Buoyed by my success in buying the Ford Mustang from a local auction I thought I would try my luck on another auction, but this time snag myself an inexpensive family classic. My friend and enabler, Rod, sent me an auction link with a number of interesting and suitable candidates. The only downfall was that it was over five hundred kilometers away and we had a snow storm predicted for the only weekend before it closed. So I would be taking a big risk on buying an old car sight unseen. Follow along to see how it unfolds.
This was an estate auction with an eccentric mix of interesting and rare classic vehicles. Quite a few were the sort of things I would collect, given the space and means to do so. I very much would have liked to have met the man who assembled it all, as I suspect he was a bit of a character. As with most auctions, the bidding stayed pretty mellow until near the end when it went a bit crazy on a lot of the items. Many of the lots quickly rose well above what I would consider reasonable market value, so I dropped out of the bidding on those. We will go through the other vehicles in a future post, but my eventual winner was a 1963 Studebaker Lark sedan. The auction described it as:
GREEN; V8 AUTOMATIC; ALBERTA REGISTERED; RUNS & DRIVES; VERY SOLID; HAS KEYS; SHOWING 62,600 MILES
The all caps shouting is theirs, not mine. I would argue the exterior was more blue than green, but that does not matter much. The Alberta registration is key since any vehicle without it is subject to an “out of province” inspection, which means you essentially need brand new tires, brakes, all suspension/steering components as well as perfect glass with functioning safety features like a heater or windshield wipers. Obtaining a pass on an older car can be tough, with some parts like windshields, certain suspension or steering components being unavailable. The recent provincial Alberta registration meant I would only need those items to be in reasonable working order rather than perfect condition.
Here are the photos in the ad which are seemly skillfully shot to mostly avoid showing what appeared to be a cracked windshield. It was barely visible from the interior shot, but I suspected it would it least have some cracks and at worst need replacement. During bidding I expected it to go for around a thousand dollars but I got in a bit of a bidding war with another person which pushed it to exactly my maximum of $1,200 and then stopped there. A few seconds later I was now a Studebaker owner. Given the description and the fact that it had a license plate from 2018 on it, I seriously considered an attempt to drive it home.
The real pause on a drive home attempt was the fact that it was a 1000+ km round trip, which makes for a long day and puts the driving into darkness with the shorter winter days. So ultimately I took the safe route by borrowing a truck from my wife and a trailer from Rod. Also Rod himself for company on the journey. After the long drive up, I finally was able to lay eyes on it for myself.
Before we get to that, let’s talk about why a Studebaker Lark. I am not sure I have a totally clear answer but if you have followed my COAL history it is clear that I enjoy cars that are a little outside the mainstream. I have always liked the idea of a non-mainstream American classic car: Nash, Rambler, Studebaker, etc. The Lark is a nice size of vehicle being big enough to take the whole family in reasonable comfort but small enough to be able to work around in the garage. While I loved my Pontiac Laurentian it was a little on the large size. As a bonus, I have always liked the quad headlamp front end over the earlier Larks. A rare facelift when the later car looks better than the original.
As an initial assessment it did not take long to notice that the windshield was in horrible shape. Not cracked in the way that you can live with a few cracks outside the driver’s field of vision, but cracked as in needs replaced right away. A bummer for sure, but they are available to buy, at least in the United States, so hopefully I can get one shipped reasonably during these COVID times. The description of “very solid” was rather oversold, as an amateur body man had been at work with several panels being on the wavy side. The car had also had its front section of floor replaced with sheet metal held in by pop rivets. These are full frame cars and luckily that appeared to be in excellent condition. The interior was little more scruffy than I expected with random smatterings of white paint in various spots. Probably the worst part was that the carpet had been replaced that strange exterior fake lawn green carpeting that people in the Eighties put on their decks. At least my parents did.
On the plus side of the equation, the missing hub cap and air filter housing were sitting on the back seat. The pillow added nothing of value and is not a keeper.
A quick look showed that the trunk contained a whole bunch of random items, some of which might potentially be useful. The tires were also pretty decent looking as nice bonus, without the usual age related cracks. The Lark, surprisingly, had functioning brakes, which is fairly unusual for old junk that I drag home.
With a long drive ahead of us, there was no time to investigate the trunk contents further. We poured a little gas down the carburetor and while the battery felt weak the engine rumbled to life quite easily. It ran surprisingly well in fact, and we had not had to use any of the tools we had brought. If you look closely in the video you can see a few cobwebs in the engine compartment. The transmission made some worrying noises and while it moved the car forward and back it was not in a hurry to do so. In the best case it was just low on fluid, but in the worst I would be shopping for a new transmission. “Runs & drives” was perhaps technically true only by the thinnest of margins. At this point I was extremely thankful we had not decided to try and drive it home, as the car would need some proper fettling before any serious road trips.
It was, however, able to make it onto the trailer under its own power, thus regaining some level of dignity.
We took advantage of the weird cheap gasoline vortex around Edmonton to fill up. As we finished topping up the tank and made our move to leave, this guy cut in front of us at the Costco gas pumps thus blocking us in until he filled his tank at a maddeningly slow pace. Jerk.
I do not drive this far north often so we made a pit stop for donuts at the Donut Mill in Red Deer for our respective families. If there is a such a thing as healthy, low calorie donuts then these are definitely not them. They are tasty however.
Despite the twinge of disappointment in the overall condition, the Lark looked great to my eyes and I hoped it would make a nice affordable family classic car for summer 2021.
As expected, the last portion of the journey was completed in the dark. The running engine and functioning brakes made it much easier to unload than the brake-less Pontiac of a few years ago. In the upcoming installments we will take a look at the small parts lot I also bought as an additional gamble, browse some of the other auction cars as well as assess the Lark in detail. Plus we get to dig into the trunk contents for whatever surprises that may hold. Stayed tuned.
Related reading: Studebaker V8: Punching Below Its Weight PN