1951 Champion Business Coupe
Model: 10G-Q4 #1219 of 2429 Vin: G1050198 

Last Updated: July 7, 2006

I'm a child of the fifties and really love the styling of that period. This is what I want for this project, a dependable everyday driver that looks like a classic car on the outside, but has some of the amenities of a modern car on the inside. I've owned two other Studebakers in the past, both Champions and both completely stock, and was not very happy with their ability to run on the California freeways. I want more top end for this project, a V8 driveline is a must.

This is what I ended up with. I still need to add the gravel guards and stainless rocker panel covers to complete the exterior. I'm now driving the car in a shakedown mode, find the leaks and fix them. The engine runs smooth and smoke free, so far no oil leaks there. I have fixed all the major leaks, and had the tranny rebuilt. It loves to cruise at 65 mph and has plenty of low in torque, even with the 3.31 rear. Click here to see the car's current specifications. Click here to see pictures of the final product.

PS: I have tried to break the project down into manageable pieces. Each section below has a heading that when clicked will get you to a page of thumbnail photos of that section. Click on any image to get a larger view of that photo. Use the browser back button to return from the large image.

Floor Pan Restoration
I always work from the inside out on my projects so I started by stripping the floor-pan down to bare metal. This is very hard work, getting that old undercoat up. The method that worked best for me was using a propane torch to soften up the tar, then using a putty knife to strip the majority of tar away. The next step is to get some odorless mineral spirits and steel wool. Be sure to use heavy gloves and scrub the remainder of the tar off the metal. Wipe it down and you should be looking a virgin steel

Next I used Marine-Clean to degrease the floor with. Followed this by a 20 min bath in Metal-Ready. Rinsed the area and let it dry overnight. Use compressed air to blow out all the seams and a industrial heat gun on the floor to drive out all the moisture. POR-15 hates any moisture and will bubble. Then I covered the entire area in 2 coats of POR-15. I like to use alternating colors to assure good coverage. If I want the part to end up silver, the first coat is always black and vice-a-versa.

The red treatment seen in the photos is Eastwood's Rust Inhibitor, which unlike the POR-15,  can be sprayed easily. I used it to get up under the dash and headliner areas. After all was painted I started covering the floor with the sound/heat barrier. I found this stuff at Home Depot and it's used to cover your water heater. It's a little over 1/2" thick and one side has a foil surface with fibers running every 1/4" for strength. The other side is made of recycled fabric and is very easy to work with. I use sheet metal sheers to cut it with and seal all seams on one side with clear packing tape. The foil side seam should be sealed with the foil adhesive tape that ships with the padding. Take your time and you can contour this stuff to match almost any surface. The directions say to put the foil side toward the heat source. Every other application I've seen on TV and other projects always puts the foil side toward the vehicle interior. I want to keep heat outside the cab since this is going to be a Florida car.

Interior Restoration
The roof area was covered with an aluminized bubble wrap like material with about 1/4" thickness. This was glued to the roof with 3M 777 Spray Adhesive. For the headliner fabric, I  went with a cool grey vinyl instead of cloth. It will last longer and be easier to clean than a fabric. I decided to leave the seats and large rear shelf tray stock for now. I may put in bucket seats later and a sound system in the back, but not at this time. I want to drive the car for awhile in the current configuration before committing to the sound system. 

Undercarriage  Restoration
I'm doing this project in a one car garage. Due to space and logistics, I decided to leave the body on the frame. To remove the old undercoat, I started with a putty knife and a rubber mallet.  This took off 95% of the old crud. Then use steel wool and mineral spirits to scrub the area. Wipe off the residue and follow up with a scrub down with steel wool and Marine-Clean. Rinse and treat with Metal-Ready. Dry and apply two coats of POR-15 to all areas. Used silver for the first coat and follow up with the gloss black for the final coat. This was brutal work, real dirty and I'll never do it again.

The Engine Rebuild
I was able to find a fairly fresh 1964 Studebaker 289 bored 80 over from my friend Bob Peterson. With the help of another buddy, Bill DeRouchy we starting mic'ing out the engine. Measurements showed the engine should have new rod bearing, rings, valves and valve guides. Over the next few months I was able to put the engine back together, reading the manuals and asking a bunch of questions. I sure hope this thing doesn't explode! 

The Engine Swap
They made one Business Coupe in 1951 with a V8, so this should be a simple installation...mostly. It's a real tight fit to get that big block in. For the front mounts, I ended up going with 53 Commander sedan mounts, these fit without any modifications. For the rear mounts, I could find nothing that matched. I ended up using another set of the front insulators for the rear. To make them fit the bell housing, I had to use a heli-coil in the bell housing mount holes. To get the insulators to match the frame I had to enlarge the holes in the frame cross member. 

With this setup, the engine is far enough backwards to clear the steering and make the bell housing line up with the rear cross member. I have less than an inch behind the temperature sending unit in the passenger side head. The driver side has a little over 2 inches of clearance to the firewall. The engine center line is about an inch to the passenger side.

When I went to put the steering column in with the 3 on the tree, the lower shift levers hit the exhaust manifold. These had to be modified to clear the exhaust as well as the shift pushrods to work correctly. The clutch operating shaft and bearing support bracket also had to be modified to align correctly with the new clutch operating shaft and lever

Another big modification will be what to do about a fan. Since I have an AC compressor to work around, I had to add a spacer for the fan to clear the compressor. This caused the fan to extend into the radiator area. See the radiator and cooling section below to see what I ended up with.

The Drive line
The engine is bolted up to a tranny from a 59 Studebaker truck with a 3-speed with overdrive.  Thanks to StudeBob for the donation of the tranny and an engine to my project, Studebaker people are the greatest and helpful bunch of car folks I have met. I stayed with the original 2 piece driveline and had the front piece modified to fit the new engine and tranny. The rear end is from a 1964 Lark and is a Dana 44 with a 3.31 ratio. I put 10" drum brakes on the rear and did not install a brake proportioning valve. The spring perches had to be moved to match the old geometry. Somehow in the process, the pinion angle was set incorrectly. I shimmed it up and this made the driveline noise decrease

The Engine Bay
I want a clean minimalist look in the engine bay area. I tried hiding as many wires as I could to give it that look. A lot of the electrical connections come through a hole in the firewall hidden by the ignition coil. I must have welded 50-75 holes in the firewall that came from the factory. I removed the metal clips for the wire guides in the fenders and moved the battery to the trunk. This makes for a clean presentation of the motor and the blue adds a nice contrast to the gray and black engine treatment. All cast iron was cleaned and painted with POR-20 Factory Manifold Gray. I installed a 100-amp one wire alternator which eliminated the need for a voltage regulator. I decided not to install a heater and this cleaned up a lot of hoses in the engine bay. 

Installation of A/C unit for those hot summer nights
This car will be a Florida vehicle so I removed all the old heater support and even plugged  the hot water outlets on the water manifold. Vintage Air came out with a bracket for the V8 and it went on without any issues. I ordered the smallest evaporator unit I could find, due to the small dash area in these cars. Southern Rods Econo-Kooler with A/C only had the best solution. The dash is only 8" deep and I could not get the AC unit to fit so it was exchanged for the under dash unit.

I had to modify the dash to accept the 16.25" faceplate of the AC unit. I ended up cutting out the cigarette lighter and ash tray area to make it fit. I'll end up losing the glove compartment when the chrome dash trim is mounted. The A/C passenger vent will interfere with it opening. It was a pretty anemic glove box anyway.  

Radiator & Cooling
I had my old radiator re-cored with a 4-row high efficiency core at a local shop.  In front of this, I mounted the largest condenser coil I could find. This left about a half inch between the radiator front plane and the condenser rear surface. I fabricated some brackets out of the old front glass runners from the door rebuild. These attach the coil to the radiator frame and the stack slides into the radiator support frame.

I went with a 6-bladed fan which required a 1" spacer to clear the blades back offset. This gives me 1/8" clearance in front of the AC compressor. When mounting the radiator support frame to the front fenders, I pulled the support frame as far as possible forward before wrenching it down. The radiator/condenser stack slides inside the radiator support frame and fits flush on the flat side of the 3 welded nuts that attach the fenders to the frame.  I then wedged a 3/4" aluminum bar stock in back of the radiator flange and attached with nuts. This moved the radiator forward almost an inch and gave me the room I needed to get the fan in. The front of the fan clears the radiator tank by less than a quarter inch.

I had to remove the horizontal support rod on the radiator frame to get the AC condenser coil up high enough to clear the lower fitting. It's still going to be real tight getting a line in the nose but I think it will fit. I also have an electric  fan that will be mounted in a pusher mode in the nose planed if needed . I also had to modify the inner support structure on the front sheet metal to make room for the forward radiator. The upper shroud was also modified as well to accept the condenser coil.

Front End
I replaced my front drum breaks with conversion package from Jim Turner. This kit went on easily and the instructions were more than adequate.   The old Champion springs were replaced with new HD coils to support the extra weight of the V8. All the bushings in the upper and lower a-arm's replaced by Studebakers West. New shocks and sway bar bushings were installed to complete the restoration.  The steering was left stock  For the wheels, I went with new steel rims in 15x6 format from Bob Helm Studebaker Parts and mounted wide white wall radials size P205/75-R15, on both front and rear. This is a much better ride than the stock setup. Since I did not narrow the new rear end, the rear tires are tight in the rear wheel wells. This axle is 2 9/16" wider than the one it replaced and the larger tires fit real snuggly on the rear. Plenty of room on the front to handle the larger tires, but the spare is a tight fit in the trunk wheel well.

I went with a basecoat/clearcoat DuPont ChromaBase system for my exterior paint solution. I prepped and painted all the interior surfaces like under the hood, firewall, inside trunk and so on. All the exterior panels were stripped down to bare metal as well. This car was in an accident on the  passenger side sometime in the past. I ended up replacing the passenger door and re-worked ever panel on this side. All panels were primed and sanded using Everclear Epoxy Primer 2K and the car was sent out to paint. The color and clear were laid down by a local pro using two coats of color and 3 coats of clear. I had the painter do the color sanding and final buffing as well.  

Questions or comment, email: David Carter

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