Larry Gadbury knows a good thing when he sees one, and his Vienna Blue 1955 Studebaker half-ton pickup certainly qualifies.
“I’ve had the truck for almost 40 years,” he says. “My brother, Gary, drove it for a couple of years before he passed away. My dad gave it to me in 1979 and I drove it to work every day at Boeing for several years.”
Eventually, the truck was put away, with the idea being that eventually it would be given a complete restoration. Five years ago, the time had come and Gadbury set to work on the truck.
“I had all the pieces … and there was not a lot of rust on it,” he said. He had been lucky enough to score a pair of new, old stock fenders, front bumper and splash pan for the pickup from a friend. He worked on the cab and the frame of the truck first and stored them in a friend’s barn while he tackled the last major component in his own garage.
“The bed was the worst. I had to replace the side panels on it, and I had to learn to weld to do that,” Gadbury said. The steel bed floor needed to be replaced, but fortunately the two pieces were available through Studebaker reproduction companies. Gadbury did call in a more experienced welder to stitch-weld the two pieces together.
Approximately 21,000 Studebaker pickups were built in 1955, which marked the first model year a V-8, a 224 cubic inch engine producing 140 horsepower, was offered in a pickup. More than half of that number were equipped with the landmark V-8, which proved to be a popular, affordable option, adding only $100 to the $1,356 base price.
“It’s the original motor. I had it rebuilt about a year before I stopped driving it,” Gadbury said. “I took it out of mothballs and flushed it out real good … it fired right up. It’s a real short stroke motor, so it’s pretty peppy with the three-on-the-tree transmission and overdrive.”
“My idea was to keep everything as original as I could,” he said. There were some upgrades made, however.
Dual exhausts were added, with Studebaker logo turn-down exhaust tips, and the electrical system was switched to a more reliable 12-volt setup. Sealed beam 12-volt headlamps, with turn signals incorporated were also added.
But the original fold-down tail lights were retained, a feature designed to prevent someone’s coat sleeves from hanging up on them while working around the back of the truck. Another unusual factory feature is the metal tab welded to the top of the clutch pedal, used to depress the starter button on the floor board. That prevents the driver from starting the truck with the transmission engaged, a safety feature.
Gadbury says most of the half-ton ’55 Studebaker pickups were used for light hauling duties around town or out on the farm. His truck was sold new in Salina and has spent its entire life in Kansas.
“I think it’s one of the snazziest Studebaker pickups they ever built,” he said. Stylists minimized chrome trim, while focusing on the smooth, curved lines of the truck. A full-width Studebaker logo, trimmed in red, covers the leading edge of the hood, with a swoopy hood emblem, also highlighted with red paint, announcing this is an 8-cylinder truck.
The 16-inch wheels on all Studebaker pickups were originally red, but Gadbury opted to paint them to match the grille, in white, with red pin striping. They mount old-school narrow bias ply tires and are accented by nicely restored factory hubcaps.
Once the bed was finished, the cab and frame were reunited with it and Gadbury painted the truck in its original hue, with a cream white grille and matching two-tone interior trim.
“It’s not a perfect job. I still need to rub the paint out,” he said.He called on Gerald Evans to stitch up a stylish bench seat in gold and white vinyl, accented by an old-style winged Studebaker emblem in the top of the seat back. He plans to modernize the factory radio and have the overdrive solenoid rebuilt to take advantage of the better cruising speed built into his truck.
“I’ve got to talk to everybody every time I go somewhere in it,” Gadbury said. “I love it and I’m going to drive it. I didn’t build it to sit in the garage.”
Mike Berry: email@example.com