Junkyard Gem: 1955 Studebaker Commander Deluxe Conestoga Ultra Vista Station Wagon
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Most of the vehicle cemeteries I visit during my quest for discarded automotive history are owned by major regional or national chains, which means I see a lot of new inventory every time I visit, but maybe not as many really old cars as I would like to find. For old machines from long-dead brands, an old family business that has been in the same rural area for many decades is the best choice for scrap yards. The northeastern region of Colorado between Denver and Cheyenne has many such yards, and that's where I found this 55 Studebaker Conestoga.
Located in Dacono, about 25 miles north of Denver, Speedway Auto Wrecking specializes in American cars and trucks from the 1940s through the 1980s. They have a lot of Corvairs, a large Willys department and even a well-stocked AMC selection.
You'll only find a handful of Studebakers there, but that's enough for me to make the trip; My selection of junkyard Studebaker photos is woefully small. To be completely honest, I was really there looking for a set of 13-inch steel wheels from an early Ford Falcon so I could have more tire options on my 1969 lowrider Toyota Corona (the Corona uses the same 4x4.5 -Inch wheel bolt pattern like many 1960s Fords, and mine has Falcon wheels and dog-dish hubcaps).
The Commander was the medium-sized Studebaker from 1955, which was used between the budget champion and the high-ranking president.
All 55 commanders received Studebaker's 3.7-liter pushrod V8 engine with an output of 162 hp. Studebaker introduced this family of engines back in 1951 after Cadillac and Oldsmobile came out with modern overhead valve V8s and in the same year as the first Chrysler Hemi car engines.
The 1954 and 1955 Studebaker wagons were named Conestoga, which sounds hokey, until you find out that the Studebaker family began building horse-drawn wagons in South Bend, Indiana in 1852. Clement Stutenbacker, an immigrant from Solingen, built his first US market wagon around 1750, a few generations before the Anglicisation of the family name. If a car company ever had the right to call station wagons, whatever they chose, it was Studebaker.
An automatic transmission was available in the '55 Commander, but it cost a whopping $ 227 (about $ 2,225 today). This added 10% to the price of the $ 2,274 Commander Conestoga, leaving the original buyer of that car stuck with the base gearbox: a three-up-the-tree shifter.
Although it has South Dakota license plates (three different types from the early 1960s piled on top of each other for reasons I don't understand), this car isn't terribly rusty.
However, the interior has been exposed to the erosive power of the High Plains elements for decades, so it has now been thoroughly ickified.
The original Starline 6-tube radio is still inside and still shows the markings for the CONELRAD nuclear attack frequencies. All car radios sold in the U.S. from 1953 to 1963 were required to have the triangular civil defense symbols marked 640 and 1240 kHz, and you'll see them in much later cars from smaller manufacturers using up old radio inventories. Imagine a 1955 Conestoga road trip in South Dakota with the whole family and Tennessee singing Ernie Ford's voice over the only speaker on this radio.
Perhaps Studebaker Tennessee should have hired Ernie to compose the songs in their radio commercials.
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