Monday, March 30, 2009

Studebaker Speedster

Rob Ballard's 1955 Studebaker Speedster

Rob Ballard thought he may never find another 1955 Studebaker President Speedster after he passed up buying one from a seller in Australia because shipping would be so costly.

In a curious twist, however, that experience eventually led him, via e-mails from England, Holland, Australia and Texas, to another Speedster in California. By then, he said, he had learned not to quibble, and he snapped it up.

Ballard’s fascination with this rare Studebaker coupe started when he first saw one about five years ago. “I just fell in love with that car,” he said. The Studebaker coupe, designed by Raymond Loewy in 1953, is an icon. Loewy was an industrial designer who also penned the Lucky Strike package and logos for Shell, Exxon, Greyhound and Nabisco.

Loewy’s 1953 Studebaker coupe is touted as one of the top auto designs of all time, and his 1963 Studebaker Avanti has always been given high praise as well. Ballard’s Speedster has the distinctive profile and shape of the 1953. Priced at $3,253, it was the most expensive Studebaker until the supercharged 1957 Golden Hawk.

Ballard’s Speedster has Stewart-Warner gauges, a turned-metal finish on the instrument panel and diamond-tufted leather upholstery. The engine, sourced from Packard, is a Passmaster 259-cubic-inch V-8 with 185 horsepower.

Ballard said that of the 2,215 Speedsters produced, only 424 had this color scheme.

His car was originally a gift to actress Mary Brian from her husband, George Tomasini. From the 1920s through 1947, Brian appeared in 87 movies, including “Front Page” and “Blessed Event.” Tomasini, a film editor who gained renown with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” “Psycho” and “The Birds,” died at age 55. Brian drove her Studebaker until age 87. Then she gave the car to her godson, Stuart Erwin, Jr., and he restored it. Ballard bought it from him. Brian died in 2002 at age 95.

Ballard owns a number of collectible cars, and he said each one is an “affair of the heart.” It’s easy to put too much money into restorations, he said, and you don’t often come out ahead on value. He owns classic cars and motorcycles because he loves them. He laughs when he says that everyone should own a vehicle from each decade of their life. And while he’s not quite there, he’s close. For Ballard, owning classic cars is all about enjoyment, and that’s why his grin is so wide when he drives them.

Rob Ballard feels fortunate to have his Speedster.

Studebaker Speedster was an automobile produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana produced during the 1955 model year. The vehicle is considered Studebaker’s Halo model for the 1955 season. Studebaker had previously used the Speedster name in the early 1920s.

The Speedster was a member of the Studebaker President series, and was based on Studebaker’s President hardtop coupe. For 1955, the company heavily restyled its models to incorporate a larger front bumper and a massive chrome grille more in keeping with American cars of the era.

The Speedster's list price started at $3,253, or about $800 more than a base 1955 President State hardtop. The reason was the 1955 President Speedster was loaded with standard equipment including: choice of Studebaker Automatic Drive or overdrive transmissions, power steering and brakes, dual exhaust, four-barrel carburetor, "Shoemaker-stitched" diamond-quilted genuine top-grain leather seating, carpeting front and rear, a map pocket (but no glove box) an eight-tube push-button radio, a Stewart-Warner 160 mph speedometer and 8,000 rpm tachometer in a simulated engine-turned facing, turn signals, electric clock, tinted glass, cigarette lighter, oil filter and oil bath air cleaner, dual backup lamps, triple horns, two-speed electric wipers, tubeless whitewall tires, simulated wire wheel covers and fog-light bumperettes.

There was also Speedster-specific trim including a hood-length hood ornament, stainless roof band, Speedster nameplates and checkered emblems as well as chrome-plated ashtrays, rear-view mirror, moldings and tailpipe extensions. They also came in 2- and 3-tone paint jobs, the most famous of which was called "lemon/lime" by spectators. Studebaker's moniker was Hialeah Green & Sun Valley Yellow.

1955 Studebaker Speedster

Studebaker produced 2,215 Speedsters during the 1955 model year.

Note that the green and white 1955 President hardtop described in the picture below as a Speedster is not a Speedster. It is designated in factory brochures as President State 5-passenger Hardtop.