The '63 Wagonaire as I found it in May, 2005.
The two Wagonaires together in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.
OK, so I've been through this before and should have known better - but I brought it home anyway. An orphan Studebaker ALWAYS deserves a good home and a caring touch. This orphan, it turns out, needs EVERYTHING! Don't let a pretty face fool you. Underneath the skin, the tinworms have worked their magic for years. Rust and neglect have taken their toll.
On a later trip to Martha's Vineyard, I stopped by the house where the car had spent its first 41 years with one owner. I expected to find some member of the family of the previous owner, but the woman we met, said, "No, I just rent the house and moved in last year." "But", she added, "the house is owned by the people next door and they knew the original owner of the old Studebaker." A knock on the door of the next house brought a woman in her late 70s to the door. She invited me and my wife in and was very happy to talk about the house next door (recently acquired by her grown children as a summer cottage), the family who had lived there, and the old Studebaker station wagon. She explained that the woman owner had bought the car for summers on Martha's Vineyard. The car had come from Dietz & Meekins, a Studebaker dealer in Edgartown, and had never left the island since its delivery in 1963 until I brought it off in 2005. The neighbor I talked to had even driven the car many times and knew it well. It had cruised the roads of the small island where the maximum speed limit is 45 mph. When her children had purchased the house last year from the estate of the original car owner, they pushed the old car out of the garage and into the street with a sign that said "Free". The car had a temporary owner over the last year who tried to fix some things, but it apparently was too big a project for him and he abandoned the car. Before being parked for good in 1988, the car had accumulated only 62,000 miles, but it had been exposed to lots of sand and salt. As I later discovered, the damp took its toll on the underside of the car.
The right side floor in front - or, where it used to be!
The bottom of the door post wasn't attached to the body shell.
Once I pulled back the rubber floor mats on the passenger side, I found that a metal patch had been screwed in to keep feet from going through the floor. It was only later that I also discovered that the right side door post wasn't even attached to ANYTHING at the bottom. With both right side doors open, the door post was free to flap in the breeze. I've got lots of sandblasting and welding ahead of me.
There were a number of significant dents in the body. I first tried drilling some 3/16 holes and using a slide hammer to pull them out. It worked OK on the left rear quarter, but then I had to weld up all of the holes I made (and stretched). I then had to heat each spot with a MAPP torch and shrink the metal by quenching it with a wet cloth. I bought an electric stud welding gun from the Harbor Freight store in Allentown, PA. It saved shipping a heavy thing. The gun attached a copper-plated steel stud to the metal skin in a second or two. A special slide hammer grips the stud and a few quick yanks pulls the metal out. I did the rear quarter mostly with the drill-and-yank method and the big crease in the right side door with the stud gun. I think the stud gun is definitely worth the $89 I paid for it as I can attach many pull points and just twist off the studs when the sheet metal is about at the right level. A little grinding with a 60 grit flap wheel takes off the remainder of the head of the studs. I have started to patch some of the holes in the skin by welding in new pieces.
Left rear quarter after drilling and pulling a few points.
After yanking out the biggest dents, welding up the holes, putting in some patches, and blending with the flap wheel. This will need some body filler before its smooth again, but its better than this photo looks because of the flap wheel marks.
Pulling out the door crease with the welded studs.
One other critical aspect was the engine. The guy who had the car for the last year washed off a lot of grease under the hood and prettied up the engine compartment. He even painted the block and valve cover. Unfortunately, he neglected the fact that the engine was frozen. I tried to turn the engine by putting a socket and big breaker bar on the crankshaft damper - it wouldn't budge. I pulled the plugs and shot a quart of penetrating oil into the cylinders and let it sit a week. Still no movement. Finally, I used a formula I saw some place on the Internet and mixed a quart of Marvel Mystery Oil with a quart of automatic transmission fluid. I filled the cylinders to the spark plug holes and let that sit a week. I bought a 24 inch breaker bar and started to pull on the crankshaft again. Finally, I got just a little movement, then a perceptible motion. After working the crankshaft forward and backward, I was finally able to get it to turn freely. Of course, much of the oil mixture shot out of the spark plug holes when I turned the engine over. The remainder I sucked out with a hand-operated vacuum pump. What a stink and mess!
I did pull the valve cover off and found that the valve train was free and clean. I will need to eventually pull the head to check for cylinder head cracks and to replace the valve stem seals, but that can wait. Meanwhile, I ordered new plugs, points, condenser, wires, rotor, and cap in hopes of eventually getting the engine started. I'd like to be able to move the car around under its own power while I work on it.
Before I try to move it, though, I need to be able to stop it. I ordered up new brake shoes and wheel cylinder rebuild kits, as well as seals. The old shoes were down to bare metal, but I was able to turn the drums and get the score marks out of them. The rear cylinders were beyond saving due to corrosion, so I bought new wheel cylinders. I had to pull the rear axle shafts to grease the wheel bearings, then reset all of the adjustments to get the correct amount of play. Here's how . http://www.ncsdc.com/TechnicalPages/RearAxle/RearAxle.htm, thanks to Ray Fitchthorn. All of the backing plates were cleaned and repainted. Eventually I got the brakes on all four wheels done and the master cylinder rebuilt, too. There are 10-inch drum brakes in the front and little 9-inch ones in the back.
Since the car didn't come with keys, I have been working with one of the guys on the Studebaker news group (alt.autos.studebaker) to make a set of keys. From the build record I got from the Studebaker National Museum, I got the key codes for the ignition/door lock and also for the tailgate window crank. The ignition key worked right away, but the tailgate key had to be cut again because we didn't use the correct blank. But, eventually we got it right and now all of the locks work. The '63 and '65 wagons are similar in many ways, but they have different locks.
There are many details to attack and fix, but progress is being made!