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Studebaker lovers roll into Martinsburg

July 19, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - While NASCAR fans spout undying loyalty to Fords or Chevrolets, Darrell Carr's heart belongs to the Studebaker.

"I own six," said Carr, 56, of Charles Town, W.Va.

Carr owns two 1963 Avantis, a 1956 President Classic, a 1956 President, a 1955 Champion and a 1963 Hawk.

"These are the best cars ever made," Carr said.

Studebakers went the way of the Edsel in 1963, but hundreds of Studebaker owners are gathering this weekend in Martinsburg at the Holiday Inn for the Potomac chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club's 1998 Atlantic Zone Meet.

There are about 100 members in the Potomac chapter of the club, which includes the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, said chapter president Larry Merhaut of Martinsburg.

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The international organization has about 12,000 members, said Merhaut, who shares a 1950 Champion Starlight Coupe with his wife, Pat.

Unlike many other car collectors who haul their antique cars on trailers to shows, Studebaker owners like to drive their vehicles, Carr said.

"We want these cars on the road," said Carr, a retired economist with the U.S. Department of Labor. "We want people to see them."

"They're fun to drive. You drive down the street in one of these vehicles and people turn their heads to watch," said David Witmer, 46, of Clear Spring, who owns a 1960 Hawk.

Carr said the first car he ever owned was a 1957 Studebaker he bought in 1961. He was in the U.S. Air Force at the time and wanted a dependable car that got good gas mileage. His car got 23 miles per gallon, good gas mileage in the days when dinosaur-sized cars ruled the road. "I've owned a Studebaker on the road my entire adult life except when I was away at college," Carr said.

The Studebakers also were known for their safety features in a day when few vehicles had seat belts.

The Studebakers were the first American cars with front disc brakes and also had a full-body frame to make them more durable, he said.

His Avanti came equipped with built-in roll-bars to protect the driver if the car overturned and rolled on its roof, Carr said.

The gas tank opening also is high up on the car because the gas tank sits up higher than in most other cars, Carr said.

The gas tank was placed so that it would not be easily damaged in a rear-end collision, Carr said.

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