Saturday, May 21, 2011

Deciding on a direction

While I'm finishing up another project--an electric bass guitar for a friend--I've had to delay working on the Stude for a while. . .but that doesn't mean that I haven't been thinking about it. . .

Earlier this week I called Cathcart's Studebaker to order the performance parts for the flathead 6 cylinder engine in my car--a high(er) compression aluminum finned head, dual carb manifold with carbs and linkage and a split exhaust manifold. Unfortunately, Bill Cathcart had just gotten out of the hospital and was recovering; I didn't keep him on the phone but simply told him that I'd give him a call back in a few weeks after he was back on his feet.

But this got me thinking--is this the way to go? I'll show you a pic of what I hope the end product would look like:

This is a work of art--the engine is in a '53 Champion owned by a man called Shuggie. Thanks to Da Tinman for the pic!
I would be proud to open my hood to show off my motor if it looked half-again as killer as the one in Shuggie's car. And performance would be ok--I don't know what all Shuggie has done to the car, but I'm expecting a 40% increase in power--so the 85hp boat anchor in the front of the car would turn into a bit more respectable 120hp or so. And ye gods, that is gorgeous as well. Here's a vid:

While 120hp and a change of rear end gearing would make the car a pleasant driver, there is another way. Welcome to the dark side:

This proof of concept turbocharged Champion 6 put together by Sal from Sacramento powered his 54 Coupe to over 110mph.

Seems like quite a few people have been throwing a turbo charger on the ol' flathead and really warming them up. In some cases more than doubling the power (I've heard rumors of more than 200hp, which isn't shabby). From the research I've done,  I've found that the rotating assemblies of these engines are incredibly strong and can handle quite a bit of boost. (For those who are interested in the fine details about turbocharging this engine, you can download a PDF about the process here.)

And, of course, there is nothing to stop someone from doing a combination of the two--say, a turbo charger with a single carb, like Sal's above, with a finned head and fancy parts like Shuggie's.

There is a catch, of course. The twin carb and finned head setup is a bolt-on affair--it is somewhat simple to do and provides a decent amount of power for the work involved. A turbo set-up like Sal's is something that I can't just order and have shipped to my door--I would have to manufacture many of the parts myself--and then get them to run properly. If the boost gets too high, I could destroy the engine, which is original to the car.

But it would be unique, and once everything was configured properly, would be dependable, fairly economical and, in a car as light as the Studebaker, a lot of fun.

Friday, May 13, 2011

One more pic. . .

. . .of that "lovely" cloth upholstery under the sky blue vinyl:

If you take out the red stripe, I had a couch covered with this when I was in college...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

If your car is so great, why isn't Studebaker still in business?

Good question.

By the time my car was built (in 1953) the Studebaker corporation was 101 years old, having started out manufacturing horse-drawn vehicles such as the Conestoga wagon used in the wagon trains. They managed to survive two world wars and the great depression, but couldn't make it through the 60's. By 1964, for all practical purposes, Studebaker no longer manufactured automobiles in the US (The only plant remaining open was in Hamilton, Ontario, and made a few cars for the next couple of years, but with Chevrolet engines it just wasn't quite the same.)

Like most large American manufacturers, World War II was good for Studebaker. The company made 2-1/2 ton (6x6) trucks and B-17 engines amongst other things, and by the end of the war they were in excellent financial standing. But whereas other manufacturers invested back into their business by modernizing their plants, Studebaker did not.

Studebaker's Post-War Marketing Campaign--a Portent of Doom?

In 1953, when the new Coupes came out, winning design awards and accolades (such as being selected by the New York Museum of Modern Art as one of the World's 10 Most Beautiful Cars) Studebaker management underestimated the appeal such a car would have to car buyers, and instead manufactured many more sedans. By the time orders started pouring in they were not in a position to be able to keep up with demand, and quality control slipped and the marques' reputation was damaged.  And management outfitted the cars with shoddy door latches, dull grey and brown interiors--here they had a design that could take them to a new level and their cheapness caught them.

Another factor was simply the competition--GM and Ford could, due to economy of scale, manufacture cars of equal or better quality at a lower price. Studebaker had some excellent, exciting designs post-war that attracted people to the showrooms, but it was hard for them to compete. Had their management been visionary enough in those early post-war years, I think Studebaker could've easily survived for at least another decade, when their economical cars and trucks, the Larks and Champs, could have been in great demand in a world stung by the Oil Embargo.

One of Studebaker's early post-war advertising mottos was "Unchanged in a Changing World." Unfortunately, that unwillingness to change [at least until the very end, but that's another story] was their great downfall. 

[in case you're wondering, I'm taking a break from working on the Stude for a couple of weeks so I can finish making a bass guitar for musician friend who I hope will be able to take it with him for a summer tour. Once that's finished, I'll be back to it, working on getting those brakes operational and the Champion back on the road.]