Studebaker's '53 coupe is arguably the most attractive American car to come out of the '50s. Not surprisingly, the Bob Bourke-penned design was originally intended solely as a show car, until Bourke's boss, famed designer Raymond Lowey, urged the Studebaker suits to put it into production. Long, low, sleek, and clean, the European-influenced body was years ahead of other domestic designs and saw use well into the '60s.
Therefore, why on earth would anybody want to mess with such heralded style? Hey, in hot rodding the question isn't "why?" it's "why not?"
As a life-long hot rodder, Tom Bacon knows that highfalutin design critics aren't the only ones who appreciated the "Lowey coupe" style. Bonneville racers have long been fans of the Stude's slippery shape, too, and more than a few such coupes have set salt records. It's that racing heritage that inspired Tom to buy Dick Spadaro's '53 Commander and treat it to a hunkered-down hot rod makeover.
This was no subtle facelift, either, as evidenced by the 160 louvers in the peaked and filled hood and 143 additional ventilation aids punched in the decklid. A bunch more louvers can be found on the full-length bellypan. As if that's not enough, the Stude's severely lowered lid (5 1/2 inches in front, 3 3/4 inches in back) helps create a silhouette that's slicker than a banana peel soaked in 30-weight. The rest of the body mods are rather pedestrian by comparison-shaved handles and trim, rounded trunk corners, filled fender vents, and so on-but effective nonetheless.
There's nothing spacey under that VW Cosmic Green skin, either. Corralled under the perforated hood are 526 cubes of torque-happy Cadillac backed by a Turbo 400 tranny and 9-inch rearend. They're all nestled in a custom chassis that uses a Heidt's front suspension and Posies rear springs with Carrera shocks and owner-built traction bars. Cast-finish American Torq-Thrusts and Commander wide whites add some old-time racer attitude.
Things are pretty racy inside, too-no stereo, no air conditioning, and a flat steel dash riddled with Stewart-Warner dials. Cut-down Volvo bucket seats provide a modicum of comfort in front, with a rollbar filling the space behind them. Tom gets credit for the green and white Naugahyde, just as he's personally responsible for doing almost everything else on the car.
More than a decade in the making, Tom's commanding Commander is as much a tribute to tenacity as it is to craftsmanship and style. Needless to say, Tom is quick to thank his wife Kathy for sticking by him, as well as friends like Bob and Marcia Juliano, who lent him their industrial sewing machine. However, perhaps the biggest thanks of all go to Art Johnson of Artie's Louvers-the man who wasn't afraid to punch more than 500 holes in Studebaker's classic design.
Tom & Kathy BaconWest Hartford, Connecticut'53 Studebaker Commander
Drivetrain: Swapping in a Cadillac V-8 was common practice in the '50s, but those rodders didn't have 500ci versions like this '75-vintage mill. Tom had help from Cadillac Motorsports Development in making his more potent with a bump in bore size and an offset-ground crank swinging forged Mopar 440 rods and Mopar 400 pistons, all of which brings displacement to 526 ci. Other hi-po parts include a Comp Cams bumpstick, ARP hardware, ported heads, Edelbrock intake, and 850-cfm Rochester Quadrajet. Tubular Automotive built the custom headers, which connect to Flowmaster mufflers. A Lokar shifter directs the '66 Pontiac TH400, and Inland Empire built the driveshaft.
Chassis: Tom reinforced the original frame and built his own rails from the firewall forward, then added a Heidt's IFS with Carrera coilovers and ECI discs and a 3.00-geared, narrowed Ford 9-inch rear with Posies springs and Carrera shocks. There's a slew of owner-built parts, too-crossmembers, engine mounts, pedal assembly, traction bars, and so on. Oh yeah, dig the louvered and pinstriped bellypan.
Wheels & Tires: Cast-finish American Torq-Thrusts (15x4.5 and 15x7.5) mount on Commander 5.60x15 (front) and L78x15 (rear) wide whitewalls.
Body & Paint: Okay, the chop is obvious, but here are the numbers: 5 1/2 inches in front, 3 3/4 inches in back, plus a little widening (1 1/4 inches front, 1 1/2 rear) and 3 3/4 inches of additional length. The hood is shaved, peaked, and filled with 160 louvers. The decklid has rounded corners and 143 louvers. You'll find louvers on the custom firewall, too. The door handles, front fender vents, and gas door are long gone. Tom gets credit for the bodywork, as well as the VW Cosmic Green paint that covers the body, frame, and bellypan. 'Striping is by Ken Jacobs.
Interior: No frills here--just a custom dash with Stewart-Warner gauges, custom column with a Mullins wheel, and cut-down Volvo seats with green-and-white Naugahyde upholstery. A custom rollbar and Juliano's seatbelts provide safety.