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The Golden Ray Studillac – A Test Case For Fiberglass

The 1953 Studebaker “Loewy coupe” was designed by Bob Bourke when he was working for Raymond Lowey in his design studio has been acclaimed by many to be one of the most attractive cars produced in the fifties.

The post-war years were a time when materials used in the fiberglass process, patented in 1936, by Carlton Ellis for DuPont became popular. Fast-forward to the late fifties when H. Donald Canazzi the president of Custom Craft, a builder of fiberglass boats in Buffalo, NY, had this Studebaker “modernized.” According to “Custom Cars 1960,” He designed the changes to test and prove the workability and durability of modern reinforced plastics when bonded to car metal.”

In addition to all of the added fiberglass updates, the front of the roof panel was removed and a removable transparent plastic roof panel was fitted. The windshield also appears to be of the same material and is a wraparound design that eliminates the vent windows.

The “Golden Ray” was re-powered in the Studillac fashion developed by ace mechanic Bill Frick, who transplanted a 1949 or later Cadillac V-8 and transmission into a 1953 Studebaker. In this instance, the engine was modified and fueled by butane.

The photos and information are courtesy of Forgotten Fiberglass. Tell us your thoughts about this automotive exercise.

Customised Studillac

Custom Studebaker

Custom Studillac Engine

1953 Customized Studebaker Coupe

35 responses to “The Golden Ray Studillac – A Test Case For Fiberglass

  1. Not too bad, but very busy, from the front.
    But the rear…oh, my!
    The MOPAR tailfins and the flat “toilet seat” spare tire carrier flanked by antennas off a ’30s Hollywood spaceship just go to show how tough it is to improve on the original design.

    I love the roof though.

  2. The Studebaker Lowey Coupe was one of the most beautiful production vehicles of the 50’s . The design changes of this car proves that “change for changes sake is not always a good thing.”

  3. I first read your last sentence to read “automotive excess” rather than “automotive exercise.” That kind of sums up my feelings about it.

  4. Interesting car, I like it, but they added on a bit much to a near perfect design of the 1953 Studebaker.

  5. First picture advertises Minimax bulk oil, bought a bit of the” cheapskate oil” for a few cars, cant remember if they leaked or burned it though… probably both

  6. I agree with John B that the front end is busy but not unattractive. The sharp edges keep it visually light with a touch of Batmobile. The rear end looks like it was styled by a different person – a Buck Rogers fan who likes big rear ends.

  7. To my eye it resembles some of the customizing work out of Joe Bailon’s shop in Hollywood in the late ‘50s…with panels “peeling” away from the body and ornate rear “grilles.”
    It may seem garish to our tastes, but this was the era when people often installed squat, wide picture windows and aluminum doors and windows on tall, narrow Victorian and Queen Anne homes stripped of their gingerbread trim, and clad in wide, composite-board siding…and thought they had created a stylish modern home.

    I think elaborate of-the-moment fashions rarely improve the looks of earlier designs…in this case, a scant half dozen years earlier. Though I admit the ’57 Golden Hawk may be an exception.

    For a moment, I wondered whether the windshield was merely a ’55 President and across the sedan model range in ’56 wraparound…but it wraps around far more than that.

  8. My first thought was regarding the car’s structural stiffness. The original 1953 Studebaker had a frame that was too light in metal gauge and had to be beefed up for the 1954 models. Add the heavy Cadillac engine and trans, along with the loss of the roof panel, and I would think this thing would be a bit floppy. But it does look interesting.

    • I thought the same thing, Steve.

      I bet if this car turned sharply up a sidewalk transition on a cold morning the chassis would flex enough to crack the windshield.

  9. I thought the ’53 Studebaker coupe design was the work of Virgil Exner with some modifications by Lowey after Exner was fired.
    What we see here is a beautiful design turned into an aesthetic offense.

    • It’s my understanding that Robert Bourke was the principal Loewy staffer who did the ’53-5 coupes (which survived to become Hawks). Exner worked on the ’47 Studies, but was then sacked after a disagreement with the boss.

  10. Yeah,well it looks like some associates from the the local Teamsters office seem to like the car.
    Ya gotta problem with that?

  11. It seems a miscarriage of justice that the heads of design studios get the credit for the work of their staffers, as evidenced by the term “Loewy Studebaker” or by the way Harley Earl is often credited with innovative designs created by GM’s Bill Mitchell, among others.
    (Then, again, some of that misplaced celebrity can come home to roost, as in the ignominious end to Earl’s career following the sales drubbing that the Exner team’s MoPar designs delivered to GM in 1957-’58.)

  12. Looks as if the design team worked overtime from the front to just behind the rear wheelwell, and then slept and had nightmares thru the remainder of it.

  13. Years ago I read that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, once owned a Studillac and had gotten a speeding ticket for traveling well over a hundred miles an hour. I thought that I would try to verify that story on the Internet and it turns out that he had actually borrowed that car from a wealthy man named William Woodward Jr. and though got stopped by an officer for speeding was let off with a warning. He did enjoy fast cars however, as he owned two Thunderbirds and his final car which he bought in 1963 was a black Studebaker Avanti. In his novel Diamonds Are Forever, CIA agent Felix Leiter and friend of James Bond, drives a Studillac. So undoubtedly he was impressed by that car.

  14. Consider that this was styled by a 1950s builder of boats. Some of them look even more scary than this car.

    • In terms of boats, the answer is yes. Custom Craft’s finned and radically styled SunRay would show some similarities. That whole era of wildly styled fiberglass boats is illustrated at Kevin Mueller’s “Boats In The Belfry” web site. Some truly exotic stuff there.

  15. Exner designed the Starlight; Bourke, working for Loewy Associates, designed the Starliner.

    Golden Ray recalls Brooks Stevens styling — seen on Scimitar and suggested to Studebaker.

    Canazzi invented a rotary engine that is at Google Patents. This is not a link.

    patent/US2553548

    His obit:

    A private memorial service at sea for H. Donald Canazzi, 83, of Fort Lauderdale, a retired Buffalo boat manufacturer, will be held in Fort Lauderdale at a time to be announced. Canazzi, a native of Buffalo, died on January 13, 1994 in Fort Lauderdale after a long illness. He was a graduate of Lafayette High School, where he played basketball, and he attended Columbia University. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Navy on submarine-chasing duty in the Caribbean. A boating enthusiast from his youth, he returned to Buffalo after the war to establish Custom Craft Boat Co., which eventually became the third-largest pleasure-craft company in America. He held seven patents for his innovative boat hull designs and engine propulsion systems and was an internationally recognized leader in his field. His company also was known for manufacturing boat kits for do-it-yourself builders. He sold his company in 1976 and retired to Fort Lauderdale, where he continued in the business as a consultant for many years. Throughout his life he was much involved and very supportive of both family and community. He leaves behind, besides many friends, his wife of 51 years, the former Jane Clark; daughter Kim, of California; son, Craig, also of California, daughter-in-law, Marie Claude.

    His former factory is now an adult book store. See it at Google Maps. This is not a link.

    place/1700+Niagara+St,+Buffalo,+NY+14207/@42.9308742,-78.8993628,3a,75y,178.96h,84.28t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sREJyErZ6uRLkl8iHLw8fCw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x89d3133bc199f60f:0xc725c9405d7cd922!8m2!3d42.9306326!4d-78.8994125

    His former home was a tenth of a mile from a famous Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece.

    A few tenths more to a flagship Pierce-Arrow showroom and a famed Ford/Trico plant.

    Take a walk via Google Maps. Again, not a link

    dir/178+Jewett+Pkwy,+Buffalo,+NY+14214/Frank+Lloyd+Wright’s+Martin+House+Complex,+125+Jewett+Pkwy,+Buffalo,+NY+14214/KeyBank,+Main+Street,+Buffalo,+NY/Tri-Main+Center,+Main+Street,+Buffalo,+NY/@42.935182,-78.8481654,796m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m26!4m25!1m5!1m1!1s0x89d312b2725410c5:0x12152466d88cef0a!2m2!1d-78.850164!2d42.9354899!1m5!1m1!1s0x89d312ada1a71949:0x6c6b5ebed20d3347!2m2!1d-78.8479724!2d42.9363116!1m5!1m1!1s0x89d312abf6191625:0x42d7dc4c58c7f512!2m2!1d-78.8438877!2d42.9344795!1m5!1m1!1s0x89d312abba151c65:0x23878735bf48614c!2m2!1d-78.8419285!2d42.9348486!3e2

    Then read more and enjoy. At the following NON-links.

    fiberglassics.com/library/index.php?title=Custom_Craft

    wikimapia.org/18905023/Former-Pierce-Arrow-Showroom

    trimaincenter.com/history/

    And, for one more history note, three of the Golden Ray photos were shot not far from where newly-finished Pierce and Brunn cars were sometimes photographed. One a white-with-gold trim car built for the Shah of Iran. The father of the Shah (who also liked cars) of the ongoing crisis. I’ll let anyone who is interested find — or not find — a photo of that car on their own.

    (And it is NOT the 1920 Model 48 2/3-passenger coupe that RM sold in Scottsdale in 2012…)

    Exner’s archives are at the Henry Ford; Stevens’s archives are at Milwaukee Art Museum, and Bill Frick info is at Kustomrama. And McCahill’s Mechanix Illustrated Studillac test is, as always.

    Automotive history.

    Look ’em all up.

  16. Virgil Exner designed the 47 Studebaker Starlight coupe, but left for Chrysler in 1949. Bob Bourke was the primary designer of the 53 Studebakers.

  17. In my tender years I came upon a Studiac. It was a ’53 Studebaker with a 389 Pontiac motor to fuel excitement. At that
    time the ambulances were equipped with a siren and a stretcher. Take the siren off and the vehicle came close to the
    attributes of a hearse (ambulances had little more than a first aide kit and their main purpose was to scoop mangled bodies up and expedite them to hospital care as fast as possible). Hospital care and ability to cure were light years behind what we have today and many doctors were moonlighting doing cigarette ads for TV. My inner voice told me to pass on purchasing the Stude with an Indian under the hood. About 6 years later, the miracle of credit secured a new 1966 Pontiac Tempest GTO with a 389 motor on steroids. Some how I avoided a bloody trip in one of those Cad
    ambulances that were stars in the driver’s ed movies, Death on the Highways.

  18. Restyle ‘improvements’ on clean, elegant designs never turn out to be that. Given the design trend rife in the land then, its not surprising this one ‘succeeded by excess’.

    Doubtful this unfortunate custom still exist, Buffalo applied massive loads of road salt then and the Studebaker penchant for rust quickly dissolved the body integrity in just a few seasons.

    Wonder if there were any further fiberglass customizing jobs inflicted on other cars by this gentleman and crew?

  19. My frail little yet tough and cultured fifth grade teacher, Miss Kuntz had a show piece 1953 Studerbaker cream 2 dr ht with a maroon roof. The car was like it was from a euro museum and should have been in a glass case. She always had the spot next to the principal.

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