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1952 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe


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After several months of no vintage car around, I got this Studebaker last week. I had been scanning the c-list ads here and to about 500 miles out for the past couple of months. Don't know anything in particular about Studebakers - if you've seen my other threads (and listed in the signature), I've worked with Buicks for the past 4 years or so. Anyway, this one was very easy for me to get to for a look over, was in the budget, seems to run well enough, and is in better condition than the last 2 Buicks I was working on. As in, I hope it doesn't take as long before I'm driving it. I do most all work myself.

 

The main purpose for these cars has been to take my wife and kids to the Thursday night cruise night for burgers & frozen custard, though I've done a several of the more formalized shows around here. I like the cruise night because you show up when you want and leave when you want - or choose to do something else that week.

 

The main immediate needs for this car are complete brake system overhaul. It has zero brakes whatsoever. So I was able to drive it (slowly) around the seller's yard, and up into my garage, and that's about it. The other main need is seatbelts, especially in back for my kids. I've done both of these projects multiple times before on the Buicks, so I hope that Studebaker isn't too hard to figure out.

 

These pics are from the c-list ad.

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No hill holder in this one. This looks to be a fairly low-option car - no radio, though there's an antenna on the right front fender, and a radio in the trunk.

 

First day, I got the master cylinder out and the front drums off. Looking online, I saw that the rear drums require a puller. I don't recall exactly how the Buick rear drums were secured, but they didn't need a puller. I ordered the rear seat belts (I had fronts in the right color that I never got to installing in one of the Buicks), master cylinder, wheel cylinders, and the front hoses. I got the wheel cylinders, and though the website I ordered from said all 4 are the same, I should have known the fronts would be different. FLAPS didn't have the fronts either, so I'll get those from a Studebaker specialty place. One of the big Studebaker parts specialist shops is just 90 miles up the road from here.

 

This week - got the puller and got the rear drums pulled. Got the wheel cylinders swapped in there. Received the '51-'52 Studebaker shop manual from Faxonautolit on eBay. That shows me that the front brakes may be missing the adjusters. It did look a little weird to me - there's no "star wheel" adjuster at the bottom like on the rears. Got the rear seat belts installed.

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Eric, if these are still the '52 brakes (as opposed to being upgraded to later Studebaker brakes), they did have a weird self-adjuster system that many people did remove. The parts are still available from Studebaker vendors to put the system back if you desire. But adjusting the shoes every so often is not too hard. :)  This style brakes are a little harder to adjust but not so bad once you get used to it.

 

A simple and very effective upgrade is to use '54 thru '62 Studebaker V8 drum brakes on your car - pretty much a bolt in swap, and a lot more braking power since they are self-energizing design. They use the star wheel adjuster system. The are not self adjusting, but if you really want that you can use '64 thru '66 Studebaker V8 drum brakes which had a self-adjuster system.

 

Neat car, keep the reports and pictures coming!

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Thanks Paul - I'll look into the later brakes.

 

Got the new master cylinder in. I'll post a picture later. Photos here - some brake master mounting parts I soaked in Evap-o-rust overnight, and a quick appearance improvement for the trunk emblem.

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Evap o rust works pretty well. I was impressed with the cylinder plunger in particular. The cleaner-looking washers and the spring clip started out less rusty than the larger washers and the nuts.

 

I'll drive it at least weekly - usually to the Thursday cruise night at Freddy's at Orange Grove & Thornydale, and also a couple of times/year to the Cars & Coffee at La Encantada, but also just around the neighborhood. At the C&C, it's fun to see my low-$$$ vintage car parked between a classic 300SL and a new McLaren...

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I had cross-threaded the original brake "V" or "Y" block, so while I was out of town the past few days, I ordered another block & bolt kit (from Midwest Jeep Willys - in Florida). Not the same angle as the one I took off, but easy enough to get the lines to fit. Also worked through the front seat belts this afternoon. Will add photo of them fastened down, but now waiting for the paint to dry on the under-floor backing plates (all seatbelt parts from Juliano's).

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Good work Eric!

 

One caution - I can see in the pic of the master cylinder that the fabric covering on your brake light wiring is gone in one place. Had the same issue in some places on my '54 sedan. On bare or damaged areas, I used the liquid electrical tape made by the same folks who make Plasti-Dip. A couple of coats will cover the areas. If the wires are bare, it takes more coats. It works really great where the fabric is just damaged. Bare areas like this are a fire hazard, if powered wires get moved against a grounded area (like under the dash) you will have a dead short. Not a criticism of your car, just a safety concern I wanted to bring up.

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Yes, the brake switch wires are on the list. I work from an excel spreadsheet rather than trying to keep it in my head or on random pages. I prioritize the spreadsheet - to try to keep the whole car from being taken apart at once, and so I can "check off" jobs as they are completed.

 

I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but columns are along the lines of: "item" "system" "priority" "est. cost" "supplier" "done" "date done" "actual cost". Also helps to remember later what I did...

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Was looking through the shop manual to understand what self-adjusting parts are missing from the front brakes. In the same section, there are photos of rear brakes with self adjusters. Checked the spec's on the car - front brakes, 11", rear brakes 9". I'm thinking the rear brakes on the floor under the car now are about the same size as the fronts. They didn't have self-adjusters, they have the "star wheel" adjusters that I backed off as part of getting the drums off.

 

I haven't worked on Studebaker before, so I didn't think anything of fronts with self-adjusters and rear with manual, but I measured the rears this morning - 11". So they're later. The wheel cylinders that I got ('52) didn't look right either - they fit, but the push rods out of the cylinders looked too short. So I'm concluding this car already has later rear brakes. Will check around to see if I can come up with some later front brakes to match the rears.

 

I pulled the right tail light housing because the tail light wasn't working. I figured, blown bulb. Under there, I see this car has been 2 shades of blue, 2 shades of white/off white, as well as red. The bulb looked good. I used a buzzer voltage detector rather than a meter to trace where the power was going. Found the hot line at the left side of the car with the tail lights switched on. On the right side, found which wire was hot for the turn signal, so the other one must be the tail. There's an open in that line somewhere. As a quick check, I ran another wire across the car from left to right, and the right tail now lights.

 

Pulled the left tail light housing to clean it out. The right one had quite a bit of fine sand dust inside which would make the light less bright. Found the same on the left, but with the lens itself cracked into several pieces. Also popped the reflectors out of the bottom of the light surround trim - those are both fried from years of exposure, and replacements are available - would like to have some good reflectors at night in case the bulbs either aren't very bright or go out for some reason.

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Eric, post some pictures of the brakes, showing the 'inside' of the backing plates with the shoes, cylinders, springs on, and we may be able to help you figure out what you have. Possibly the rear axle was changed out with a later one, and the brakes that came with the rear axle were used.

 

The only 11" rear brakes used on postwar Studebaker cars were part of the '63 thru '66 disc brake system. The front were disc brakes, and the rear had 11" non-energizing drum brakes.

 

We should be able to help you figure this out, but pictures are a must. :)

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Eric, double check the inside diameter of the rear drums. Yes, those are 'later' rear brakes, self-energizing design. But if the rear drums/brakes are really 11", they could be off something other than a Studebaker.

 

 I noticed that there are no pushrods connecting the wheel cylinders to the shoes on the rear brakes. Also, the emergency brake cable appears to be cobbled up - there should be a long tightly wound spring on the e-brake cable just in front of where the cable hooks to the lever on the rear shoe. There should also be an outer sheath on the e-brake cable (just forward of the backing plates) that fastens to the backing plate.

 

Here is a pic of a Studebaker rear brake setup, showing the e-brake cable spring, and also the outer sheath (on the left side above the leaf spring.

 

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Thanks - what year / year range of brake is in your photo? There don't appear to be any pushrods on the wheel cylinder on the brake in my photo, but they're in there. I bought the wheel cylinders for '52, and the push rods are really short. The wheel cylinder that I took off had longer pushrods. Yes the parking brake cable is spliced, but there's an issue farther forward with that cable that I haven't figured out yet. I think it's routed on the wrong side of the exhaust, so it hits the exhaust. I haven't found a diagram that shows the cable relative to the exhaust, so I'll be looking for photos of the bottom side of the car. There's also a non-stock left-side exhaust on my car (it's a completely split exhaust) that may also interfere with the brake cable.

 

The ID of the brake drum (surface the shoes run on) is 10".

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Eric, the brakes shown in my picture are 10" rear brakes (cars with drums front and rear), years '54 thru '62. These are what you have on the rear of your car (but NOT the front). The '63 thru '66 were essentially the same, but with a self-adjusting system added.

 

If the rear brake picture in your post from yesterday is showing the new wheel cylinder installed, it is NOT correct. The '52 style wheel cylinders you ordered will NOT work with that later style of brakes. The '52 system did not utilize the pushrods, because the shoes were shaped different. See the diagram from the Parts Manual posted below of the '51 thru '53 Commander rear brakes. You will need wheel cylinders for the rear of a '55 thru '66 V8 car, Studebaker part number 535586, to make your existing rear brakes work correctly.

 

If you stay with the current setup, you have a mis-match of brakes - non self-energizing on the front, and self-energizing on the rear. The self-energizing are better/more powerful brakes and may put you in a situation of the rears locking up before the fronts which is not good. You may want to consider swapping the fronts to 11" Studebaker drum brakes '54 thru '66 style. This would give you a much better braking system, plus consistency between front and rear.

 

Also, if you are planning to keep this car, invest in a Shop Manual and Parts Manual. I believe they are available on CD from Studebaker vendors. Chuck Collins at www.studebakerparts.com probably has them. If not, Studebaker International has them.

 

 

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Edited by r1lark
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Thanks Paul - what you describe is in line with what I was thinking. I did get the '52 shop manual, one of the first things I bought. But as you point out, the brakes I've got don't match what's in the '52 book... Yes, I figured the '52 wheel cyl's that I got won't work with the rear brakes - just wanted to ID which ones they are to get the correct cylinders. 

 

Yes, I'll be looking for the later brakes for the front to keep the front/rear balance correct.

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A '57 Silver Hawk V8 gave up its brakes today. It had already had the roof cut off, engine removed, interior stripped, etc... Finned drums pretty cool - too bad these get covered up. Also picked up the parking brake cable clip that's missing from my master cylinder installation photo and 1 more 15" rim for the spare (there was a 14" in there with no tire when I got the car). Also got through DMV for new title & plate.

 

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2 hours ago, Eric W said:

A '57 Silver Hawk V8 gave up its brakes today. 

Also got through DMV for new title & plate.

 

Good deal Eric! That '52 will stop with the best of them with those brakes on the front.

 

I see you are in Arizona, what area? My youngest son lives in Scottsdale. We are going out for a couple of weeks in late October/early November.

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Lot of little things this weekend. That last photo was just the drum on the spindle - no brake inside.

 

Temporarily bolted the "loaded" backing plates to the spindles to disassemble the brakes. Put all the small parts in Evap-o-rust to clean them up.

 

Cleaned the backing plates. Sorry, no before photos, but they were caked with mud.

 

Got the correct '54-later wheel cylinders installed in the rear brakes. Got the rear drums put back on. Tightened the brakes with the adjusters to hold the drums from rotating while torqueing the nuts that hold the drums on. So the rears should be ready for bleed & adjust.

 

Got new front wheel cylinders ordered. Took the drums to a local chain brake shop. They couldn't comment whether they could turn them or not because they couldn't find a limit - too early for the limit to be stamped on the outside, and their computer records didn't go back that far. From the SDC forum, it looks like the limit is 11.090".

 

The parking brake clip that goes at the master cylinder is in the Evap-o-rust now.

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I would like to offer a comment about tightening the rear axle nuts in your post #27. I doubt you will be able to get them tight enough until you get the Studebaker back on the ground. Then, with the car in gear and hand brake set, you will be able to torque the nuts. They need to be around 200-250 ft. lbs. This kind of tightening is especially important for axles with tapered fit. At least this is what I had to do with similar axles on Packards. JWL

 

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Thanks JW - I've been studying the hub installation on the Studebaker forums - they caution about over torque, and the Studebaker torque is less than what you reference for Packard. I expect to redo both sides - need to replace the parking brake cable & there were incorrect shoe return springs on the left side.

 

Anyway, some updates over the past week - got the '57 front brakes installed, including new wheel cylinders & hoses. Put an initial adjustment on all 4 brakes. This morning, got to the point of bleeding the system, and the (new) master cylinder leaks. Compared with the Buicks, this is low cost enough to just try another one after a little more looking to confirm it's the cylinder & not the fittings on the outlet or something.

 

Got the parking brake clip painted & installed - definitely a necessary part to allow the cable to get tight enough to act on the brakes.

 

Got a couple of unrelated parts from the nearby Studebaker parts specialists including reflectors for the tail light assemblies. Got those installed. Also replaced LH tail lens - it was cracked in multiple pieces when I pulled the housing off to get to the reflector.

 

After the brake bleed fail, ran the engine for a few minutes to be reminded that this car is really pretty close to driving - a LOT closer than the last 2 vintage car projects I worked on. (One took a year before driving, the other one I owned for over 3 years and it only drove around the block a couple of times.)

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Edited by Eric W
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If it were mine, I would look closely at the brake pipes. The one shown going upwards from the master cylinder looks very corroded around the bend and may not have much meat left to resist an emergency stop. Are you sure it is the cylinder leaking and not the pipe, through tiny holes?

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5 hours ago, Spinneyhill said:

If it were mine, I would look closely at the brake pipes. The one shown going upwards from the master cylinder looks very corroded around the bend and may not have much meat left to resist an emergency stop. Are you sure it is the cylinder leaking and not the pipe, through tiny holes?

 

X2 for sure. Those lines are what.......65 years old?? They corrode from the inside and outside. Remember that brake fluid is hydroscopic (spelling?) - it absorbs water.

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I don't see leak from the lines, but yes, I reached that same conclusion that I'll change those out. Inline Tube has a set that's labeled for a '50 Champion that used the same frame & brake tube routing as far as I can tell. I did buy a tube from them once before, and I recall that shipping was nearly as much as the tube since they're stuck shipping a huge box... And for longer tubes they bend them approximately in half around a large radius - for the user to straighten. But the set is all 6 tubes for the car at the correct length with end fittings already installed.

 

Anyway, something I could accomplish - replace the glove box. The glove box that was in the car had carpet glued inside and was almost falling out of the dash anyway. It fell apart when I removed it. I got the new one in through the glove box door opening with some flexing and taking the dash loose on the right side. There wasn't any way to bring it up from the bottom with that defroster core in place. I removed the ash tray bracket, the outside vent bracket, and 4 fasteners on the right end of the dash that hold the dash to the body. Between the flex in the glove box and the flex in the dash it was enough to work the box back behind the dash flanges.

 

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Nice job on the glovebox! I like how you're getting the car safe and drivable for cruise-ins and such with the kids. Makes for a lot of fun when you ca drive it pretty quickly and not get bogged down with a big restoration. I'll be following the progress! P.S. I got all the brake lines for my Avanti from Classic Tubes - nicely made set and are working out well.

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Thanks Chris. I looked at the Classic Tubes - fairly expensive compared with bend-your-own from the local parts store. In the last week, I picked up a couple of Studebaker history books from a local club member who's reducing his collection. Also got the '52 Commander owner's manual (so I can see what controls are supposed to be there and how they work), the '52 product line marketing brochure, and the '52 "Inside Facts for Studebaker Salesmen" which was by far the most expensive, but probably the most rare of the bunch.

 

Pulled the rear brake lines - along the frame and along the axle. The ones along the axle were crushed in 2 places on each side, as though maybe links of chain had held the car down (or dragged it) at some point. That would explain no fluid at the wheel cylinders. I'm bending up my own tubes to replace these. $28 so far. So for about $6-8 per tube, I can afford a couple of do-overs if needed from the local store.

 

Got the rear axle tubes about bent up, but I'll need the joiner fitting that connects the 2 tubes to the hose. The one from the car has made itself one with the 2 tubes & hose (for a couple $, not worth extraordinary efforts to save it). Like the other items in the system so far, this part is common with many years of Jeep, about $5 online.

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Made a 2nd try on the left side tube in the last photo above - realized there needs to be a jog in the line to clear the bump stop. Got a replacement axle tee fitting from Merle's - they're great for parts for older cars. $7.59 incl tax, so not worth mail ordering from anyone. 

 

Last photo (below) - 2nd try at that left side brake tube with a jog to clear the bump stop. Also got the right side line secured to the wheel cylinder, the axle clamp (just inboard of the suspension spring), and the differential cover clamp. Hardly any time to work on it because of other things going on, but it will get there.

 

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I often have to give up on a brake line and start on a second one, usually get that one right. Don't feel like you're the only one this happens to!:)

 

On the way home from a Studebaker meet in the North Carolina mountains - a good weekend. 

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Finished replacing the rear of the brake system. First photo is checking the length of the hose with the rear axle hanging free. The catalog listed a 2" shorter hose for this, and when I had that one installed, the axle would hang from the hose - no good. The hose part number for the fronts is 2" longer, so that's what I got. Same hose in all 3 places. Next 3 photos are the new tubes on the axle. Last photo is the tube along the frame. I short-cutted the rear corner to give a little more length up at the front - turned out to be too much, so I ended up putting a "V" bend in the front tube. Got this pair of tubes into the factory frame clips.

 

Put the system back together, bled it, and did first drives today (Sep 16)! So about 7 weeks to get to this point. Still things to do before I'll take it out of the neighborhood, but at least I can move it out of the garage to sweep out under. It goes pretty well - quicker than the '51 Buick. The overdrive works, though it's on a manual switch on the shifter and not the automated factory setup. Those front brakes actually work pretty well - no bad noises and reasonable stopping power.

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Brakes are better than I expected. Since they'd sat for however long, there was a little corrosion on the inside of the drum at the bottom. I had scrubbed that off pretty well with scotchbrite & 400 grit sandpaper. I was prepared to have them turned, but they aren't noticeably more grabby as that spot goes around. I need to adjust the shoes to see if I can raise the point in pedal travel where the brakes start to grip, and I'll probably have some side-to-side adjuster tweaks as well. For the little drive that I've done so far though, there wasn't an obvious one-side pull.

 

I just noticed in the video, right where the car passes closest to the camera, I can hear the click where I hit the overdrive switch.

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