If you drove by 5 W. Center St. between about 1955 and 1965, you would have seen a dull, gray, 1950 Studebaker “Bullet-nose” Business Coupe at curbside. It was one of the weirdest-looking cars in town, but I absolutely loved it.
It was my grandmother’s car, and although it is probably long gone, it lives on.
I thought about it the other day as I was passing a body and paint shop. Out in front was a freshly painted 1950 Studebaker Starlite Coupe, a larger, fancier car but with the same airplane nose. Instantly, I was a kid again, with my little brother, going for a ride with “Mo” in her trusty little “Stoodie.”
The business coupe was unique, because it only had a front bench seat. There was no rear seat, which allowed the trunk to extend to the back of the front seat. It was designed that way so that traveling salesmen could carry samples, store displays, and new sales items in that enormous trunk.
Pat was 13 months younger than me. I can still see us running to Mo’s car, pulling the little round handle on the passenger door, hinging the seat forward, shoving the gray oil-cloth cover aside, then clambering into the dark trunk. It was always a thrill to sit back there, with the jack and the spare tire, as we headed off to the “Little Eisner,” grocery on Voorhees, downtown, or to Carson’s Drug Store, for peach ice cream cones.
When I spotted that beautifully-restored Studebaker the other day, it was like seeing an old friend again. I turned my truck around, parked, and stopped to take a look. All sorts of little, long-forgotten details came rushing back: the round brake and clutch pedals; the pistol-like handle for the parking brake; the Spartan, stamped-steel dashboard and glove compartment door; the plastic Studebaker logo at the center of the steering wheel and the little hinged vents on either side of the doors, to let a little fresh air in.
Part of the charm for Pat and me, I think, was how small the car was – a little two-seater in an age of gigantic, finned, gas-guzzling whales. Mo was little, 5-foot-2, maybe 100 pounds, and although her car was equally petite, she always had to sit on a pillow to see over the wheel.
If we had been good at the store, downtown or at Carson’s, she’d sometimes let us sit in the driver’s seat, play with the three-speed column shift, turn on the wipers and honk the horn.
The Studebaker company started building farm wagons in 1857, and switched to automobiles in 1902. The firm, based in South Bend, ended U.S. operations in 1963, and Canadian operations in 1966.
In 1965, Mo decided to let her license expire and sell her quirky little car.
But for a few minutes, the other day, she was still in the driver’s seat, with Pat and me behind her, sitting on the spare.