1953 Studebaker Custom
aka The Kart Hauler and Stude Ute
Invited to and displayed at the 2009 Grand National Roadster Show
Six page feature article in the July 2009 issue of Hot Rod Deluxe
Chronicled on Hot Rod TV
Pictured in Hot Rod Magazine, Street Rodder, Custom Classic Trucks, and others
Featured at Benchrace
Cover car and eight page feature in the June issue of the Studebaker Drivers Club magazine, Turning Wheels
First customized in 1958 and appeared in the 1959 Oakland Roadster Show
Impeccable, no expense spared restoration to show car status completed in January 2009
Flawless body and paint
Howdy Ledbetter interior
Hopped up 1955 Studebaker President V8 with 3 speed overdrive stick shift transmission
Complete with race ready, period correct, twin engine Go Kart
In December of 2007, I answered a Craigs List ad for a customized Studebaker. What I found was a 53 Starlight Coupe that had been quite nicely turned into an el Camino or Australian Ute looking pickup. It was in pieces, but the changes to the body were attractive. It looked so right that Studebaker could have possibly made it.
The seller had bought it at a swap meet in Pleasanton, CA, a few years earlier but had done nothing to the car since the purchase. He had been told it was in the 1959 Oakland Roadster Show, was sold soon thereafter, then torn down for a drive train and color change and sat in a garage in the San Francisco Bay Area until being dragged out to the swap meet 40 years later.
It came with a ton of parts which were all carefully wrapped in copies of the 1964 Oakland (California) Tribune newspaper. So far the sellers story was making sense.
A few weeks after I bought the car, Hot Rod Deluxe published their first issue. HRD is a spin off of Hot Rod Magazine and focuses on traditional hot rods and customs. In that issue on page 9 was a photograph of the 1959 Oakland Roadster Show. There smack dab in the middle of the picture was the Studebaker custom I just purchased! This confirmed the rest of the sellers story.
I have a buddy that is deep into old car literature. He dug out the program for the 1959 Oakland Roadster Show and there was the car!
I wrote HRD with my findings and they published my letter in the next issue. To my surprise and delight, Lee Talbot, the original builder of the car, saw my letter in the magazine and gave me a call. Lee is now 80 years old, but still into hot rods and drag boats. Lee has built many hot rods and customs over the years, but was excited to see his old Studebaker surface after all these years.
What a pleasure to actually meet face to face with the creator of my new custom! Lee remembered everything about building the car like it was yesterday. He brought along copies of the many vintage pictures he had of the car under construction and finished. I learned a lot and Lee agreed to stay in touch during the restoration.
I also realized that 2009 would be the 50th anniversary of the cars appearance in the Oakland Roadster Show. That show is the longest running indoor car show in the world. It is now known as the Grand National Roadster show and is held in Pomona, CA, every January.
I emailed the producer of the show and told him about the car and the history of it. I received a return email. They wanted the car at their 2009 show. They were planning a special building to recreate an early Roadster Show. My car was EXACTLY what they were looking for. They would waive all entry fees, pay tow money to get it there, and several other perks if I could make it happen.
I made it happen. Thanks to some good friends, lots of luck, and plenty of long hours the custom rolled off the trailer in Pomona on the Wednesday night prior to the show. This was the 60th anniversary of the GNRS and the 50th anniversary of the 1959 show in which the Kart Hauler first appeared. Building #9 at the Los Angeles County Fairplex was decked out to emulate the 1959 show in Oakland so visitors could experience how the old armory-style car shows looked in felt. The Kart Hauler was in good company. Also present were Ala Kart, TV Tommy Ivos Buick powered bucket T, the Glass Slipper, the Sam Barris Mercury, Big Daddy Roths Outlaw, Blackie Gejelans 1955 AMBR winner, Tex Smiths XR-6, and Bill Neikamps 1929 roadster that won the first AMBR trophy in 1950 – and a host of others.
On Sunday, Hot Rod Television showed up and did a short feature on the car and on Lee Talbot (who flew down for the show).
On Monday, I took the car to Bobby Waltons Speed Shop in Pomona for a photo shoot for the Hot Rod Deluxe feature on the car.
Body, Paint and Chassis
Lee Talbot started with a 5 year old Studebaker Starlight Coupe (C Model) in 1958. Lee has a rare combination of artistic talent and technical skills. His design for this custom is spot on. Studebaker truly could have made this car (and maybe they should have). His execution of the design into reality is professional even by todays standards. Little if any filler was used.
When I bought the car it was absolutely rust free and relatively straight. It had not seen hard use since Lee customized it and clearly had been in dry storage in California since 1964 (or earlier). The body was made laser straight and the 1953 Studebaker Chippewa Green was applied. The paint is DuPont Centari single stage.
All the chrome was redone to a show chrome finish. The stainless was polished. The undercarriage was cleaned to bare metal and detailed. The fuel tank, rear end cover plate, and brake cylinder splash guard are black base/clear. The rest of the undercarriage is satin black. Mostly new fasteners were used. All latches, hinges, and reused special fasteners, etc. were cadmium plated. Any worn parts in the running gear were replaced with new.
Tires are new Coker wide whites. Wheels are stock Studebaker in front and Chrysler rear. Hubcaps are 1955 Plymouth – just what Lee had on the car in 1959.
I had SMS Auto Fabrics custom make the Chippewa Green and Cream vinyl to perfectly match the paint. Howdy Ledbetter (Hot Rod Hall of Fame upholsterer) stitched up a fantastic period perfect interior using the supplied custom vinyl and high end Mercedes wool carpet.
The stainless steel strips in the bed carry through to the package shelf in the interior.
The dash is stock 53 Studebaker except for the vintage Stewart Warner tach which replaces the clock.
Engine and Drive Train
The engine is a 1955 Studebaker President 259 cubic inch V8. Lee Talbot had originally used a Studebaker motor in the car when he built it in 1958, and although it came to me without a drive train, I figured I needed to do the same as Lee.
The engine is equipped with a vintage Stu-V intake. Stu-V was a California company that made speed parts for Studebakers in the 1950s. The unique thing about these manifolds is that they mounted the period correct Stromberg WW carburetors with the 90 degree air horns SIDEWAYS. They were the only after market intakes that did so. The advantage was that you could then easily run air cleaners on both carburetors. With the carbs mounted front to rear like the other makers, there was not enough room for an air cleaner on the front carb. The throttle linkage to accommodate the sideways mounted carbs is creative to say the least.
The air cleaners are cast aluminum reproduction Edmunds units. The valve covers and valley cover are Offenhauser finned aluminum. The oil fill tube is polished aluminum. A late model 5 quart oil pan was installed. Im using a reproduction Fenton fuel block to distribute the fuel to the dual carbs, and classic red transparent fuel hoses. It has a stock mechanical fuel pump. Like all Studebaker engines, this one does mark its territory with a few oil drips.
The transmission is a Borg Warner T86 three speed with overdrive. I had this one converted to a floor shifter using a Jeep top shift assembly. Real hot rods have floor shifts and this was a common way to accomplish that back in the day. The trany got new bearings, bushings, and gaskets. The synchros were perfect. The OD works nicely. The clutch, pressure plate, and throw out bearing are new. The shift knob is custom hand made glass done in the interior colors.
The rear end is a stock Studebaker Dana 44 with a 4.27/1 gear set.
The car runs, drives and stops quite nicely, but it has been a show car since I finished it 6 months ago and I do not have many miles on it. If you intend to drive this car a lot (and that is fine with me if you do), there is most likely additional sorting out to do. I know, for example, that the carbs are probably too rich right now. There will be other things that will need tweeking as you get miles on the car.
Here is a short video of the car in motion –
In the late 50s, the Go Kart craze was catching fire – and for a good reason. Here was inexpensive, exciting, wheel to wheel racing that anyone and everyone could participate in. Kart manufacturers and Go Kart tracks were popping up everywhere – coast to coast. Most major car magazines had a good portion of each issue devoted to Karting and Kart advertisers.
Lee Talbot was not only into hot rod and custom cars, but also designed and built inboard drag boats, AND constructed and raced Go Karts. He exhibited his customized Studebaker at the 1959 Oakland Roadster Show with a twin engine Go Kart in the bed.
Vintage Go Kart racing is currently undergoing a renaissance as baby boomers retire and latch on to those activities they lusted after in their youth. There are at least two very active vintage go Kart web sites Vintage Karts and Vintage Karting Association with forums, meet schedules, parts vendors, and classifieds.
Since Lee had done it, I thought I would too and began looking for a vintage Kart during the summer of 2008 to display with the car. I found what I wanted in Idaho.
There is such a big demand for vintage Karts today that a couple of the more popular chassis are now being reproduced on the original jigs. Mine is one of those. It is a Rupp Dart A Bone now being re-made by ROBRON, Inc in South Carolina. It is true in every detail to the original late 1950s-early 1960s Kart.
It is running twin vintage West Bend 820s with PVL electronic ignition, Tillotson carbs and GEM box mufflers. The motors have been gone through and hopped up by Dave Bonbright, the recognized guru of West Bend engines. They will spin to 13,000 RPMs.
Clutches are MaxTorque Draggin Skin and engage at 5,000 RPM.
It is running a single Airheart 150 hydraulic brake.
Front tires are ChengShin 3.00 x 3.40 and rears are Carlisle SuperSlicks 11 x 6.
When I purchased the Kart, it only had a few hot laps on it, but was essentially race ready. I took it completely apart, cleaned and detailed all the mechanicals, and painted the frame with a gold base coat/clear coat automotive paint to match the engine of the Kart Hauler.
I have to admit that it got as much attention at the show as the Kart Hauler did!
The restoration of this car is fully documented on my blog here –
Also on this site, under Blogroll, are hundreds of other pictures of the car under construction and finished, and a complete set of the historic pictures that Lee Talbot gave to me.
This is a pretty special car. A 50s custom that is actually good looking by todays standards. Full documentation and history. Impeccable, fresh, quality restoration. It would be tough to find another with this combination. In addition, it would be impossible to duplicate this car for the selling price.
Im a car guy. I like all cars – new/old – stock/custom – but I tend to specialize in Studebakers. I like to find them, restore them, show them, and drive them. That whole process stops if I keep them. I dont have enough room or enough money to have a collection; so unfortunately, Im selling the Kart Hauler.
It is a Show Car. No disappointments no excuses. Ive had other cars in the Grand National Roadster Show and featured in major magazines. My cars have won major national awards. I have high standards. Often, pictures flatter a car. This one is the opposite. The pictures do not do the car justice. You have to see it in person to appreciate the fit and finish and attention to detail. Right down to the little things like the NOS 56 California plate with a 59 sticker – just like the car wore at the 59 Oakland Roadster Show.
Clear Washington State title. Current license and registration.
The car is located in Bellingham, Washington 98225.
If not sold prior to August 21st, the car will be at the GoodGuys West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton, CA (August 21st through August 23rd)
You can contact me at 360.715.2126 or firstname.lastname@example.org