by Larry Wells
My interest in WWII goes back as far as I can remember. Being an Air Force brat, I was always into military matters — mostly aircraft, butI’ve had a 1942 Dodge WC54, 1942 Dodge WC-58, 1942 Ford GPW, 1944 Indian, and 1951 M37, all in addition to a 1942 L3E WWII liaison airplane to mention a few. I always liked the AAF staff cars but never had one. Backa few years ago, afriend of mine was looking for one for his kid and found a rare Studebaker on the internet. He didn’t want it, so I bought it.
It’s a 1942 Studebaker Champion Model 90 Blackout sedan deluxe. Built January 27, 1942, in South Bend, Indiana, it caries the serial number G190995. When I got it home, I contacted the Studebaker Research Department in South Bend. It turns out, my new acquisition wasa very rare car. While it was never a staff car from what we could determine, it was one of less than 300 of that particular “Blackout” model.
The term“blackout” means it never had any chrome on it. Chrome was rationed as part of the American war effort. Instead any parts that would have been chrome-plated were painted instead. No. G190995 was one of those rare few.
During my research, I also discovered that the New York City Police Department used some of these blackout models, while others wound up in the Civil Defense.
I had seen plenty of restored police cars but never a restored Civil Defense car. I had my project picked out.
THE RESTORATION OF G190995
The person who bought G190995 in 1942 got the car with just about all the options available. He paid $1,160.68 for it. After driving it for several years, he placed the auto in storage with only 8,961 miles on its odometer. After the original owner died, his son took the car out of storage with plans to hot rod it. Soon after beginning the transformation, he lost interest. He put it up for sale on eBay in 2012 —that’s when I became the third owner.It came with the original keys, owners manual, sales brochure, and original service manual in the glove box.
When I got G190995 home, it did not run. The gas tank was missing! So I rigged up a lawn mower gas tank and called my friend, Dan Siple,to help. He messed with the carburetor and some other wires before discovering the battery was hooked up wrong! This is a positive ground car — not negative like most.
After some more attempts to start followed by some small sparks popping from the original, frayed wiring ,the car started after sitting for over 45 years. I decided to try driving it.I got down the road a bit when the radiator started to leak, and I lost the brakes. After limping back the garage, and we had a drink to celebrate — at least it was running!
But then, the real work began! This was an off-frame restoration. As my friend removed all the parts, I compiled a list of what was missing. It turned out the car needed a lot of stuff.
This was a good education as to how rare this particular model really is. A lot of the parts are unique only to this model and year. Thank goodness for the internet! Over the next ten months, I was able to find all the items I needed.
Meanwhile, Dan went through the engine. It turned out it still had all the original Studebaker marked parts. This engine had never been serviced! I decided to leave it as is and just clean it up inside and out and replace a few gaskets before repainting itStudebaker Green.
Next came thethe transmission and overdrive. Both of those checked out fine and needed no servicing. I replaced all the fuel lines, brake lines, and all the rubber and leather seals. With new brakes and the NOS fuel tank, I found I had a restored and painted rolling chassis in just four months!
After having all the body parts sand blasted, I saw allthe fabrication work that would have to be done to get this car back to stock condition. The kid who had it before me had welded the fenders to the body, head light bezels to the fenders, and over the taillight holes, and door lock holes. The rockers were in bad shape. Part of the trunk floor was gone, as was some ofthe body trim. After re-fabricating the fenders, door jams and the head light and tail light openings, not to mention making part of the new trunk floor so it would look as it would be from the factory, we were ready to prime and dry-fit everything.
The car still had the original blue and trim colors in places. I took parts to the paint shop for them to mix up the correct colors in enamel.
Meanwhile, I replaced the tires with new Firestone 16X5.5 two-ply tires. I installeda new exhaust system, original wiring harness, rubber trim, and glass — all just like it was from the factory. To finish the car, I had a new interior created as well as everything else inside the car.
The service manual states the car should get 32 miles to the gallon at 65 mph. It has independent front suspension, hydraulic shocks, automatic chock and spark advance, a three on the tree transmission with overdrive. The engine is a 85HP, 170 cu. in. six cylinder flathead with 6.5 to 1 compression ratio.
CIVIL DEFENSE SERVICE
Now it was time to do my research on what a WWII Civil Defense car looked likebefore attempting to find all the original equipment I could. But first, I had to understand how the Civil Defense began and how it would utilize a car like mine.
The Civil Defense began on August 29, 1916, while the Great War raged in Europe. Originally,it was called the “Council Of National Defense” and was loosely based on the British “Air Raid Patrol” (ARP) that had been inaugurated in January 1915 to help civilians deal with the threat of the German Zeppelins.
The “American Civilian Defense” system was largely an organization that maintained anti-submarine vigilance, participated in Liberty Bond Drives, and helped maintain our soldiers morale. It was suspended at the end of hostilities in 1918.
On May 20, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reactivated the “Council Of National Defense” in the form of the “Office of Civilian Defense” (OCD). His Executive Order instructed the OCD to coordinate “federal, state, and local defense programs for the protection of civilians during air raids and other emergencies.” Roosevelt named New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to head the OCD.
A CHICAGO CIVILIAN DEFENSE CAR
This car has been restored as the car belonging to the “Senior Air Raid Warden” of Chicago in 1942, Ralph Burke. He had been promoted to the “Deputy Coordinator” for the Chicago Civilian Defense then located at23 N. Wacker Drive. Mayor Edward J. Kellyheaded the Chicago Civilian Defense covering an area divided into 15 zones ranging from Waukegan to the north, Wheaton to the west, East Chicago to the east, and Homewood to the south. Downtown Chicago fell in Zone 7 — Ralph Burke’s area.
The car has been finished with all the correct window stickers for the Civilian Defense (CD). Theblack out covers over the head lights have the “V” for victory and the Mores Code on them. The car has an original Civilian Defense radio, fire extinguisher, shovel, fire bucket, first aid kit, and blankets — all standard equipment in a CD car.
I chose to restore this car to awaken people’s awareness to the thousands of civilians who played a huge part in the war effort. Just about every man, woman, and even the children did something for the effort. From Victory gardens to scrap drives andrationing of just about everything to the “War Bond” drives, the people of the nation pulled together like the world has never seen, before or since. So, even though I cannot prove this car was ever used by the CD, I’ve restored it as it would have looked if it had been used on the streets of Chicago.
Don’t just thank the veterans for their service — thank the civilians for doing their part, as well. To them, this car is dedicated.
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