Blast From The Past
Sunday, August 30, 2009 18:58

Blast From The Past by Mark Hinchliffe From: The Courier-Mail August 22, 2009 12:00AM

Studebaker fan Dave Lucas, and the hardtop Lark he brought back to life.

While the world’s car makers still scramble to top each other’s version of the electric car, the company that started life in Indiana in 1852 making wagons for farmers, miners and the military, began making electric cars in 1902.

Dave Lucas, the proud owner of two fine Studebakers, says the company should have kept making them.
“Studebakers are good-quality cars that were a long way ahead of their time,” Lucas says.
Studebaker moved to petrol cars in 1912 and the last model rolled off their Canadian assembly line in 1966.

Lucas points out that in 1946 they introduced a hill-holder function (“just put on the brake and then release it and it wouldn’t roll back on a hill”) and in 1952 they launched a three-speed automatic transmission with manual overdrive in every gear.
“And they won just about every economy run in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says.

Lucas, 67, manager of Caboolture Motorcycles, owns a 1960 Studebaker hard-top Lark, which he bought in 2002 for $5000 from a Victorian.
“It had more rust than the Cherry Venture,” he says, comparing it to the infamous Sunshine Coast shipwreck that was removed from its Teewah Beach resting place in 2007 because it had decomposed so much it was considered too dangerous.

“I restored it myself with a little help from my friends. I had to replace all the floor and rocker panels, rebuilt the motor and diff gearbox, the whole lot. It’s pretty original but I fitted disc brakes on the front to stop it, as the old drum brakes weren’t the best.”

Lucas claims the person he bought it from had a pink slip that showed the vehicle had once been owned by American actor Tim Conway, who played the not-so-bright Ensign Parker on the old black-and-white TV comedy McHale’s Navy.

“When the guy told me I said, ‘You couldn’t have told me it was Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart, could you?’,” he says. “I’ve had no luck contacting him (Conway). He’s still alive. I wanted to get a photo of him with the car.
“He apparently owned it for years. The car had done about a million miles.”

Lucas bought the car because he liked the shape.
“I persevered with it. Worked on it for three years, nearly always at night because I work six days a week.
“It kept me in the shed at night, which probably made my wife happy. Anyway, it’s been well worth the effort. It’s a great little car.
“Everywhere I go people take photos of it.”
Lucas claims it is the only one of its type in Queensland and one of about three in Australia.

He is also restoring a 1952 Studebaker Commander Starlight V8 Coupe designed by Raymond Loewy,
the industrial designer responsible for the Coke bottle and Lucky Strike cigarette packet.

Lucas’s first car was a 1934 Dodge Tourer he bought for £50 when he was 14 and living in Manly, Sydney.
“I used to drive it to school and I don’t know how I never got arrested,” he says.
“You could do those sorts of things in those days.
“On Friday and Saturday nights we went down to the Manly Corsa in our (Ford) Customlines and used to park and beat the girls away with a stick.
“I was an old Manly bodgey and proud of it.”

Lucas also boasts that he is a Ford man.
“I have owned just about every Ford that was built from 1932 to 1955,” he says.
“They had a big V8 and were a fast car, plus every backyard had a Ford lying in it and you could get them cheap.”

He moved to Queensland in the 1970s as a sales manager at Yamaha and raced off-road bikes, later opening a motorcycle retail business.
“I got to that stage in my life where I was getting bored so one day I was looking at a car mag and thought I’d love to restore an old car,” he says.
“It’s good fun going to all the shows and reminiscing with people my own age.
“People think we’re just silly old buggers, but we’re not really; we’re just enjoying life.
“It’s better than going home, opening a beer and sitting in front of the TV.”

Lucas will be enjoying life with his old mates when he shows his Lark at the annual 2009 Studebaker Concours on August 30 from 9am to 3pm at South Bank.

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