Hot rods come in all shapes and forms. A Studebaker may not be your first thought when either hot rod or musclecar pops into your head, but that doesn’t make them any less capable. For Patrick Tingle of Phoenix, Arizona, his 1953 Studebaker Commander ended up being his dream hot rod.
1953 Studebaker Commander
Engine: 350ci small-block Chevy V8
Transmission: Turbo-Hydramatic 350
Front Suspension: Mustang II with coilovers
Rear Suspension: Original leaf springs
Rear Differential: Ford 9-inch, 3.89:1 gears
Paint: Ford Kodiak Brown
Front Wheels and Tires: 225 x 60R 15 BFG Radial T/As on 15×7 American Racing mags
Rear Wheels and Tires: 265 x 60R 15 BFG Radial T/As on 15×8 American Racing mags
His brother was friends with Johnny Loper, a gentleman who raced a ’40 Willys gasser. Tingle’s love for Loper’s car extended to other Willys racers like Stone, Woods and Cook, and Big John Mazmanian.
The Plymouth served a purpose; it became Tingle’s hot rod test subject. Over the next few years, the car was powered by various engines, a 265, 283, 292, 301, 327, and 350 small-block. It also used a four-speed manual, switched once to a B&M Hydro, then back to a four-speed again.
“I always liked messing with motors.” Tingle explained. “I went from mini bikes to go karts, then to cars. There is no better hobby.” The 350 cubic-inch V8 ended up getting bored .060-inch over, and fitted with an Isky camshaft, Mondello heads, Weiand intake manifold, Holley carburetor, and home-built fenderwell headers.
Throughout the following decades, the diehard hot rodder purchased and built a Hillman panel truck, a 1953 Sunbeam Alpine, and a 1939 Ford Tudor. The Ford was sold to Frank Streff, owner of So-Cal Speed Shop in Phoenix. “He won’t sell it back to me.” Said Tingle. “It was another favorite of mine that I made the mistake of selling. I was too young then to know better.” Tingle has also owned several Model A’s, Morris Minors, and a 1940 Willys pickup.
The Beginning Of A Dream
In 1996, Tingle happened upon this Studebaker just down the road from where he lives. The previous owner had kept it covered under a tarp. “I could tell it was some sort of ’50s vehicle with rounded fenders, but it wasn’t until a windstorm had blown the tarp off one night, that I saw and recognized the vehicle on my way to work the next day.
Make it work first, make it pretty last. – Patrick Tingle
Tingle’s persistence paid off. The previous owner ended up needing assistance with some much-needed work, and the two made a trade. When towing the Studebaker to its new home, Tingle and his son discovered the car had a lot of creepy-crawlies, and with those bugs was a large snake with six babies in the trunk. “It scared us right off the ground when they came out. It took a few passes with a vacuum and some serious power washing to get it clean enough to not worry about anything living in there.”
Being an Arizona car, rust was thankfully not a major issue, under the years of dirt was simple surface rust. The car was in decent shape, minus a few inconveniently placed dents. The original intent was to get the car running and have some fun with it. It had a 232ci engine, three-on-the-tree manual transmission with an overdrive that engaged when you floored the throttle pedal after going into third gear. The car had some great engineering into it, but due to its age, it was not mechanically road worthy. Instead of just replacing or rebuilding the existing parts, Tingle decided he wanted to upgrade some of the components along the way, and so his Commander began its life as a hot rod.
At the time, Tingle didn’t have a garage on his property. He wanted to do things correctly, so instead of tearing the car apart in his driveway where parts could get damaged or lost, he opted to put the project on hold so he could invest in a garage. Because building a garage isn’t cheap, after its completion, the car understandably remained on hold until funds could recover.
“Over the years, the car was on and off the ‘To-Do’ list, as life takes its unpredictable turns,” Tingle explained. He networked with other hot rodders and Studebaker builders to gather ideas and advice. Short of the interior and paint, Tingle built the entire car himself. He engineered, fabricated, and restored components on his own.
“Many evenings were spent in local auto shops looking at parts on the walls, analyzing what hoses, belts, brake lines, and wiring would work for my car in the way I imagined it. I kept track of every single part I used by writing the model numbers and makes of the various parts in a folder, creating my own owner’s manual. If I need to replace the radiator hose for instance, it’s not a Chevy or a Studebaker hose… look it up in the book. I literally had to create my own reference guidebook to use when I needed to replace a part on the car.”
It’s A Commander
Under the front of the car, Tingle utilized a Mustang II frontend with coilovers, including the Mustang sway bar. The car benefits from front disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering. Out back, a Ford 9-inch was slightly narrowed and adapted to fit with the original Studebaker leaf springs, then filled with a 3.89 gear and a posi unit. Custom track bars were added to reduce axle wrap, and all four corners sit on BFGoodrich Radial T/As. The staggered look was made possible by using 15×7 and 15×8 American Racing mags wrapped in 225x60R15 and 265x60R15 tires.
The original engine was removed in favor of a small-block 350ci engine. Greulich’s Machine handled the internals of the engine by boring the block 0.060-inch over, porting and polishing the heads and adding Manley stainless valves, and topping it off with a Holley intake manifold and a Carter AFB 650cfm carburetor. A pair of Hedman headers and MSD ignition are some of the ancillary goodies.
Tingle admits he doesn’t want to give away all his secrets. “Having someone with the right tools and knowledge with multiple engine builds in their pocket makes all the difference in having a performance engine. I’ve built my engines in past – and still do occasionally, but I wanted an engine built with the all the right tools and specs that I would not be able to do without the correct shop. Taking your engine to a recognized professional engine builder will give you top-notch results.”
The paint was handled by Wyatt Tichenor of Tichenor Coachworks. “I looked for a good right front fender for two years.” Tingle said. “I ended up taking three fenders, cutting and welding the best parts together myself to make one good one. It’s on the car today. It was very challenging but It was successfully created,” Tingle added. The car is coated in Kodiak Brown, which is a Ford paint code.
The interior received a host of upgrade treatments as well. The original bench seat was recovered in new leather and fabric, and the dash was painted band keeps most of the original style intact – minus a few modifications like the Autometer gauges custom fit into the original bezels. The one-off interior was artistically fabricated by Custom Interior by John Espinoza.
A Dream Come True
Tingle admits that the build took much longer than he intended, and was finished in November of 2016. All told, the car took 20 years to complete. It was important to him to build up the functions of the car first. “Make it work first, make it pretty last.” He remarked. “Sometimes I even thought of quitting, but I stuck with it and it finally paid off. Today I can say I built my dream hot rod with my own two hands – paint and interior aside. It’s the car I’ve always wanted and it has my blood, sweat, and tears in it. I know that it’s only a car, but it has so much of me in it, that it reflects a lot of who I am.”