HALSTEAD — If you're at all interested in Studebakers, chances are that you recognize the name Vern Ediger. In fact, his cell phone number is probably programmed into speed-dial directories among Studebaker collectors and restorers not only all across the country, but around the world.
Ediger owns and operates E&V Motors in Halstead, an auto repair, engine rebuilding and towing service. But his real passion is Studebaker cars and trucks and he owns one of the largest Studebaker salvage yards around, with 120 parts vehicles on hand at any time. If you need a Studebaker part, he's the man to call.
Underscoring his knowledge of the make, Ediger has three remarkable examples of the brand in his impressive car collection: a refined 1949 Land Cruiser sedan, a rare 1952 2R6 pickup and a sporty 1960 Hawk coupe.
"I had one in high school just like this," said Ediger, indicating the gull gray-colored Land Cruiser with its distinctive rearward-opening "suicide" doors in back. With its 6-cylinder flathead, it wasn't exactly a hot rod, but it served his purposes well.
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Ediger had grown up in a "Studebaker family," with his dad buying several Studebaker trucks in the late 1940s. So when he got a lead on a twin to his old gray Land Cruiser, he followed it up, all the way to Green Castle, Pa., where the car had sat in the basement of a former Studebaker dealership since 1955, its engine out of commission.
"I had a motor for it that I stuck in it and I drove it ever since without doing anything to it," Ediger said. "This was their big car, to compete with the smaller Oldsmobiles and Mercuries," he said, noting that the Land Cruiser is a full 6 inches longer than the Commander series and carried the largest engine, a 245 cubic inch flathead 6 cylinder.
"This was top of the line at the time. There were no upgrades on the inside or the outside to make 'em fancier," Ediger said. They can be spotted by the upscale trim and the fact they have rear vent windows, he said.
The Land Cruiser was converted to a 12-volt electrical system and treated to fresh new upholstery by a friend, John McCall, a graduate of the McPherson College Auto Restoration program.
The car is equipped with a 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive. "If I'm going to go on a longer trip, this is the one. My wife (Sally) loves this one. It's like going down the road in an easy chair," Ediger quipped. The car will yield 22 mpg and look great doing it with its custom-fitted rear venetian blinds and its reproduction Goodyear wide whitewall radial tires.
The dark green 1952 pickup is equally at home on the road, equipped with the same engine and transmission setup and an even taller rear gear. "It's a 70 mph pickup," Ediger says. "Everybody else back in '52 was screaming at 50 mph."
Ediger says Studebaker built only a handful of the 2R6 high-end model trucks each year, beginning in 1950. "There's a lot of stuff on here from the '47, '48 and '49 Champion cars," he said. The headlight rings, for example, were borrowed from the car series and simply turned upside down, to give the round-bodied trucks turn signals below the headlights.
"It found me one night. A guy from Sylvia, Kan., called up and said, 'I understand you sell Studebakers. I've got a pickup I want to sell you,'" Ediger recalled.
When he heard it was a low-mileage 2R6 model, he hooked up his trailer and drove right over. "I handed him $1,800 and he said, 'Aren't you even going to look at it?' I didn't even open the door... I knew I was going to take it home," Ediger said.
The truck still wears its original paint and carries the same pointed chrome hubcaps as the Land Cruiser. Ediger did put a split dual exhaust manifold on the truck and installed a set of Lark vinyl seat covers on it to spice things up just a bit.
The Hawk's history is a bit easier to trace: Ediger bought the car new on March 11, 1960. "I paid $2,702.97 for it. It is a 289 V-8, 4-barrel with a 3-speed and overdrive... just what a kid would order, nothing else," he said.
"It's the same body from 1953 to 1961," he said of the classic Raymond Loewy styling. "They just kept adding to it and changing the trim," Ediger said. In basic white, with a beautiful red vinyl interior featuring reclining front seats, the Hawk presents a very European sports car image.
Tucked into the engine-turned instrument panel is a 160 mph speedometer, which is backed up by the power train. "It'll run... I know it will do 120 in second in overdrive," Ediger said. "But it'll get really good mileage, 24-26 mpg because it's geared high enough," he said. "You can also get it down to 10 or 12 mpg," he said with a chuckle.
Ediger's collection includes pristine examples of other brands: Oldsmobile, Buick, Mercury and Ford. But it's clear that his heart belongs to Studebaker.