Hagerty readers and Hagerty Drivers Club members share their cherished collector and enthusiast vehicles with us via our contact email, firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re showcasing some of our favorite stories among these submissions. To have your car featured, send complete photography and your story of ownership to the above email address.
Few automakers can claim they helped settle North America before building cars. Studebaker can. Founded in 1852, the company was originally known as the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, specializing in wagons, buggies, and carriages. This Conestoga station wagon, manufactured from 1954–55, hearkens back to the horse-drawn, canvas-topped models that forded Appalachian rivers almost a century before this orange beauty rolled off the assembly line. Although Studebaker did not invent the original Conestoga wagon design, it used the name on its combustion-powered wagon to honor the original 18th-century design and give a nod to its wagon-building roots. However, this steel-bodied Conestoga shares more than a name with its wood-paneled forebearer; both vehicles have saved lives.
When a car slammed into owner Keith Wahl and his 1955 Studebaker Conestoga wagon, he naturally stomped on his brakes—but when those locked, Wahl skidded nearly 200 feet and came to a stop perpendicular to oncoming traffic. The car was then T-boned, breaking the driver’s seat brackets and pushing the seat across the cabin and through the passenger door. Wahl credits not wearing a seatbelt for his survival; he picked himself off the ground with nothing more than a generous dose of road rash.
The Conestoga, however, suffered a bit more than a gravel-encrusted scrape. Wahl had a restoration project on his hands.
Every panel on the wagon was damaged—including front and rear chrome, windshield, driver’s side door—since after the wagon was hit it bounced into the center median. Wahl did some painstaking research and found another 1955 wagon. This one, however, didn’t pack his original wagon’s supercharged Avanti-sourced mill; it had a Chevy 350 instead. He considered dissecting the new wagon, scavenging the parts needed, and selling off the more-modern powertrain. However, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to restore not one, but two Conestogas to their former glory.
Seven months later, Wahl is the proud owner of a pair of Pima Red and Shasta White Conestogas. “I’m a lucky and grateful person,” he writes. Wahl’s takeaway from the experience? “Be kind. Drive safe.”
We second that.