1949 Studebaker wins Orphan Car trophy

YPSILANTI, Mich. — A four-door 1949 Studebaker Champion Regal Deluxe won the 2014 Detroit News Joyrides Choice Award at the 18th annual Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum Orphan Show here September 21.

A judge at the popular event said he voted for the green family car because owner Gerald Mitchell had such an interesting story.

“This was my first collector car,” said the Southfield, Mich. resident. “I got it seven years ago from a man in the Bay City area.”

And here’s where the story begins its twists and turns. The seller was Durell Millar. Mitchell located the Studebaker online and contacted Millar to discuss the car with him.

“I have a cousin who collects cars,” Mitchell told Millar, who put pieces of the puzzle together and asked if the cousin might be Sam Haberman.

And indeed Mitchell’s cousin was Haberman, a man who describes his own car family as “a modest collection.”

Mitchell told Haberman about his plan to buy a Studebaker from Millar.

Haberman got right to the point: “Whatever he says to you, believe him.”

So the deal was completed and Mitchell, without ever seeing the car, became the owner of a ’49 Champion Regal Deluxe with a three-on-the-tree manual transmission – standard on all models as was an 80-horsepower six-cylinder engine. The Regal Deluxe sedan had a factory price of $1,762. It was the volume leader among Champions that model year.

Mitchell said he understood the original owner of the ’49 Champion was a retired Studebaker employee who drove it for about 20 years. It spent the next 20 years sitting in a field, Mitchell said, after which it wound up at Huntoon Motors, a one-time Studebaker dealership in Wheeler, Mich., where it was restored. Mitchell said Durell Millar, the seller, played a role in the restoration.

Mitchell said he drives his Champion “probably more than I should.” He likes to take it to work about once a week, he said, but only in warmer seasons.

Mitchell last year purchased a 1970 Avanti II – “because I fell in love with the Avanti in the early 1960s.” It was at the Orphan Show, as well.

Mitchell’s cousin Sam Haberman had brought a handsome 1936 Hudson Terraplane to Ypsilanti. Parked beside him was a 1935 Terraplane which, it was said, had never seen rain.

The pampered ’35 rumble seat coupe belonged to Michigander Randy Dunlap, who said he bought the car with flathead six and sculpted fenders 30 years ago, in “worn” condition. Dunlap took it completely apart, put it back together again and enrolled in an adult ed class where he learned how to paint it. Its plum exterior, he said, was as close as he could come to what the factory offered that year.

Brief showers in the early afternoon ended the Terraplane’s no-rain streak.

Across the field, soggy from other weekend rains, former Detroit News Joyrides Orphan event award winner Kevin Havekost and his wife Mary Ann of Monroe, Mich. were showing their 1954 Nash Ambassador. A longtime Nash collector who also buys antique tractors and uses some of them in his wheat and soybean fields, Havekost said the slab-sided, aerodynamic Ambassador was capable of 20-plus miles per gallon compared with perhaps 12 MPG for competing cars. Its sleek lines and special manifold design contributed to its better fuel economy, he said.

Check out the see-through sun visors which act like sunglasses, he suggested. And, along with other amenities, the Ambassador front seat would fold back to neatly form a bed with the rear seat, a trademark of post-war Nashes.

The Havekosts bought this Ambassador so they would have components for another project.

“But when we took the plastic seat covers off and saw the good condition of the interior, we decided against using it as a parts car,” Mary Ann Havekost said.