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The Plotkins tell the tale of the Studebaker with no brakes

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Jonathan Plotkin.

And now the truth comes out. In one comment left on the recent Studebaker pickup find of the day, longtime commenter Danny Plotkin both introduced us to his brother Jonathan and told the world a deep dark secret:

My brother Jon traded a gifted 63 Galaxie XL Town Sedan (about 12,000 made) for a shiny red 56 Studebaker pickup with a V-8, unknown whether it was the 259 or 289. The truck seemed to fit the vibe Jon likely sought what with Don Mclean’s hit “The Day The Music Died” at #1. My dad was pissed, the Galaxie had flapping rear quarters but had been a decent reliable car for his kids, given to them by my grandmother.

But now Jon, an artist and not a mechanic, was snapping wheel studs off attempting to replace a flat tire, all the while my dad berating him for his lousy business deal done without his authorization. It was precious.

Not long after I found Jon lying under the rear bumper trying to get the taillamps to work and I crawled under there with him for observation. And what I observed, even at the age of 14, I’ll never forget. The rear brake line had been cut and pinched, there were no rear brakes, at least not the hydraulic kind.

I opened my mouth and began to say Jon, ‘there are…’ and he abruptly put his hand over my mouth and said, ‘Shhh, don’t tell Dad.’ And I didn’t. I’ve been living with this ever since.

Not long after, Jonathan chimed in to tell us more about the Studebaker and to confirm his own “youthful idiocy.”

While I would never question my brother Danny’s recollections regarding anything automotive I must, for the record, clarify a few points he made regarding ‘Bertha’ (named as such in 1974 at the Palmer exit on the Mass Pike as the odometer turned 100,000 miles while listening to the Grateful Dead on a glovebox-installed 8-track player).

Contrary to Danny’s recollection, I didn’t trade the Galaxie for the Studebaker. I blew the engine of the Galaxie while descending Mt. Washington in New Hampshire two weeks prior to procuring the truck from a farmer in Monson, Massachusetts. When I realized I had an expensive engine job on my hands, I sold the Galaxie for $300 to a fellow student, Harold Froot (real name), who, with full disclosure of the defective engine, drove the car the following weekend to his home in New Jersey where the engine quit for good somewhere south of the George Washington Bridge. I actually picked Harold up hitchhiking on the Mass Pike as I returned to school in Maine in the Studebaker. I don’t recall what Harold said to me that day, but it wasn’t very nice.

An hour after I bought the Studebaker I got a flat tire as I was accelerating onto Route 91. I changed the tire and drove home, some 20 miles south. When my father came outside to see what I had bought (he was not happy). He immediately walked over to the tire I had just changed and pointed out only three lug nuts were fastened, two of them loosely. How I managed to get home that day is still, after all these years, a mystery. I believe I may have snapped one or two while trying to tighten them up as our father continued to admonish my judgement, or lack thereof.

The brakes remained a problem for the two years I had the truck. At one point, I had no brakes at all to speak of, however, I became a master at using the emergency brake and rather good judge as to when to start decelerating and downshifting to avoid grave danger both in town and on the highway. There were other instances of youthful idiocy behind the wheel of that most glorious machine that I will leave for the imagination for now. In any case, I do recall Danny’s inspection of the brakes of the truck when I first got home that day. Even as a 14-year-old he knew his stuff.

Jonathan, in a follow-up email, noted that the truck was actually in somewhat decent shape otherwise, as the photos he sent along attest.

In any case, my truck was actually in fairly good shape other than faulty brakes and an incessant oil leak that we could never fully identify or plug. I had a case of 10-30 in the bed of the truck to top her off every 200-300 miles. Great memories. Some frightening, but otherwise keepers!

And Danny revealed one last tidbit:

I remember well the sound of the Auto-Lite starter grinding away in the absence of a properly set choke (when Dad was trying to move it out of his way, which was after you left it at home on one of your hitchhiking trips because it likely didn’t run). He never liked that truck.

We’ve all been there, Jonathan, and I’m sure, if our readers haven’t already related stories of driving entirely unsafe beaters in their youth, they will below.