me some advice on what to check for like “look for leaks” and “make sure the overdrive works.” A super important bit I got was “You have to give the car in front of you plenty of room because pretty much everyone else on the road is going to be able to stop a lot faster than you.” With old drum brakes and no vacuum boost, that’s very true.

Still undeterred, my dad recommended a price to start the negotiation. I tried it and Rob took it. Sweet. That’s money I can use to replace the cracked windshield. Off we went to handle the title and get the money. After his final drive, it was my turn. I cautiously lumbered home to park on the street for a few days until I’d cleared enough space in the garage.

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