Dale Truitt can laugh about it now. A couple years ago, the Commerce, Texas, resident took his stunning 1956 Studebaker Pinehurst station wagon to a national Studebaker meet and had it judged for points by experts in the marque. They looked hard to find any flaws.
“I was within 1 or 2 points of being the very highest score you can get,” recalls Truitt. “The note that the judges left on the evaluation sheet was ‘over-restored’ [laughs]. In other words, underneath looks just as good as the top and just as good as everything else. All the colors are correct. Everything is just very nice.
“It’s just kind of an amazing car.”
Truitt is genuinely humble about the beautiful blue-and-white wagon — it takes some prying for him to open up about the spectacular level to which his Pinehurst was restored. He’ll accept compliments with an “aw shucks,” but he’s well aware there might not be a nicer Pinehurst wagon on the globe. They were rare to begin with; only 1522 of the stylish two-door wagons were built in 1956, their only year of production. Some wound up as customs and a lot of the others are gone, making a restored-like-new example such as Truitt’s car a special prize. Amazingly, a few short years ago it was a car that nobody really seemed to want.
“This one was not going to be anything to anybody,” he says. “But I had always liked the ’56 Pinehurst wagon with the ‘lightning bolt’ on the side and I thought they had striking color combinations, mainly the red and white and blue and white… Well, I was on the internet like a fool one night and discovered this in Gainesville (Texas), maybe an hour and a half from me. I saw it and thought, ‘Well, the guy wasn’t asking much for it, but it was not in good condition. But I thought this might be the only one I’d come across. So I went and visited the guy and he had several Studebakers — three I think, one was a pickup, I remember that.
“This [Pinehurst] was kind of a basket case in a pasture. It had holes in the floor and rust in various places. It did not run, but the price was a giveaway price. I said ‘I’ll give you $2000’ and he said ‘let’s go a little more.’ I said it doesn’t really matter. For me to bring it up to the condition I wanted it in would take [a lot of money]. So he said ‘$2000 is fine.’ So I got my trailer with the winch on it, pumped up the tires and put it on the trailer and went home with my prize, figuring I was going to give away, like, half my retirement for that car!”
STUDE’S TWO-DOOR HAULER
Even car guys old enough to remember them might well have missed noticing the 1956 Studebaker Pinehurst when it was born into the world. Not only was it produced in paltry numbers and for only one year, it had plenty of competition.
The Chevrolet Nomad was the most visible face in the crowd and has always had the largest and most loyal fan base, particularly among collectors. But there were a many other dressy two-door wagons to choose from during that time if you didn’t want a bow-tie in your garage: The Ford Parklane; Pontiac Star Chief Custom Safari; Mercury Voyager; and the short-lived 1958 Edsel Roundup among them.
The Pinehurst was added to the Series 56H President/Sky Hawk lineup for the 1956 model year and was the only station wagon in Studebaker’s top tier. It was classified as its own model, but was part of the series that included the President two- and four-door sedans; President Classic four-door sedan; and Sky Hawk two-door hardtop. They all had the top-line trim, which featured dual side trim moldings on sedans and station wagons. The President Classic had wide-grooved, horizontal moldings just above the rocker panels.
Studebaker advertisements of the day bragged the that Pinehurst was “the most powerful, most luxurious and most comfortable wagon in its price class. It’s the fine car for the man who does big things in a big way.” With a base sticker price of $2529, the Pinehurst was the most expensive Studebaker in the series. It was also the least plentiful — even rarer than the Sky Hawk at 3050 units and President two-door sedan at 1914.
The Pinehurst utilized a 116.5-inch wheelbase chassis and the same 289-cid V-8 found in its siblings with an available four-barrel carburetor good for 210 hp. The optional four-barrel was part of a power kit that also included dual exhaust. Flightomatic automatic shifting was a $189 up-charge on all the models except the Golden Hawk. The lengthy list of options included power steering ($108); overdrive transmission; power brakes; air conditioning; power seats and windows; Stratoline push-button radios; internally controlled reel-type or dual rear-mounted antennae; rear seat speakers; full wheel covers; luggage racks on the wagon; and whitewall tires.
In spite of its long, wonderful history and its best efforts to keep up with the times with creativity and advanced technology and design, Studebaker saw its sales figures continue to spiral downward for the ’56 model year. The 69,593 official assemblies were a precipitous drop from the 116,333 units of 1955 and resulted in the company shuttering its California assembly plant in June 1956. All production after that came out of South Bend, Ind., and the company’s Hamilton, Ont., facility.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Truitt is a loyal Studebaker guy. He also has a 1938 Commander, 1957 Golden Hawk, 1949 Starlight Coupe and 1956 President in his fleet. He knew he was going to try to restore his orphan wagon and make it as nice as he could. He wasn’t sure how successful those efforts would be, however.
“I had done some cars. I am an old shop teacher, but at my age decided to take this one to a good restoration shop if I could find one,” Truitt says. “There was a shop in Cumby that Jeff Kinsey owned [Hot Rods by JSK]. It was a hot rod shop, and he typically doesn’t do restorations on old cars, but has done some really fine ones. … So he looked it over and decided to take it on, and that thing stayed two years in his shop. You can imagine the rent I paid in that shop!” Truitt laughs. “But I told him to take his time and take as long as he needed. And every decision that came up along the way, we said ‘Let’s do it right.’”
Kinsey took the car completely apart and sanded and blasted the body down to bare metal. From there, he pretty much started over with everything, beginning with some rust patching and plenty of bodywork.
“All the patches he put on you’d be hard pressed to ever find them. They were all ground smooth with rest of the body … with a good measure of basecoat and sanded. He’s really a perfectionist,” Truitt says.
Most of the glass was replaced, the trim was all replaced or restored and the body undercoated. All the while the body was being re-done, Truitt was mulling his choice of paint schemes. “I hate to say this, but the car was born a kind of putrid yellow and black. It was really kind of an ugly combination. When we took it down to all bare metal with no color anywhere, I realized, ‘I could do a color change, couldn’t I?’ We decided if we ever wanted to do it, that would be the perfect time.” After considering some other colors, Truitt and Kinsey went with Air Force Blue and Shasta White and have not regretted it.
Along the way Truitt also added air conditioning, upgraded to a correct four-barrel carburetor and had the interior upholstery replaced and restored as meticulously as he could, including original-type linoleum on the floor in the cargo area in back. “The mirror got re-silvered. The dash was sent off to a dash company that does speedometers and all that kind of stuff. All that has been repainted or reprinted. Everything is all redone if not replaced with new old stock. It’s equipped all the way out. It’s got power steering. The steering wheel was not in good shape, so I ordered one online. It’s only a 16-inch, not a 17. The 16 goes on the power-steering cars; the 17 goes on the non-power steering cars. It has 12-volt positive ground, just like GM. It’s got tinted glass, whitewall tires and, of course, Studebaker put heating and defrost on every unit they sold. I did add backup lights. They work and are installed correctly. They were new old stock and had never been on a car.
“Anything Studebaker had, it has, but it doesn’t have anything outside of Studebaker. I wanted to keep it just like Studebaker made it.”
Truitt doesn’t put many miles on the wagon these days, in part because he has other Studebakers that need exercise, too. For the past five years since the car has been finished, he’s kept the mileage down and reserved most his driving time for car show days and short trips near his home.
He’s driven the car enough to know that it probably runs and handles as good or better than it ever did back in 1956, however. “It drives very well. The power steering is very effective and the power-assist brakes are good,” Truitt notes. “It’s easy to steer. The wheel has as a little bit of play, but they had a little bit of play in the ’50s. The radio — I’m not going to brag on. It’s not the greatest. It’s got a manual antenna knob inside down on the kick panel that I guess they used from 1949 to about 1957. You could reach down there and lower the antenna down. It’s kind of cool.
“It’ll drive 75 on the highway. With that 289 and a four-barrel, you hit the gas pedal and it will send you back.”
Truitt is a pretty Godly man, very involved in his church — he even restored one not long ago — and he figures there might have been a little divine intervention along the way on behalf of his glorious wagon. At the very least, he’s had a few visits from Lady Luck.
“There were a lot of things that I felt very fortunate to be able to find,” he chuckles. “I’ve just had a lot of good fortune.
“I thought, boy, the Lord is looking out for this car!”
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