As the weeks - and then days - before the Charlotte International Meet grew short, the pace of re-assembly built to a near-frantic pace. My heart was set on taking the M5 to Charlotte in June 2004 and it still seemed possible. In the end, we made it!
In order to get the last of the wiring in place, I had to put the nose of the truck together. The air deflectors went on either side of the radiator. The side panels went on next, then the fender extensions and three grille pieces, followed by the aprons (inner fender liners), and fenders. There were lots of bolts to be inserted and I had to push, pull, and pry to get everything to line up. I can only imagine what took place on the original assembly line! My task was a little harder because the inner fender liners and fenders came from a couple of other trucks and I had done enough welding on many pieces to change their shape slightly. Once the sheet metal went on, I began to realize how difficult it is going to be to work on the engine. I left the hood off for a while longer so I could see and work. I need to stand on a step-stool and lean way over and down to get to the battery, fuel pump, and some other accessories. With the engine pan installed, there is also very little access from the bottom side. Fortunately, most of the engine accessories and spark plugs can be reached from the top.
In the previous pages, the truck can be seen going together, but until May 2004, it had never had the battery in it or the engine started. I had wires dangling all over the place and gas lines still unconnected. Eventually, all seemed to be ready for the crucial steps. I had bought a 6-volt battery back in 1998 when I first got the truck and used it to start the engine a few times before tearing everything apart. I had just wanted to be sure that everything was there to have the engine run. But, in six years of infrequent charges and no usage, the battery lost its ability to hold charge. I got a new one and put it in place. As I connected the main cables, I heard a relay click a couple of times and the horn started to blow. The horn button was stuck, but things were starting to work. I quickly disconnected the horn wire, but turned on the lights, then the radio. I had the Boston Red Sox coming in loud and clear! My feelings were that the truck had come alive after its 22 year sleep. With new body parts, a new heart in its Champ 6 engine, and a soul that blew its horn to announce its rebirth, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein breathing life into his creature. And so it was that the truck got a name: Igor. Igor lives!
I put a few gallons of gas in the tank, checked the rest of the fluids, and tapped the starter. The engine began to turn over. I hit it again, soon got a couple of splutters, and finally the engine caught and ran and kept running. I had oil pressure, the ammeter was working (though backwards), and the gas gauge flickered. After a minute or so, I shut it down. That was a good thing, because when I stared into the engine compartment, oil was everywhere. What could I have forgotten? Where was a pipe missing? It eventually turned out that I had put the cap on the oil filter can and only finger-tightened the bolt. It took an hour to clean up the mess, but I was still happy that it finally ran. Later, I started it up again, set the timing, and rechecked for leaks. Amazingly, everything was tight.
After pumping the brakes to be sure they worked, I backed the truck out of the garage and let the engine run at fast idle for 20 minutes to seat the rings. Much to my amazement, it took only a little adjustment on the choke stove to get the NOS carburetor right. The mixture and idle speed adjustments were fine. Now the engine starts easily, hot or cold. We took a few spins around the driveway, adjusted the brakes, and then re-tightened everything I could get my hands on. Since many of the parts had been installed over a five year period, I had to be sure that it had all been done - and done right.
The day finally came when I got the insurance documents and went to the registry. I got regular Massachusetts plates, not antique ones, so that I can drive the truck anywhere, anytime. Now street legal, we managed to put almost 100 miles on the truck in the week before we left for Charlotte. Unfortunately, on one of those test trips, a trim cap with the Studebaker "S" logo on one of my fog lights fell off. I guess the little sheet metal screw was loose. These were old mights that I had acquired at one of the Reedsville, PA swap meets. What was I to do? I remembered that the company that made the lights, Unity Manufacturing, was still in business. I found their web site and on-line store. And, sure enough, they were still making the same fog lamp units and had the logos available - as well as logos for Packard, Willys, and other extinct cars. A quick on-line order for $8.80 and I had the replacement cap in a few days. How many other products are being made exactly the same way by the same company after 60 years? So, check out http://www.unityusa.com for fog lights and spot lights, as well as copies of their old literature.
In the last two weeks before Charlotte, I got lucky finding the last parts I needed. An NOS overdrive relay turned up and the correct pull knob for the overdrive lockout cable also appeared, thanks to Internet searching. I fabricated the wiring for the overdrive, but put a manual switch under the dash instead of the original kick-down switch on the carburetor linkage. Though I searched at many swap meets and asked people dismantling trucks, I have never found the complete set of parts to mount the switch on the engine. At least this way, I can switch out of overdrive at part throttle. What a feeling it was when I got the truck up over 30 mph and felt the overdrive shift in - and an even better feeling when I flipped the switch on a steep hill and felt it shift out of overdrive. While I haven't been able to really open it up yet, I did manage to get it up to 55-60 mph very easily. As planned, I should be able to cruise at 60-65 mph when the hills aren't too steep. At last, the truck was assembled, tested, and ready to make its debut in the world. We were going to Charlotte!