It’s hard to imagine myself in the role of automotive writer without the existence of the Studebaker corporation, one of the last of the orphan automakers to bite the dust. The company was formed all the way back in 1852 by a pair of brothers who started out building horse wagons in South Bend, Indiana before transitioning to gas-powered vehicles and eventually establishing their own brand in 1911. The reason for the link between my current livelihood and this vanished piece of automotive history? My father, Karl Hunting, a man who at any given time has ten or so Studebakers parked on his country property in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec.
Of course, it took a while for him to build up the collection, which meant that during my childhood there were typically only one or two Studebakers in the household. Always drivers, and always driven, my father’s Studebakers carried myself, my mother, and often my sister throughout Quebec and northern New England on the way to swap meets, antique car shows, club events, and yes, slow car races, a brand of entertainment that has almost completely disappeared from the modern concourse-focused template of automotive appreciation.
Of the collection, I’d have to say the most memorable to me has to have been his 1951 Studebaker Champion bulletnose, a design from the team of Bob Bourke, Raymond Loewy, and Virgil Exner that, alongside the more plush bulletnose Commander, has become an icon of pop culture and an indelible representation of the era. My father kept his Champion coupe for a great many years, a time period that covered most of my early years.
The car may have only been powered by a modest six-cylinder engine, a 170 cubic inch inline unit that was good for 85 horsepower and mated to a three-on-the-tree manual transmission (with overdrive), but it was more than enough to motivate the surprisingly lightweight Studebaker wherever we needed it to go. The Champion also offered other technological advances that were a hallmark of the brand during its heyday, including self-adjusting brakes and panoramic windshields (and rear glass, too, in the gorgeous Starlight coupe models). An independent front suspension was also a feature of Champions built after 1950, adding a degree of control and comfort that was not present on the ’47-49 models. The car served as our faithful chariot on both the interstate highways and rural two-lanes that linked the classic car faithful to their places of worship: open, grassy (and occasionally muddy) fields, high school gymnasiums, off-season fairgrounds, and carefully-curated local museums.