CineCars travels the United States on the lookout for traces of a renowned automotive heritage. Today the last episode, Studebaker heaven!
In the heat of the American Presidential campaign reporter Robbert Moree and his family drove across the USA. Away from all the hustle they travelled back in time through diners, drive-ins and unexpected encounters on America’s back roads. Their last stop: Myer’s Studebaker Parts & Repair. On great heritage and an inglorious demise.
It is a scorching hot day in July. Me and my family are on our way from our sleepover at the end of the Skyline Drive through Shanandoah Nation Park to Toledo in the north of Ohio. We’re traveling along local highway 60 to Zanesville, to reach the highway bound for Columbus, when I spot no less then four Studebaker at a time. We still got a long way to go that day, so pausing isn’t really an option. But then again, everyone who was bitten by the classic car virus knows that not stopping here is the only thing that isn’t an option. So I park the car and leave it running, since it is so incredibly hot outside. The wife and kids can relay in the air conditioned vehicle, while I go on a prowl. ‘Back in a second’, I add unsuspecting of what I’m about to find. Fifteen minutes later, my wife and youngest son follow in my footsteps. Wondering what keeps me so long. It doesn’t take long to convince them I once again struck gold.
In the meantime I am talking to Mike Myers, co-owner of Myer’s Studebaker Parts & Repair, founded by his parents Jon and Betty. Father Jon always had a thing for motorcars. In High School he already offered his services to his class mates. After his military service he moved from Ohio to California, where he worked at a Ford dealership as well as at American Airlines. He even ran some kind of Avanti service center, where movie cars were dropped and customers could pick up their cars. Since then they’ve long returned to Ohio, where Jon and Betty realised there was a better livelihood in selling parts than they did dealing with complete cars. These days they even reproduce scarce Studebaker parts.
I stumbled upon Mike aside a very special Studebaker. It is a 1963 Studebaker Lark Daytona Supercharged. Only a handful of these fast motors were ever built. His father has been on the lookout for one of these for over thirty years. Now they’ve found one, they completely restored it. That is Mike’s part in the business. He is the Studebaker magician. He restores the cars, brings deceased engines back to life and is widely known for his tuning skills on these Studebaker engines. In the workshop I meet a customer from Florida. Florida, that’s a long haul from Ohio, so I ask if he’s an exception. He isn’t. Mike explains that there aren’t many Studebaker specialists around. Their customers come from all around the United States and beyond.
In the nineteenth century Studebaker builds quality carriages. Presidential chariots, but those used by many immigrants to travel to the West were Studebakers just as well. As early as 1902 Studebaker started producing motorcars. The Studebakers as I know them date from 1939 on. These are the cars designed by the Raymond Loewy Studio. First the Champion, followed after the war by the bullet nose models in 1950 and 1951. Next were the Loewy Coupé, the Hawk and the Lark. Let’s just put it bluntly, these weren’t all cars that were easy to the eye. You either love them or you hate them. There is nothing in between really. In 1963 Studebaker shocks the automotive design world one last time with the introduction of the Avanti. Although the car was praised all around the world, the public just wasn’t ready for it. It meant the end for the American branch of Studebaker. In 1964 the last cars came of the assembly line in South Bend, Indiana, where the factory had been for so long. Production was continued under the Avanti Motor Corporation denomination. Residing under several owners it builds numerous models on GM and Ford chassis’. In 2006 the Avanti production line comes to a final halt.
What a story. Like a cat with nine lives. Meanwhile Mike and his parents have a full time job keeping the existing cars alive. The brethren of Raymond Loewy’s design is safe in their hands. And I, I had another brilliant afternoon here in Ohio.