Vintage Custom: 1955 Studebaker President

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We certainly have some eagle-eyed readers here at Barn Finds, and both Ikey H and Mathew K spotted this interesting 1955 Studebaker President for us to look at, so a big thank you must go out to both of you for that. The President has an interesting past, having been customized and displayed in Seattle in 1962 before doing the rounds of a number of custom car shows during the 1960s. It will require a fairly extensive restoration, but it is a piece of custom history that should be worth the effort. The Studebaker is located in Reno, Nevada, and listed for sale here on eBay.

Starting life as a standard 1955 President, this car was customized by Art Root. The work proceeded in several stages, with the front completed first, and featuring a custom extended nose, a ’56 Chrysler grille, and ’61 Chrysler headlight bezels. During its show life, the car also wasn’t fitted with a front bumper. Instead, there was an opening in the front pan below the grille, and this was fitted with expanded mesh. We don’t get any photos of the rear-end treatment, but it featured ’58 Oldsmobile tail-lights fitted into custom housings, and the rear bumper was removed for a smoother look to the tail pan. Finding out a lot about the vehicle has been a bit difficult, but since its glory days it has been through a succession of hands and will require some work to return it to its best. From the limited photos, it appears that the actual custom aspects of the body have survived quite well, but there is some evidence of rust in a few spots on the body. However, none of this appears to be particularly bad. The other unfortunate fact is that the original pink pearl paint is also long gone at some point in its life, although there is some slight evidence of it still visible in a couple of spots under the hood.

When it was used for show duties, the President was fitted with a 259ci V8 engine with twin carburetors, and a 4-speed transmission from a ’61 model. That engine was not only fitted with twin carburetors but had been fitted with the cylinder heads from a ’60 model. I have managed to trace back to a former owner of the vehicle, and she purchased it without an engine or transmission. She then had a 302ci Ford engine and T-10 transmission fitted, which is what I believe is still there today. We don’t receive any information on the condition of the engine.

The interior of the Studebaker is pure custom from that era. The custom upholstery work was completed by Ballard, Washington, upholsterer Brian Ellis, who was renowned for his custom work. In fact, when the original owner decided to part with the car, Mr. Ellis purchased it from him as he couldn’t imagine anyone else owning it. The vast majority of that custom trim is still present, and while most of it has survived quite well, there are some areas, such as the door trims, which will need some restoration. Unfortunately, it appears that some of the custom accessories are long gone. That large opening in the console just forward of the shifter used to contain a television and a record player, while the dash also featured an 8-track player that was a more integrated unit than what is fitted today. The car is also missing the 3-spoke custom wheel that was fitted to it during its show days.

So, what price for a historic custom car? At the time of writing, bidding has only reached $10,200. There is no doubt that the car is going to require a lot of work to return it to its original state. The gallery below features some period articles and photos of the car, and while it may not have been to everyone’s taste, it certainly must have seemed incredibly advanced by the standards of the time. I just hope that someone buys the car and returns it to that state. To me, this car represents an important part of our custom car heritage.

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  1. CCFisher

    The grille it has now is different than the one in the period photos. Looks like a ’61 Chrysler grille.

    Like 4
    • Adam ClarkeAuthor

      Thank you so much for picking that up. I knew that it was different, but I was unsure exactly what model it was. I appreciate your input on that.

      Like 2
    • RobsGT

      Actually 62. 61 has “CHRYSLER” stamped across the top which would have been visible. 62 did not.

      Like 2
  2. Bill Wilkman

    It always amazes me how a car like this could end up so neglected and picked over. It obviously involved considerable effort and money to create and must have been spectacular when completed. If it could talk, I’m sure it would tell a fascinating story of its slide from the limelight to the dungeon in which it ultimately rested.

    Like 4
  3. Gaspumpchas

    This is an amazing Custom, even more amazing is the fact that it survives as intact as it is. If I had the resources I’d grab this piece of history. The magazine article is the icing on the cake. Altough not period correct, the 302 4 speed is a good choice and would make this beauty scoot down the road. Good luck to the new owner- whether you preserve as is or restore, its a time machine!!

    Like 2
  4. Beatnik Bedouin

    Cool find! It looks to be a well-executed customising job that could be brought back to life.

    Happy New Year to all from the Floyd Lippencott Jr Home for Unreformable Hot Rodders..!

    Like 2
  5. Geerbangr

    I have a factory hood ornament for this car.

    Like 1
  6. scottymac

    The transition from the Studebaker beak to the flat front looks like a tough job, very skilled work there. Hate the fake Fiesta flipper caps on the car now. Is it true the frames on these Studies was so weak the doors would fly open crossing railroad tracks?

    Like 0
  7. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    The Dash instrument panel and instruments, as well as the chrome strip over the rear section of the roof panel, all suggest this car may have been a President Speedster, but of course it’s possible the parts were added during the custom work.

    An interesting car, glad it’s being saved. But to my tastes the horizontal grill doesn’t look like it belongs below that bulging hood. Would have looked better with something along the line of a Hillman Super Minx grill & side grills.

    Like 0
  8. scottymac

    Had to laugh about your comment. Just finished reading the story of a Sunbeam Rapier restoration (part of your AUDAX Hillman range), and learned Robert Loewy had a hand in styling that, too. It has the reverse slant C pillar in the roof, the side spear, and the central grill and main center grill that the President had from the factory, so that if you squinted, looked like a mini-Studie. So with that in mind, you’re saying the body man would have been miles ahead if he’d left the front end alone.×547.jpg

    Like 0
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember


      You got that right! Look at a Hillman Super Minx and the side grills almost look like they were taken directly from a Studebaker [Not Humber] Hawk!

      Happy new year everyone!

      Like 0
  9. stillrunners

    Yep saw it and thought wow another cool custom Studebaker survived…..hopefully it will survive to cruise again…..price is kinda on the high side versus demand.

    Another Stude custom burned up in the last Cali fire along with 3 other customs an owner had in his collection.

    Like 0
  10. Terry Brandli

    No the frames were not so weak that the doors would fly open if you drove over some railroad tracks. If I had the money it would be mine with a Studebaker 304 R-3 engine with a Paxton supercharger.

    Like 0
  11. Dick Steinkamp

    I owned the pictured car around 2006-7 or so. It is a pretty special and famous PNW custom.

    I am also the guy that restored the Kustom Stude that burned up in the Malibu fire. It was first exhibited in the Oakland Roadster show in 1959. I had it in the 2009 GNRS 50 years later.

    Like 1

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