As enthusiasts we can probably look back on our car lives and recall an occurrence somewhere along the way that was the turning point; that exact moment where we decided we were more than just a casual observer of cars. This could have been anything from seeing a certain car for the first time, a trip to the track or a show, or that car ride that you fell in love with as soon as the gas pedal was pinned to the floor.
For Bernie Conrad this moment happened at stop during a bus trip he took at the impressionable ripe age of 13. “I had some money in my pocket, and so I went to the newsstand, and bought a magazine that featured souped up cars, and articles about guys modifying and hot rodding cars doing things like frenching headlights, that sort of thing,” explains Conrad. He went on to tell us that was the exact moment that he knew he would follow in his father’s footsteps who tinkered with improving the performance of his own foreign cars – Bernie was destined to be a customizer, and hot rodder from day one.
The thought, effort and quality of this home-built ride could rival that of some of the best custom builders in the country.
Driving Your Hero
My wife didn’t like riding in the car much because the previous owner smoked in it, and my young daughter thought it was ugly, so I parked it.
Most of us are accustomed to seeing modified tri-five Chevys and Fords of the mid and late 50s getting most of the current press, as well as all of the old footage of them winning races from the old days. The Studebaker Golden Hawk is today often forgotten by many who weren’t there to see them the first time around. Equipped with a 275 HP supercharged 289 ci engine for 1957, many automotive magazines of that era had the gilded bird from South Bend beating the best car’s from Detroit’s big three, in both zero to sixty, and quarter mile tests.
Conrad remembers those days well,telling us “I always had a fascination with Studebakers, especially the ’57 Golden Hawks, I was 17 in 1957 and they were the hottest car around.” That memory stuck with him, and even though he would have to wait a little longer, Conrad vowed to one day own a Golden Hawk.
It was thirty five years ago when Conrad got his chance to finally own one, finding a ’57 Golden Hawk for sale in western North Carolina back in 1977. Ecstatic to own his dream car, Conrad purchased the Hawk and drove it mostly stock for a few years. “I just drove it until I got it out of my system,” Bernie recalls. He parked the car with intentions of restoring it, but at that time he had no idea it would be more than twenty years before he would complete the project. “My wife didn’t like riding in the car much because the previous owner smoked in it, and my young daughter thought it was ugly, so I just parked it,” he recounts.
With his car tucked away in the garage, Conrad went on to remove the entire drivetrain with designs on restoring the Golden Hawk to its original glory. The engine was rebuilt, and blueprinted, and the transmission was also rebuilt. He even had the original McCulloch supercharger overhauled. All of the suspension components and everything under the car was redone in hopes of a complete restoration. The body was stripped to bare metal in anticipation of making any necessary repairs, which would be followed by a nice new paint job. Then as what happens to so many projects with good intentions, life, and the shortage of “free” time got in the way so there she sat completely disassembled for the better part of two decades.
The car utilizes an Art Morrison front clip. Conrad and friend Bob Siegle built the rest of the frame from the firewall back to accommodate the C5 Vette powertrain and suspension.
In 2002 a decision was made that the car would go back together, but that it would not go back together as an original restoration. Instead this would turn into the full custom build that you see here. Bernie Conrad, along with friend Bob Siegle came up with some design ideas for the car, and in 2007 the two friends got serious about the build.
A 1999 Corvette donor car was found in Arkansas and this ill fated C5 that badly damaged in a house fire still had a working engine, transmission and suspension – perfect for the plans in store for the Golden Hawk rebirth. Conrad brought the ‘Vette back to his home in North Carolina, and began to strip it down for the donor powertrain and suspension.
An Art Morrison Engineering front clip was ordered for the car to allow the use of the C5 Corvette front suspension and engine. From there the two constructed a fully custom frame to accommodate the C5 transaxle assembly and rear suspension components, all of which were used on this build. From front to back this custom frame was constructed by Conrad, and Siegle in Conrad’s garage. One of the tricky parts of this swap was to take the C5’s torque tube and extend everything to accommodate the difference in length between the donor Vette, and the Stude.
The engine is a dressed up LS1 from the C5 donor car. A Magnuson supercharger has been added to increase horsepower, and keep with the original ’57 Golden Hawk supercharged theme. A custom wiring harness was built by Street and Performance, who also did the custom tune for the engine combination, which is controlled by the stock C5 electronics. The OBDII interface has also been retained so that if a problem should arise, or the need to modify the tune, these issues can be addressed via a factory style data link connection.
Billet, chrome, and polished accessories adorn the engine, as well as the custom made Studebaker lettering across the valve covers. The engine compartment itself has been smoothed, and ancillary items kept to a minimum. The firewall was treated to a powdered metal appearance, a design material Conrad discovered during his research for this project.
For me; cars take me back in time, it’s like reliving my youth.
The custom chassis work, and drivetrain combination alone would be enough to make this one bitchin’ custom ride, but Conard went well beyond the chassis and drivetrain. The top has been chopoped two inches, just enough to clean up the look of the car, but not enough to mess with the original lines in such a away as to detract, or make it unrecognizable. The chop required the windshield to be layed back from forty to forty-five degrees, however the stock rear windscreen remains the same – more commonly referred to as “gentleman’s chop.” Doing a chop on the car also required the side windows to all be reworked.
Left and Center, Siegle begins the chop. Right-Conrad helps hold things steady to maintain as straight a cut as possible during the custom roof chop of the Stude-Vette.
The tail fins have been cut down and reworked significantly, most of which was handled by Siegle. The door handles were shaved, as well as the locks and the trunk lock. Most of the exterior chrome trim has also been removed and the associated holes filled, cleaning up the lines and look of the car. The hood has been changed to incorporate some more of the C5 DNA, going to a forward hinged design. It also has been modified with removed trim to smooth out the look of the front of the car.
Adding to the car’s clean and custom appearance are the shaved, cut down and tucked front and rear bumpers. Conrad designed the rear bumper, and the car’s original one was cut into seventeen different pieces, then welded back together to make it possible. The rear bumper cleverly incorporates the exhaust, center exit for both necessity (to clear the C5 rear suspension) and style.
Paint was done in two-tone with a modern twist. In part emulating what was popular and common when this car rolled off the assembly line, and at the same time modern enough to not detract from the restyling Conrad and Siegle performed.
Nothing on this home-build went untouched. Other exterior changes include the gas tank filler located between the rear glass and trunk lid, the headlights were frenched, and the taillights have also been given that custom treatment. And for the perfect finishing touch of class, the license plate was put on a slider so it can be tucked away under the car for shows and pulled out before hitting the road.
Too often we see billboarding rather than subtle badging on builds of this magnitude. However, Conrad continued the clean look in this area as well and designed badges that use the Studebaker logo, while incorporating some flare of their own.
As you would imagine, the interior of this beauty is as impressive as the outside. The floorpans had to be modified to accommodate the C5 torque tube, but that didn’t stop the team from creating a comfortable cabin. The frames from six 1965 Thunderbird seats were used as the basis to build all of the car’s custom seats.
Floor pans were custom built to accommodate the C5 powertrain and suspension. The center console that runs front to rear was also built by Siegle.
A custom center console and gauge panel were also constructed to flow and give the rest of the interior both the form and function needed. The console and dash feature the powdered metal material, adding to the high end appearance of the interior, while still giving it a classic feel. The console flows elegantly into the dash, and houses the push button controls for the transmission, as well as the AC controls. Door panels, seats, and dash are wrapped in gray leather with red accents raising the bar yet again with the perfect blend of performance and luxury.
Stude-Vette (prounounced Stewed-Vet), made its debut at the 2012 NSRA Street Rod Nationals, where we first spotted it on Sunday. Like many others who also took notice, we spent some quality time going over the various details, and inspecting this beautiful car closely. With only twenty three test miles on the clock, we captured the chance to bring you this beautiful creation right here on Rod Authority FIRST!
From this angle we think Stud-Vette looks like something that an action hero would drive, starring in some mega dollar summer blockbuster.
While Stud-Vette only had test miles on the odometer when we laid eyes on it for the first time, Conrad is already busy on his next project. This '32 St. Regis will be getting the Golden Hawk's original supercharged engine, along with a 700R4 overdrive transmission. As you can see in these pictures it's already had the body sectioned and top chopped.
If you’re wondering what became of the rebuilt drivetrain from the Golden Hawk, Conrad held onto it. He’s using the engine in his next project with Siegle. That hot rod will be a ’32 Studebaker St. Regis, another car you don’t see often in the custom rod scene. “For me cars take me back in time, it’s like reliving my youth,” Conrad shared with us. As always, we’ll keep you updated on the St. Regis build with some of the very best, quickest, and most up-to-date hot rod and custom coverage you’ll find anywhere.