J.C. Absher’s 1932 Studebaker street rod sports the rare St. Regis
Brougham body on the outside, and a 429-cid engine and
transmission from a 1970s Lincoln.
For starters, there were only about 25,618 Studebakers built for the ’32 model year, and there aren’t many left, regardless of series or body style.
And Absher was able to get his hands on a St. Regis Brougham body, which is particularly scarce. Exact build numbers are sketchy, but the St. Regis cars are notoriously hard to find these days — just ask the Studebaker buffs who are always on the lookout for them. Add to that the fact that Absher’s ride is propelled by a big 429-cid Ford V-8 with a C6 transmission, carries plush Buick seats and new-car cockpit gadgetry, and floats along on modern day running gear, and you’ve got a “look at me” retro ride that can tackle just about any road trip and cruise 80 mph all day.
Sure, it’s not all original — Absher has some of those Studebakers, too — but it’s a pretty cool ride, and not your run-of-the-mill street rod. And frankly, Absher doesn’t really care if anybody else likes it. He’s having too much fun to notice.
“I get criticized sometime over my modifieds,” admits Absher, a resident of Chistiansburg, Va. “I tell ’em I like their cars anyway, even if they don’t like mine. I’m easygoing, I don’t mind.
“But if a car is in nice shape I wouldn’t cut it up. I wouldn’t modify it.”
Absher has owned his share of original cars and trucks, including a handful of Studebakers, but he was in the mood to tackle a hot rod project about five years ago when he came across an advertisement for an unfinished ’32 Studebaker Series 55 street rod. The car was for sale in Pennsylvania and had been owned by a farmer who was killed in a tractor rollover accident. The man had already done some street rod frame and bodywork on the Stude, but Absher said much of the car “was in boxes,” or missing altogether.
“I’ve had several Studebakers, and I was looking for another one, but I never dreamed I’d find a St. Regis, because they are pretty rare,” he said. “I went to look at it and we haggled around for a couple months. It cost more than I could afford, really, but it was the only way I was ever going to get one.
“It had sat for three years before the widow decided what to do with it. The guy was going to street rod it. The frame had already been set up for a street rod. It was a stock frame, but has a custom-made front end with rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes. The rear end had been narrowed, so I didn’t have to do anything to that.”
Absher was not targeting a prewar Studebaker when he decided to take on a new rodding project, but he certainly managed to get his hands on the remains of a interesting and unique car.
The 1932 Studebakers were distinguished from the previous edition by their slanting windshields and more rounded corners. For the model year, the bottom-tier Model 55s received a longer, 117-inch wheelbase. The visor over the windshield was gone, and a new single bar front bumper was added. Standard features included freewheeling and a key-operated starter.
There were 12 body styles offered that year on Studebakers, with the St. Regis Brougham bowing as a debut model. The St. Regis Broughams were refined-looking coupes with two huge doors and a small backseat area. The body style was unique to Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker, who both experimented for a few years with the European-influenced configuration. The cars were basically akin to squarish, Victorian-like two-door sedans with small rear quarter windows. The bodies are particularly interesting to collectors and hobbyists today, but they weren’t a big hit when they were new. By 1935, the St. Regis Brougham offerings were history.
Under the hood, all the Model 55s carried the same 230-cid L-head six-cylinder that produced 80 hp.
Absher was certainly no stranger to the Studebaker nameplate by the time he tackled his latest street rod project. He also owns two 1-ton Studebaker trucks — a 1963 and a ’64 — and previously owned a customized ’46 Studebaker coupe. He also has two more trucks, a 1949 and a ’52, that he hopes to eventually restore.
“1990 was the first time I owned one [a Studebaker],” he said. “I bought a ’46 coupe that was street-rodded.
“People gave me such a hard time and picked at me and I had so much fun I ended up being a Studebaker man. I had been basically a Ford man, but I have a lot of fun with them and it gives you a lot to talk about.”
Abasher pieced his ’32 together slowly, saving what he could, figuring out what modern parts he needed, and making parts he couldn’t find. “I have a friend up the street that is a machinist, and he makes parts for me. He’s into tractors and I make parts for his tractors, and he makes parts for my cars,” Absher laughed. “That really helped out a lot.”
“I really just made it up as I went along. I’d run into missing parts and so forth and you can’t hardly find them for these cars. By not going back to strictly stock — I made it look stock — but going strictly stock would have been a lot harder. That’s the best thing about a modified car, you can do whatever it takes.”
Eventually, the car received front seats from a 2002 Pontiac Bonneville, a rear seat “from some SUV, I’m not even sure what it was” and a steering column from a 1986 Thunderbird. The dash was trimmed with engine-turned aluminum and given aftermarket gauges.
Absher believes the engine and transmission came out of an early ’70s Lincoln. In the stern is a 9-inch Ford rear end and 2:75 gearing.
Coilovers handle the suspension duties.
“And I wanted air conditioning it, because I was going to ride it, and I put in the best I could find — Vintage Air,” he said. “It’s got electronic controls and works and drives just about like any other car.”
Absher hasn’t had to paint the plumb-colored car yet, and hasn’t had to do much to the exterior. “It could use some paint, but I’m going to ride it for a few years before I do that,” he said. “The paint has been on there probably eight or 10 years. Most of what I’ve had to do (on the exterior) I caused myself when it fell off a jack stand and I messed up a running board and front fender. I had to fix that.”
Absher finally got the car back on the road in the fall of 2008 and took it on a lengthy road trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the ’09 Studebaker National Meet, where the car earned a second-place nod in the modified class. By the time J.C. and his wife Kathleen returned home, they had rolled up 2,000 miles on their Studebaker, which passed its first big road test with flying colors.
“I build to ride ’em, and we’ve put 4,500 miles on it,” Absher said. “So it’s doing all right.”
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