Bryan Smith bought his 1954 Studebaker in 1979, sold it in the 1980s and was reunited with it two years ago.

Bryan Smith bought his 1954 Studebaker in 1979, sold it in the 1980s and was reunited with it two years ago.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


Behind the Wheel: Studebaker returns home

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published October 6, 2021

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

STERLING HEIGHTS — Bryan Smith never thought he’d see his 1954 Studebaker again.

It took some effort, but the first car he ever owned is back with him for the second time.

The Sterling Heights resident has always had a fondness for the Studebaker car, mainly because of his parents. His dad, Harris “Smitty” Smith, a mechanic, worked at a Studebaker dealership in Berkley from the early 1940s until the business closed in 1957. When the new Studebaker model was released on the market in 1953, Harris bought the ivory mist model with the Maui blue roof for his wife, Pearl. Although Smith never saw his mom’s car in person, he remembers viewing pictures of it while growing up and hearing stories about the much-loved family vehicle.

“They got rid of it before I was born,” Smith said. “It sounds like they really enjoyed it.”

Wanting his own set of wheels, Smith set out on a mission to find one in June 1979, one week after he graduated from Henry Ford II High School in the Utica Community Schools district. At the time, the 18-year-old was working at Sears Automotive at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights. The teen had saved up $1,500 and couldn’t wait to buy his own car. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he knew when he saw the right car, he would know it.

While out driving his dad’s 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury, Smith got lost on a dirt road in Rochester and ended up near a machine shop. And there it was: a 1954 Studebaker Champion Regal Starlight coupe with a “for sale” sign on it. The car, which had an expired ’78 Arizona license plate on it, was in great shape with a price tag of $2,000. Smith met with the machine shop owner, who had moved to Michigan from Arizona and wanted to sell the Studebaker to purchase new shop equipment.

Smith really wanted the car but was short $500. However, he knew his dad would lend him enough money to make the purchase. The teenager placed a $10 down payment for the car and returned with his dad to purchase his first car.

Smith used his skills to restore the car, and it took about two years. He painted his new find a Safford cream color to cover up the blue-and-yellow paint job the car had when he bought it. He replaced the tires. Smith also rebuilt the engine and installed new exhaust and suspension components. His mom put her touches on the car by making Smith new sun visors.

Smith entered the vehicle in car shows, where he said he met plenty of nice people. He also became the youngest member of the local Studebaker Drivers Club. Time, too, was spent zipping his parents around town.

In October 1984, Smith, now with a family of his own, made the difficult decision to sell the Studebaker for a down payment on a 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z. A collector, “who promised to take excellent care” of the Studebaker, bought the car.

According to Smith, he and his parents caught up with the collector in 1986 to check on the Studebaker, relieved to see the car was still in great condition. When he tried again several years later to check on the car, the collector had moved and Smith had no way of finding him. Occasionally, he’d search Craigslist and eBay for the Studebaker that was once his, but he came up empty.

In October 2019, Smith tried to find the car again by typing in “Studebaker” on Craigslist. This time, he struck gold. When searching, two listings came up, with one that “looked exactly like the one I had. That’s my car,” Smith thought. Smith drove about an hour away to meet up with the owner and was floored to find his very first car. The car looked exactly the same.

“Nothing has been changed on the car,” he said. “It was exactly the way it was when I restored it.”

It even had the Sears Allstate wide whitewalls Smith put on in 1980. It turned out the current owner had purchased the car from the person Smith had sold it to in the ’80s. After making the purchase, Smith now owns the car again, driving it a few times per month. Having the Studebaker again brings back plenty of memories. Pearl died in 1991, and Harris died in 2012, but Smith still feels their presence.

“This was the car I drove my parents around in,” Smith said. “My mom was so happy because it reminded her of hers.”

With 76,000 miles, the Studebaker draws plenty of attention each time Smith takes it for a spin.

“I get many thumbs-up,” he said. He gets a lot of questions, too. “Where did you get that? Who makes Studebakers?”

Smith has a video on YouTube of him cruising around in the Studebaker at “BRYAN’S 1954 STUDEBAKER Champion.” Check out his 1990 Corvette on YouTube at “BRYAN’S 1990 CORVETTE VIDEO,” and his 1967 Corvette Sting Ray at “BRYAN’S 1967 CORVETTE STINGRAY CONVERTIBLE - MARINA BLUE.”


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Do you own a vehicle with an interesting history? Email Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com and you could be featured in an upcoming Behind the Wheel.