SCCQ Club Member – Doug Murphy’s Studebaker Story
Monday, January 3, 2022 17:24

Doug Murphy – 1947 Champion and 1989 Avanti Convertible

I was about 10 years old when a Studebaker first grabbed my attention. It was the rear of a grey 47 or 48 parked in the open doors garage of a sheep and wheat property ‘Bull Plains’ near Corowa. We pupils were on a holiday stay, coming from ‘backwards Balmain’. Our teacher had taught at the one teacher school at Rennie.

Then, when I was about 19, I spotted a 47 or 48 in a car yard on Oxford St in Sydney. The Bank of Dad said he would not lend me money to buy the Studebaker and so I was saddled up with a Fiat 1400. This had the benefit I learned a lot about rebuilding an engine, gearbox, brakes and more. All was quiet for many years till a young friend of mine, Carl, who was really interested in art, fashion, design and style, waxed lyrical about Studebaker styling and he reignited my interest. As Coco Channel said style endures, fashion doesn’t. Well, my EH Holden had to go, and I bought a 63 Lark Cruiser. It was a terrific family car. But I wanted a Hawk, Harold Ireland had one, a 62, and I bought it. It was a British Racing Green colour with half roof black vinyl. It’s engine just loved oil. Another 62, a cream one came up for sale and this one became my daily driver (something I wouldn’t do now, but that was the era). Dale Fisher in Sydney had a 62 Hawk parts car for sale, so I flew down and drove it back. Cautiously. Then a 1960 Lark convertible came up, it was a project car and needed a lot of work. I was in the chips at the time.  It was a good lesson in restoration, it took about seven years and happened because Mike Cosgrove knew every nut bolt. There was a freelance panel beater around at the time, Peter the Dutchman, and he did a splendid job as did Ralph the motor trimmer.  A few years later it was finished, and I drove it for a couple of years, but fell on hard times and had to sell it.

So, for some time, I had no Studebaker, but Mike Brazier had a restored 47 he wanted to sell it. It had been fully restored by a Mr Doug Cribb. I suppose the chance to buy this 47 was like meeting up with a long lost friend, the grey one in the garage all those year ago. It brings me great pleasure driving this car, it’s high set and it’s really 1930’s mechanicals beneath late 1940’s styling. This Raymond Loewy styled car changed car styling forever, now cars had straight sides, headlights in the mudguards (and not between the guards and radiator).

I had always thought restoration of one car would be a cure-all, but no, being a beggar for punishment, I bought a 1959 Simca Vedette project car. I have always been the ‘go for’ and I bought parts in Canada, France, NZ, the US and Aus. It was fun. It would never have come together without the expertise of Studebaker Mike (as the kids called him), Peter Davies the magician with metal and fibreglass, and Ray Clayton who spent his working life with DC current on boats. Restoration of the 47 has involved a respray (paint work in parts was blotchy over time) and a changeover to electronic ignition (still 6V).

Around 2019, I got to thinking about an Avanti, a convertible. I joined the Avanti Owners’ International Association and learned a lot. A 1989 convertible came up for sale in NY, it had two previous owners, one lived in Chicago, and this was his daily driver. For the second owner who lives in NY, this was his Sunday best car. Through the AOAI, you can learn a lot about any Avanti. Before buying, I had the car inspected and it got a B+ grading. The inspection in retrospect got an N. Previous owners had spent a lot on it, but when it arrived, it was in poor shape. Part of the underneath was badly rusted, these were the skis or paddles which attached the fibre glass body to the chassis (earlier ones were called ‘hog troughs). It was odd, the chassis itself was rust free but the paddles had rusted through.

I have seen some odd restorations over time, like a $20-30k paint job but without replacing fuel hoses and brake hoses etc. The same with old electrical wiring, it’s a recipe for a most disastrous fire.

So, I’m saying, it’s not only wear and tear that affects a vehicle, things like rubber bushes, hoses and plastics are affected by age. Part of the appeal is the 87-89 models sit on a Chev Caprice chassis with a Chev small block 305ci engine, with a TH700R4 auto transmission. So, the car has overdrive, power steering and air conditioning. This combo makes for a modern car. For a time there, I think I must have been one of Rockauto’s best customers. Studebaker Mike worked wonders as did Peter and Ray and I would like to acknowledge and thank each for their contribution. For my part, the Studebaker journey has been exciting, and I think the 47, 53 and Avanti styling by Raymond Loewy are real icons. For me, the association has been a great pleasure.   

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