New Directions

Every once in awhile, it’s good to mix things up a little. This could be as simple as choosing a new cereal to eat in the morning or driving a different route to work – but sometimes a fresh start is called for. I’m at that junction in the road with my Studebaker…

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Not that I don’t love her the way she is – but it’s just time for a new direction. When I first sought to turn Stude into my daily driver 7 years ago, I was entirely new to classic cars and needed something dependable (or at least as dependable as possible) and easy to learn on. At that time in my life, a small block Chevy (SBC) was a great choice. Years have passed and the Chevy has served me well, but when it comes time to show off my engine I’ve become a little, well…there’s really no nice way to put this…I’ve become embarrassed.

It seems that SBC’s have become the cookie-cutter, Xerox-copy, generic choice of a power plant for someone just looking for an easy-access, low-cost engine. When I walk down a row at the LA Roadster Show and see 8 out of 10 ’32 Fords powered by a SBC…it pains me a little. That Ford is an icon of hotrodding culture – when you’ve got a car like that, it doesn’t seem right to stuff a SBC in it (granted, this is just my opinion).

Saving my conscience, was the fact that the SBC in my Stude was the best I could do for now. It wasn’t as much of a choice as it was a solution I needed in order to get the car on the road. I’ve said many times, that I’d love to have a Studebaker engine in a Studebaker…but for some reason I wouldn’t consider doing that with this Studie. What I have always wanted to do with her is turn her into a Studillac.

For those of you who don’t know, “Studillac” was a term given to a well known engine conversion done by Bill Frick back in the early 50s. When my car’s body style first came out in 1953, it was so much more streamlined and aerodynamic then other cars of its time. People looked at them and thought, “Wow, there’s a fast car!” However when people got behind the wheel, they were disappointed…the engines that Studebaker was releasing in the coupes were weak in comparison to some of the other power houses of the time. An industrious mechanic, Bill Frick, found a solution by switching out the inline Studebaker 6 to a go-fast to the newly-released overhead valve Cadillac 331 V8.

PopularScience_July1953_StudillacScanned images from Popular  Science, July 1953 issue courtesy of Bob’s Studebaker Resource Website.

These conversions became well known for the Loewy/Bourke coupes (although I’m told when not done by Frick they should be referred to as a Caddybaker and not a Studillac). I first heard about Studillacs through the Studebaker grapevine, it was probably an issue of Turning Wheels – the Studebaker Driver’s Club monthly magazine. I loved that it is a period-correct hop up…and thought that if I were ever to switch out my Studie’s small block Chevy, it would be for a Cadillac. I mean, come on, who can resist the headline of Popular Science’s article it, “Looks as innocent as a kitten – but has the getaway of a scalded wildcat.” And according to a line on the following page, “Any woman with a sensitive accelerator toe can drive one to the grocery store.” It’s my lucky day!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I went to the California Screamin’ show and ran into my friend Sam. We were catching up on garage happenings and I mentioned my plans for pulling in Stude for some engine work. Somehow that led to me mentioning how cool it would be to transplant Studie with a Cadillac engine.

Little did I know that Sam was sitting on a jewel of a 331 – picked up somewhere in his travels because the price was right (hard core hot rodders have a way of collecting engines, like many women have of collecting shoes). Upon hearing my idea for Studie, he told me about the Cadillac engine in his garage awaiting the right project. We made plans, and I was picking it up a couple of weekends later. I can’t wait to research this project more, dig into the engine, and give Studie a new heart!

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I’ll introduce you further to Studie’s new Cadillac 331 V8 in a soon-to-follow post… Until then, Happy Trails!

Read more on Bill Frick and Cadillacs at Kustomorama and this great post on the Studillac blog.

One Response

  1. jpkalishek

    RE SBC in Rods: They have been cookie cutter for eons it seems. But. When that’s what you got, hey, go with what you can. Certainly I’d bet it helped you a ton over the years. Way back when, years ago when I was an outside salesman for autoparts, I had a customer who drove as an everyday car a 34 Ford sedan. Outside of a set of billet mirrors (won as a door prize at a cruise-in) everything done to it was either trade, gifts, or self work.
    305 SBC … 305? yuck … It’s a Ford, why a Chevy Why of all the SBCs a 305? “It’s what I had that ran”. Power window lifts from a Nissan Stanza wagon rear doors (a mistake, can’t find replacement parts, he was looking for something else to use) Pinto front end, “Pulled it from a farmers field and cut it up” (I gave him a Mustang II front end later for another project) it had a Suburban roof grafted on to make a full tin top (about the only thing on the ‘burban not rusted, he air chiseled it off before it went to the scrap yard) and he got a pro paint job in trade for something (bright yellow). A few years later, a 30 something Ford pickup started driving past his place … 4×4 and a very straight body, we speculated about it for some time then finally the guy stopped in for gas one time (just before the epa laws changed and Butch lost his gas tanks) and they got to talking. The old truck was actually a straight body the guy was gonna restore or possibly resto-rod and the guy worked on the oil rigs so he was gone lots, and then had lots of off time. One trip to the place he got a helo out to the oil rigs, he rolled his Toyota truck.
    It got towed back to his house, and when he got back in from the rig, he found it had been parked exactly next to his in progress old Ford … You know, this looks like it might just fit. So he had a 4×4 Toyota 22R powered with AC and Cruise control etc but in a 30′s Ford pickup body.

    Re old Caddys:
    one of my other customers was restoring an old Caddy with one of those and I agree they are great old things.
    A buddy of mine was racing an IMCA modified and said if he had a few of them he’d gladly run one as no one would want to claim it. Way back when he drove a car that had one. Early 70′s that was.

    Have fun!

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