Rod & Custom Feature Car
Rick Heckman
San Diego, California
'54 Studebaker Starliner Hardtop

Rick laid the Starliner on 'rails from a '62 Studebaker GT Hawk, fabricating custom-made body mounts and torque boxes to accommodate the '54 body. The independent front suspension includes a Fatman dropped frame stub, tubular stainless A-arms, coil springs and gas shocks, an antiroll bar, plus GM 11-inch disc brakes. In the rear, a narrowed '60 Thunderbird 9-inch with 3.00:1 gears, 11-inch Ford drum brakes, and Dutchman axles rides on stock parallel leaves with a single leaf removed and 2 1/2-inch blocks added to drop the rear.

The Chevy 348 W-engine is a 1958 first-year engine. Rick said it was tough finding a shop to build the engine, but Motorworks in National City, California, bored the block 0.060 over, and Greg Sadeau at GES Engineering in San Diego assembled the engine using 9:1 Egge pistons and stock heads with finned Offenhauser valve covers. Tri-power induction comes from Rochester 2G carbs on a stock manifold. Ed Hansen built the custom exhaust running from a pair of Sanderson headers to old-style Smithy's glasspacks. Walt-Built Transmissions in Oceanside put together the column-shifted TH350 automatic with a TransGo shift kit and a stock 11-inch converter. A custom driveshaft from Driveline Service in San Diego runs to the 9-inch rear.

Wheels & Tires
Swap meet steelies are still hard to beat when it comes to rolling stock for a traditional custom. These 15x6-inch smoothies with 3-inch backspacing have chrome outer edges and body-colored centers, and were dressed up with chrome center caps. Wide white BFG Silvertown radials are P215/70R15s and P205/70R15s.

Body & Paint
The lines of the '53-54s were about a decade ahead of their time. Mark Garant at Moore Street Auto Body in San Diego, along with Rick, did just enough bodywork to remove all the rust and bring out the car's shape. It was nosed, decked, and shaved of some trim and scripts. The grille trim was removed and the grille bars smoothed. The bumpers were also smoothed and the upright bumper guards eliminated. The headlights were replaced with tri-bar halogens and the rims painted. The red and silver 'flake paint is custom-mixed PPG acrylic urethane shot by Rueben Alcarez at Moore Street Auto Body. Robert Gagnon applied the 'striping on the nose and deck.

The '62 Gran Turismo Hawk, designed by Brooks Stevens, advanced the Studebaker's style even further into the future, especially in the interior. Rick used his GT Hawk donor car to furnish the bucket seats, door panels, dash, steering column, wheel, and door and window mechanisms on his '54. Leon "Smitty" Smythe and Jim's Auto Upholstery in San Diego put it all together, covering the cockpit with black and silver pearl vinyl. The stock gauges were replaced with Stewart Warner instruments. Rick installed a Clarion AM/FM/cassette system and Polk Audio speakers.