Virgil Exner’s design for the 1947 Studebaker was probably one of the most advanced designs of its time but one of his designers, Vince Gardner, was not satisfied and wanted to more. Using his own resources, he went out to create his own Studebaker which will be hitting the Mecum auctions with an estimated value of up to $600,000.
Vince Gardner is known to have worked with famous designers. In the 1930s, he got Gordon Buehrig’s trust when he designed the Cords and Auburns. By 1940s, Gardner became part of the Studebaker designing team under Exner together with Holden “Bob” Koto and Bob Bourke. Vince Gardner had worked with numerous design teams but was more successful when he was working alone.
Gardner’s first big design was when he was working under Exner’s team. Without Exner’s knowledge, Gardner was working with a design that eventually became the Studebaker’s design for the postwar era. It featured slab sides, small rear fenders, and the iconic wraparound rear window.
After the 1947 Studebaker was released, Gardner purchased a Champion 3-passenger coupe with the serial number G222901. He did not buy it to drive but to use it a startup car for his project. He modified the body and turned it into his own Studebaker sports roadster. He created a decklid by pushing the dash, steering wheel, doors, and seat further back by 18 inches. The roof was then replaced by a clear plastic bubbletop which probably made it the 1st custom bubbletop car. The front was then modified with a large nosecone and chrome bar to conceal the grille.
Gardner was still not satisfied and added more changes. The exhaust was mounted between the taillamps, pneumatic lifts were installed in the decklid and hood. A series of switches and panels were installed on the steering column. It still had the original 169.5 cid flathead 6-cylinder that is matched to its 3-speed transmission but a 2nd carburetor was added to the flathead and a 7.7:1 compression ratio head was added to the 3-speed.
By 1949, Gardner completed his one-off Studebaker and joined the first Press On Regardless rally and became the champion. It again made an appearance during the 1950 Grand National Roaster Show held in Oakland and became the Most Magnificent Custom Roadster.
“Gardner’s wife didn’t like the Studebaker and had him get rid of it, but Gardner also had another big priority come 1950: A sports car design of his won a Motor Trend design contest that year, and after pressuring Henry Ford II for the funding, he’d set about building what became the 1953 Vega roadster,” as described by Mecum.
Gardner’s Studebaker found its way to W. Alan Canty Jr. who used to be Gardner’s psychiatrist. When Canty died, the Studebaker became part of John Allen’s collection and was restored by Fran Roxas to its original configuration in 1947. The restored Studebaker was featured in several concours such as the Amelia Island Concours and the Pebble Beach Concours where it won 2nd-in-class.
Gardner’s Studebaker is estimated to be sold between $450,000 and $600,000. It will be auctioned during Mecum’s Monterey sale which will be this August 18 to 20.
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