My First Car - 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe’
Just out of high school in 1960 and attending General Motors Institute, I was finally earning enough as a Frigidaire Co-op to afford my first car for the drives between Dayton, Ohio and Flint, Michigan. When I began looking for a car, my two "dream cars" were either a 53/54 Mercury Convertible or a 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe'. Well, I found the Studebaker first, a shiny black Commander with red interior and an inverted H pattern manual shifter put up for sale by a local gas station mechanic, and I took the plunge into auto ownership for the princely sum of $500. The H shifter had a habit of popping up before the transmission was completely shifted from first to second and then refusing to go down again leaving the transmission locked in first, so I carried a blanket in the trunk to lay on the ground so I could try to stay clean as I slid as far as possible under the low sill to jerk the shift linkage back into neutral; bad weather was a real challenge to this operation and after several unpleasant episodes in the rain, I loosened the transmission tunnel carpet so I could wriggle a hand down beside the shifter from inside to move the linkage. This was a great improvement over the wriggling underneath method. I drove that Commander for two years before swapping the Studebaker 232 V8 for a Chevy 265 V8 with a 4 barrel carburetor, which added a few horses, and I finally managed a linkage adjustment that solved the shifting difficulty.
The Commander made many a trip to Flint with the back seat cushions stacked to one side so a small filing cabinet with my school work could sit on the floor behind the driver’s seat, and it moved me to Ohio State when I transferred several years later. I tinkered with it quite a bit, replacing the brown carpet with black and white Berber, adding a padded dash shelf for sun glasses and maps, installing a Corvette steering wheel, and giving it a “Daimler Dart” mouth by inverting and welding a second air scoop above the original and shortening the hood to match (Raymond Lowey would not have been pleased). Over my college years it suffered the indignity of being parked on the streets around the Ohio State campus and it eventually sustained a hit to one side which prompted me to buy a “sister” 53 Commander for parts, but other cars and priorities came in between and the Commander was never restored to its former glory. A move to Arkansas and a later divorce left it and the sister Commander locked in a pole barn in Ohio, and I do not know to this day the fate of either one.
I think we all remember our first kiss, our first love, and our first car (although perhaps not in that order and the latter two may the same thing) with a special reverence and even a special longing as the years flow more and more quickly by. That Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe’ still haunts my reverie as one of, if not THE, favorite first of my life.