SALEM – Early on Saturday morning, a dozen Studebaker owners convened at the K&W cafeteria in Salem, for what the club lovingly referred to as “food, fellowship and car talk.” The club, which serves as the local chapter of the international Studebaker Drivers Club, meets twice a year in the Roanoke Valley, as they serve to honor the Studebaker automobile.

“Everybody’s granddaddy had one,” explained Tom Spradling, the current president of the Southwest Virginia chapter of the Studebaker club, to some younger people who didn’t know what Studebaker vehicles were.

Willard Hamill proudly stands beside his Studebaker Avanti, a vehicle known for its power and radical design. Photo by Morgan Leeson, intern

Originally, The Studebaker Corporation built horse drawn buggies, carriages and wagons. However, in 1902, the company produced its first electric automobile. Shortly after this achievement, the company switched to producing gasoline-powered cars. It is these cars that are sought after by Studebaker collectors.

Unfortunately, production of Studebakers in the United States ground to a halt when the company closed the long-time South Bend, Ind., plant in 1963, and the last one rolled off the assembly line in the Ontario, Canada, plant in 1966.

One of the club members at the Aug. 17 meeting was Paul Howell, an original co-founder of the Southwest Virginia chapter. Howell, along with friend Jimmy Stump, first created the club a number of years ago. “Way back in history, we realized there was a need for a club in our area. So myself and another fellow decided to pursue creating a local chapter,” Howell said.

Since then, the club has met twice a year to discuss Studebaker automobiles. However, as Howell put it, “it’s definitely informal. We don’t have a set time or place to meet, nor set procedures. It serves more as fellowship for those with the same passion for cars.”

Informalities aside, several serious topics were on this weekend’s agenda. Current president Spradling took the floor to speak to the club about rising ethanol levels in gasoline. “At this particular meeting, I addressed the amount of ethanol being added to our gas, which just moved from 10 percent to 15 percent. That’s a significant change, which can do some serious damage to motors,” Spradling reported.

He encouraged club members to seek out ethanol-free gas, if they were able. Spradling often competes in car shows with his ’57 Golden Hawke and is very successful, as a result of his car maintenance.  “It’s the little things that keep your car in the best shape,” Howell said.

At the time Studebaker automobiles were still being produced, the Roanoke Valley was a hotbed for sales. Howell’s father served as an example of this legacy, working as a sales representative for the automobile company. According to Howell, “Being brought up around my Dad, I was always around cars and car dealers. I picked up a thing or two growing up.”

For Howell, who worked as a quality insurance engineer, car knowledge runs in the family. Howell’s son, also named Paul, is now working as an industrial engineer for Volvo. The father-son pair often works together when restoring antique cars.

Howell’s breadth of knowledge has left quite an impression upon fellow club members. At the meeting, Howell was referred to as “the main character in the group” as well as the “face behind it all.” In reaction to this, Howell simply stated, “well I guess I was the one who got it all started, so I’m the one folks know and remember. And I do know a lot about Studebakers. If you have questions you call me. Either I know the answer, or I can put you in contact with someone who does.” Howell’s phone number is 540-777-2619.

– By Morgan Leeson, intern



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