The '54 Commander Coupe

Mark van Deventer -  
President Black Hawk Chapter Studebaker Drivers Club 1998 - 2002


On April the 12th, 1984 I purchased the car of my dreams a 1954 Coupe.  She was advertised in the Chicago Tribune and I went to see her in East Troy Wisconsin.  I retrospect I was a little hasty in the purchase, because with limited finances one always underestimates the cost of getting an old car road worthy.   But a dream is a dream and for 10 years I had searched for this car and now was not the time to let reality cloud my decision.

The coupe had already been modified having a '62 truck engine and some non Studebaker blue paint job, but she was still all Studebaker.  So borrowing some cash from friends and using some of my scholarship money I bought her.   She was a good solid place to start but needed a lot of work to get her to be safe as a "Driver" let alone a "Show Car".   After a 4 year restoration she got second in her class at her first show, the World of Wheels at McCormick place in November 1988.

The '54 Commander Coupe

54Coup1.jpg 54Coup2.jpg 54Coup3.jpg 54Coup4.jpg

Here are pictures
from back in April 1984
just after I purchased her.

  • A good solid place to start if only I had some cash to do it.

  • The blue color was not original 

  • The Chrome is tired  

  • The engine SMOKES (Good for getting rid of mosquitoes)


54Coupe.JPG 54EngineIn.jpg 54EngineSkid.jpg 54EngineSteve.jpg
The "new" 289 is ready to go in.  
My friend Steve Jaffe guides the engine in. At last 
the new engine is in, along with power steering ...
We are ready to Cruise!
South Bend Nationals 1997

The '54 took home a 2nd place trophy in the
modified - All Stude (with a few options)

Her we are Getting ready for the judges then being Judged

Finally the "Official Picture" in front of Tippicanoe Place

BeingJudged.jpg  BeingJudged2.jpg CoupeAtSouthBend.JPG

South Bend Nationals 2002

For the 150th anniversary of Studebaker and the 38th International meet I decided not to have the '54 judged but have her there for display only.  I had hoped that the Avanti would be ready and I knew that the Lark would be ready, I had a rough time in Madison in 2002 polishing the cars and getting them show worthy so I decided to concentrate on the one that I knew would do well.  Here are a  picture from this meet.



The Conversion is 3/4 done

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of the Coupe's transformation.  The initial work was done by a shop in Chicago, this was a lesson in not trusting anyone just because they have a Studebaker in their yard.  My request was to have a car that was drivable and reliable.  Well the dash came out (without my permission) and a '62 Hawk dash put in, not really too bad but not what I had intended.  Well after paying $2100 for work done I felt that I was marginally better off but still did not have a car that I felt I could reliably drive.

The interior had that musty old car smell, the seats were torn, the carpet never really existed ....... so she sat.  I did little bits a pieces to her but being a full time foreign student with only scholarship money to survive and the $2.70 per hour as a lifeguard to support me, there was no $$$ extra to put into the Coupe.

By 1985 I had many decisions to make.  Firstly should I stay in the USA or go back to Zimbabwe, there are rules in the NCAA that you have 5 years to fit in 4 years of eligibility in college sports.  This was designed to keep football players from playing ad infinitum, but unfortunately the rules applied to me too.  I had done 3 years of university in Zimbabwe and those then counted towards the 5 of eligibility, so by the end of the 84/85 season my swimming days were over but unfortunately I still had one more year to go before graduation.  They counted the years spent at University but did not give me credit for all my courses.

I was a year short of graduation, no cash could come out of Zimbabwe to help me, I was a foreign student so could only work on campus - what was I to do.  Christmas 1984 I proposed to Carrie Barred, we had been dating for over a year and it was time to make sure that I did not get away.  So in June of 1985 we got married in her parents back yard.

Time went by and by the 1987 the coupe had sat for too long, Carrie was pregnant and I knew that it was now or never to get the Coupe really on the road.  I took out a $5000 loan and went to see Scott at Deluxe Autowerks in West Chicago The result is what you see above, the paint is all new and shiny the chrome is all new.  The worn interior was replaced with a not so worn interior from a '62 Hawk.  The steering column  was replaced with one from a '62 Hawk and the column shift was replaced with a Hurst floorshift.  Jaime was born in June and in November 1988 we finished her just in time to go with the rest of the Black Hawk Studes to McCormick place for the "World of Wheels" in November '88.  We got a second in our class.

By 1992 the carpet and seats from the original '62 were showing wear so a complete interior was ordered and installed, I would say that now she was looking the way I wanted her too.  The only thing left untouched was the engine, there always seemed to be other things that needed cash so the engine waited until I stumbled on a full flow block at the same auction where I found the '52 sedan.

During the winter of 1996/1997 the tired old '62 truck engine has been replaced with a freshly rebuilt '64 full flow 289, she was bored to 30 over and the cam replaced with a R2 "Chicken Hawk Special" from Ted Harbit. So along with the 8 inch wheels, the '62 GT interior the Coupe would be considered modified - but she is still all Studebaker and would most likely have been recycled by now.

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