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Newbie Stude owner - 54 Starliner Commander Hardtop

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  • Newbie Stude owner - 54 Starliner Commander Hardtop


    I recently purchased my first Studebaker. A very solid, but non-running 1954 Starliner Hardtop with a V8 motor and auto transmission. I am a huge fan of the look of these cars.

    I have been looking thru this forum and other on-line resources, and have bought the manuals and a rear hub puller!

    I would be interested in any advice on making the car more livable in 2012 - are the drum front brakes lethal? How is the auto trans? Could I expect this car to keep up with modern traffic? Will not be a daily driver, but would like to use it regularly.

    Thoughts and advice appreciated.



  • #2
    Welcome to the forum!

    The 53-54 coupes and hardtops are perhaps the most beautiful cars Studebaker made, and among the most beautiful of any make ever (somewhat biased opinion )

    IMHO, the brakes used in V8 Studebakers from 54-66 are excellent. They are self energizing, large, drum brakes that are engineered for the car. I had them on my 54 Starliner with a 365 HP 327 Chevy and T10 4 speed and never worried about them stopping the car with modern traffic from any speed.

    Disc brake conversions are available as well as dual circuit master cylinders if you are so inclined.

    The auto trans is strong, but it is difficult to find someone with the skills to work on it. The second gear start auto and the anemic 232 cubic inch V8 means you will not be wining many stop light grand prixs .

    Post a few pictures when you get a chance.
    Dick Steinkamp
    Bellingham, WA


    • #3
      The front brakes should be fine for normal use. Just maintain a good length between yourself and the car in front of you. The auto transmission will work OK, as long as you are comfortable with regular starts. If you think you want to take off faster, manually shift it to low before you romp on it, the transmission starts out in second gear unless you put it in first. If you want to upgrade components like brakes and transmission, that is up to you, but for regular driving, well maintained stock components will work just fine. Join the Studebaker Driver's Club (can sign up on line right here) and ask questions here on the forum, and you'll do great!


      • #4
        The Turner disk brake conversion is well built and easy to install (it is a bolt on.) If you get the complete package, you'll get an upgrade to a dual master cylinder as well. I have the 53 with the really small brakes, so needed the upgrade but a lot of folks here have gone with the Turner kit and have been very satisfied.

        If you haven't already, it is very worthwhile to join the SDC as whacker suggests--and get involved with a local chapter. I find my local chapter very helpful.

        Here's a great article to help get that car back on the road:

        We'd love to see pics!

        Dave Nevin
        Corvallis, OR
        1953 Champion Deluxe Coupe
        Stud-e-venture blog


        • #5
          Having lived through brake loss I highly reccommend the dual master cylinder conversion. In the original system if you lose any component (wheel cylinder, line, master cylinder,etc.. ) you have total loss of brake service. I keep brakes adjusted on my vehicles and have no fear of drum brakes on either end of a vehicle. My theory is in a panic stop I am able to slide all 4 tires. Thats all brakes are able to do. Steve


          • #6
            Hi John:
            I don't know where in Los Angeles you are located, but our chapter (The Los Angeles chapter) is very likely the closest to you. Please email me at or call at (818) 606-0267.
            We have at least 5 or 6 '53/'54 coupes/hardtops in our chapter, some stock, some not so much. Welcome to the wonderful world of Studebakers!
            Howard - Los Angeles chapter SDC
            '53 Commander Starliner (Finally running and driving, but still in process)
            '56 Golden Hawk (3 speed/overdrive, Power steering - Running, but not yet driving)
            '62 GT Hawk (4 speed, A/C, Power steering - running and DRIVING!)


            • #7
              Welcome to the Forum!
              Yes, you have already recieved good info from the above posts, and there is a lot of expertise out there.
              Just ask!
              And yes once you have learned hoe to post pictures....please do.
              I am bias too, and agree with Dick. Prettiest car ever built!!!
              Good Roads
              Brian Woods
              1946 M Series (Shop Truck)


              • #8
                Thank you for your replies and advice.

                I will be joining the SDC. I'll contact you Howard.

                I'll post some pics soon - pouring with rain today.

                One question I have - the stock carb looks very small. I wondered if I could fit a different (4 barrel?) one. And if so, would I need to change out the inlet manifold too?

                My current plan is to get it working in stock form and see how it goes.



                • #9
                  Be sure to buy the PARTS manuals, as well as the shop manual. They have exploded drawings of all the different systems, showing how everything fits together. As an added bonus, the parts numbers and the terminology will assist you in communicating with others.
                  RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

                  17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
                  10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
                  10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
                  4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
                  5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
                  56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
                  60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible


                  • #10
                    To:JohnRD,-----You may get lucky, but You'd be wise to anticipate automatic transmission problems with this Studebaker. Good chance that's why it was parked in the first place!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by JohnRD View Post

                      One question I have - the stock carb looks very small. I wondered if I could fit a different (4 barrel?) one. And if so, would I need to change out the inlet manifold too?
                      The stock carb is small because the engine is small . A 4 barrel carburetor will not bolt to a 2 barrel manifold. You can use a later Stude 4 barrel intake and carb on your 232, but you are going to lay out some bucks for very little gain in performance.

                      I like your idea better of getting it running and driving as is and THEN evaluating possible changes.
                      Dick Steinkamp
                      Bellingham, WA


                      • #12

                        I have the parts manuals.

                        OK - I will follow the "get it running first" plan!



                        • #13
                          Welcome to the forum and the Studebaker world!. I helped a friend work on a 54 Starliner equipped like yours. I drove it around a fair amount and had no trouble keeping up on the freeway with the stock 232. Even had it up above 85 mph once just to see. Pending any problems you might find, I think the first upgrade I would make is conversion to a dual master cylinder as others have suggested. Looking forward to seeing you pictures.

                          Pat Dilling
                          Olivehurst, CA
                          Custom '53 Starlight aka STU COOL

                          LS1 Engine Swap Journal:


                          • #14
                            My '51 232 with automatic will shift from second to third at 72 mph and has sustained 85 mph on the highway. Built to cruise.
                            "All attempts to 'rise above the issue' are simply an excuse to avoid it profitably." --Dick Gregory

                            Brad Johnson, SDC since 1975, ASC since 1990
                            Pine Grove Mills, Pa.
                            sigpic'33 Rockne 10, '51 Commander Starlight, '53 Commander Starlight "Désirée"


                            • #15
                              Welcome John..from one of the other new guys..

                              I have had my 53 Commander coupe for 6 months and enjoy it every day..sometimes just walk out to the garage to look at it..
                              AKA Ken

                              What I do when I am not here..