“Packard Truck Dave’s” fine ’52 Studebaker Commander
Foreword: 1952 was Studebaker’s Centennial Year. Founded in 1852 in South Bend, Indiana as a blacksmith shop, the Studebaker brothers branched into wagon building. Studebaker Conestoga wagons brought many settlers to the west. Studebaker supplied the Union Army with wagons in the Civil War. Studebaker tip-toed into car building early in the 20th century but continued to build wagons until 1920.
The company introduced its rugged V-8 for the ’51 model year. The Studebaker V-8 is one of the best engine designs of the era. At the same time, Studebaker introduced Automatic Drive, co-developed with Borg Warner.
Studebaker wanted its centennial car to be an all-new design, but they didn’t get Robert Bourke’s stunning new design ready in time – it had to wait until ’53. When the ’53 was introduced, Studebaker made a series of unforced errors that set events into motion that led to the company’s doom.
The ’52 Studebakers were built on the body shell first introduced in 1947. From the cowl back the cars were little changed from the ’47s, but the front clip was new and was a break from the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) “bullet nose” Studebakers of ’50 and ’51.
Today, “Packard Truck Dave” relates to us how he came to own this splendid ’52 Studebaker Commander V-8.
The car has been a ‘keeper’ since I laid eyes on it and I have been fortunate to find garage space over the period of years until I bought a home of my own. That home had to have a garage or barn as a prerequisite to a purchase! The Studebaker still retains the entire original driveline.
While home on Liberty from the US Navy in 1968 my Mom told me of a good looking (actually completely rust free!) 1952 Studebaker Commander in the next block up from where we lived in Glenside, PA – a suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County. I always admired Studebakers as there had been a dealership just down the road from our home at the corner of Baeder and Jenkintown Road, Glenside. With Studebaker ceasing car production just two years earlier, folks weren’t exactly clamoring to buy used Studebakers. Upon close examination the ’52 was really clean and always a garaged one owner car, Mr. Herman Haas, the owner had saved every scrap of paper, receipts or note connected with the Studebaker and showed me that file. Herman was emphatic when I saw the Studebaker interior as he told me “That odometer is not correct – it shows just 34,000 miles. The cable broke some time ago at around 70,000 miles and ‘Billy the Speedometer Man’ on Broad Street in Philadelphia fixed it!” With that, Herman dug out the receipt and showed me!
Initially Herman and his wife Mildred wanted $325 for the car. After just a little negotiation, this sweet elderly couple could sense my interest in the car was a true desire for more than just another ‘set of wheels’. I kept telling them they did a superb job of maintaining the car. Finally the selling price of $300 was settled upon. I learned from Herman that the reason the Studebaker was in such good condition was he drove a 1962 Chevy stake body truck to his work at a sheet metal fabrication plant in Philadelphia as the Studebaker sat in the garage.
Herman, whose dialect seemed to be Pennsylvania Dutch/German (I never actually figured it out) explained to me that he really liked the car but his arthritis was getting the best of him and turning the Studebaker steering wheel was just getting to be too much. Herman had bought a full size 1969 Mercury with power steering but kept telling me “This Mercury isn’t near the car my ‘Stew-de-bakker’ is.” When I questioned why the Studebaker had a seat belt on just the passenger side of the car, Herman explained “My wife Mildred is ‘dopic’ “. Not knowing what ‘dopic’ meant, Herman explained Mildred was a bit like a ‘Weeble’ in that she tended to tip over toward him when Herman made a left turn with the car.
Just before I pulled the car from his driveway, Herman gently patted the left front fender as he commanded me “Take good care of my ‘Stew-de-bakker’.”
Upon my discharge from the Navy in 1970, the Studebaker was my ‘driver’. Initially I used the car to work at a church camp outside Pottstown, PA just below Route 100 & Route 23. At Camp Innabah I met my wife Joan Keeler and we dated in the Studebaker. Everyone else was driving their Camaros, Mustangs etc. – and there was Dave, driving his Studebaker
At that time I was blessed by knowing of an awesome Studebaker garage in nearby to Pottstown in Spring City. Herm Slaybaugh’s garage. I got to know Herm personally and had all repairs done by Herm as I was barely functional as a Studebaker mechanic.
I felt like Fozzie Bear in ‘The Muppet Movie’ driving the Studebaker – and loved it. I even drove the Studebaker up to New Hampshire to visit an old Navy buddy later in 1971. As 1971 unfolded, it occurred to me that maybe I should replace some of the ‘Korean Chrome’ that was showing its’ copper base. So I began the search for a grille, the teeth for the grille and some other misc. chrome. I remember in 1971 paying the outrageous sum of $45 for a complete NOS ‘V” piece that forms the center of the grill and spreads out over the top… Outrageous!
About this time I learned of a 1953 Clipper that had been neglected & sitting next to a garage in nearby Jenkintown – so with minor repairs the Packard became my ‘road car’ and I relegated the Studebaker to a neat garage in Willow Grove, PA, just beyond the Willow Grove Naval Air Station on Route 611. There were a string of garages owned by Joseph Penrose – and one was vacant. I was introduced to Mr. Penrose by my shop teacher Bill Grun from high school (Abington HS) – and I had found garage space for $4 a month!
Mr. Penrose owned a 1910 Otto automobile that his family had bought new – he had driven the Otto to college – a gorgeous brass car with a monocle windshield. I also learned the Penrose property was a 1700’s land grant by none other than William Penn to the Penrose family as a political favor for some long forgotten deed. Incidentally, that Otto automobile now resides in the AACA Museum in Hershey, PA as it was presented to that museum by Joe Penrose’s son ‘Buck’ just prior to Buck’s passing.
I married my sweetheart Joan Keeler in 1972 and the Studebaker continued to sit in that garage while we moved to Middletown, PA & I was going to college @ Penn State ‘Capitol Campus’ in Harrisburg (apparently I did not party hardy enough for main campus – or at least that is what I tell folks). We bought our current home in York Springs, PA (about 1/2 hour above Gettysburg) in February 1977 and it was 1980 before I was able to bring the Studebaker ‘home’. By this time the Stude needed a good going over, plus tires, etc. An old WW-II aircraft salvage yard “Snyder & Bakers’ outside Middletown had morphed into a repair garage with remanufactured parts on the shelf – and lo and behold – their dusty shelves yielded 4 complete Studebaker 3-H brake shoe kits! Problem was – they were JUNK! The metal plug ‘self adjusters’ that ride on the drums & protrude through the brake shoe for automatic adjustment of the brakes were apparently of cast iron – and did not wear as Studebaker had designed theirs. Hence, as the shoes wore, big gashes of brake drums were etched by the ‘adjusters’ all around the drums! This greatly reduced braking ability – and I later learned that the brake shoes when heated expanded in size exponentially causing all four brakes to seize up when really hot! This happened once with Joan and our two children in the car on busy Route 15 south of Harrisburg. I had to literally crawl under the car and back off the brake shoes by bleeding each wheel cylinders as traffic roared by! Not pretty at all! But we made it home – the Studebaker would not move until the brake dilemma was resolved.
In the early 1980’s at the York, PA Studebaker Swap Meet I happened upon Gary Firce of Bensalem who at the time sold Studebaker parts. Gary is one heck of a great guy – and informed me that the brakes for a 1961 Studebaker Lark V-8 were a perfect interchange and worked so much better. Initially Gary’s advice to me was “Just pull those 1952 brakes off the car and junk ’em!”
Gary rounded up everything I needed to replace all four brakes for $200! I mean everything – backer plates, springs, emergency brake cables, relined brake shoes, etc. What a difference upon installation – the car would actually stop! Those brakes are still on the car along with a Turner Hydraulic master cylinder conversion to a two chamber unit. Witmer’s Garage of Ephrata, PA did a complete going over of the car in 2005 (they would have my highest recommendation for the jobs they did) including new oil seals, freeze plugs, points, plugs and anything I thought that might need replaced or updated.
Since I ventured into Packard trucks I have not driven the Studebaker as much. My 1918 Packard US Army truck has been in the Untied States Memorial Day Parade in Washington DC for the last four years and is scheduled to be in that parade again on Memorial Day. On November 12, the Packard will be in Philadelphia on Broad Street in front of the Union League building for the Pennsylvania National Guard – plus other commemorative events throughout the year, But my first love was and continues to be the Studebaker.
Since then the Studebaker has been awarded Historic Preservation Original Features (HPOF) and can be driven anywhere.
“Packard Truck Dave’s” Packard truck followed by his’52 Studebaker Commander V-8.
“Packard Truck Dave’s” Packard truck stories:
A Studebaker water wagon at San Juan Bautista, CA
A Studebaker Petaluma road cart at San Juan Bautista, CA