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Doug Smith, owner of Toby Knoll Garage, and his Fabulous Hudson Hornet at the Franklin County Technical School’s Fourth Annual Cool Rides Car Show. (2013)

1955 Studebaker "Studillac"

The 1953 Studebaker, particularly the top of the line “K” body hardtops, demonstrated a radical departure from the staid, boxy bodied cars of the Detroit based big three manufacturers. The K­-body Commanders, with their unbroken belt­line, low silhouette and sleek looks, were the product of the Raymond Lowey design studio, a legendary auto design fixture in pre and post war cars. The styling was received quite well and received much attention in written media and garnered several styling awards.

Early on performance inspired minded people decided that the mild 120 hp 232 Cu. In. V8 was not in keeping with the car’s style and racy looks. So not long after the ’53 Studebaker made its debut, a “cottage industry” sprouted in which the Studebaker V8 was replaced by a ’53 Cadillac V8 of 331 Cu. In. The two engines were remarkably similar in appearance and size, and some parts were even interchangeable. Inserted into the 1000 lb. lighter car, the Studebaker easily outperformed contemporary vehicles. The most notable converter of ‘53 Studebaker hardtops to Cadillac power was Bill Frick who maintained a garage in Rockville Centre, Long Island. It is unknown exactly how many conversions Frick did, but he produced them until early 1955, when Studebaker increased the engine displacement to 259 Cu. in. Frick called his conversions “Studillacs” but never claimed ownership to the name. He even went into great detail in a Popular Science article (July, 1953) about how he did the conversion and what other desirable or necessary modifications he made.

Studillac conversions were not confined to Frick Motors, several other garages offered the service, including Abbott Motor Clinic in Wheaton, Il. Several magazines of the early fifties, including Custom Rodder, Hot Rod Annual, Road and  Track, and Hot Rod, offered information on the conversion. Mechanix Illustrated, in 1954, even did a Road Test article on a Frick Studillac.

My “Studillac” started out as a ’55 President Speedster. Studebaker built 2,215 Speedsters in 1955, an active registry indicates that over 300 have been accounted for; scrapped, restorable or restored to some degree.  Of all the Speedsters built only 151 were built with standard transmissions.  Mine is a factory 3-speed car making it quite rare, but by the time I found the car (late 2013), it had been largely disassembled and was basically a rolling chassis.  The original front clip was replaced by a “Fatman” conversion that was well done. It included GM disc brakes, Mustang II steering, and stainless steel wishbones with 2” drop spindles. The entire front body was after-market fiberglass with a ’53 grille fascia. Over the first year the car passed from one shop to another, getting some work done, but otherwise wasting some money for poor work. Eventually the fully repaired body was reunited with the restored chassis. I replaced the patched rear fenders with NOS fenders and the badly warped (from excessive sand-blasting) doors with solid good quality used doors. Because the car had been disassembled for a long time, nearly all of the original glass was intact and in good original condition. I had to replace only the vent window glass. I purchased an authentic reproduction interior from Southeast Studebaker which was professionally installed on the restored seat frames and elsewhere. There are a number of departures from the original Speedster, the dash was fabricated without a radio opening and an additional gauge was installed. Some of the stainless trim was omitted.

The engine is a ’55 Cadillac 331, bored 0.030 over. The heads are from a '57 365 cu in. motor with a new valve train.  I used a ’56 365 intake and WCFB carburetor (slightly larger throttle bore than the ’55), Sanderson headers, an ISKY camshaft, and a Kaiser air cleaner. The transmission is the little known GM MY6 version of the MOPAR NP883 4 speed overdrive that also used a factory installed Hurst shifter. A one-piece driveshaft was fabricated and the rear axle is 8.25 inch GM 10 bolt (S10) with 3:42 final drive.

I originally intended to use a McCulloch VS 57 supercharger but space and clearances became too big an issue. I also removed the hood scoop.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo.

The Studebaker on the road

The Misselwood Concours d’Elegance - 2018

The Misselwood Concours d’Elegance took place at the Misselwood Estate at Endicott College in Beverly on July 21, 2018. Packard, Studebaker, and alternate fuel vehicles were featured.  Over 100 automobiles and motorcycles competed in 18 different classes.

The Misselwood Estate in Beverly was formerly owned by Boston Brahmin Susan B. Cabot  and is now owned by Endicott College.

2019 - Upgrade to Tri-power!

During winter of 2018-19 the four barrel carburetor setup was changed over to 1959 Eldorado tri-power induction. Parts were purchased individually and restored, a progressive linkage set up, and after a little more work it all fit under the hood!


'50s Cars