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A ‘29 Studebaker President Labor of Love

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Dave Woodson never thought restoring more than 50 cars in his life would put him on the witness stand. But it has. Three times, he’s been used in court proceedings as a professional witness. In the most recent incident, Woodson had to confirm how much a 1966 Nova was worth—and it was a lot less than the owner was hoping.

“I’m actually not a professional appraiser, but a lot of insurance companies use my expertise,” said Woodson. “Basically on older cars, people have the idea that because somebody once sold one for $20,000 that they are all worth $20,000. Just because someone’s Corvette is worth that, doesn’t mean your Corvette is worth even $10,000.”

Woodson can attest to putting a lot of work into a car and it being worth less than the restoration process. His prize-winning 1929 Studebaker President only cost him $225 to buy from a salvage yard. Then he put $105,000 of restoration work into it. Now Woodson estimates it’s worth $15,000 to $18,000.

Woodson, 70, doesn’t mind that the math doesn’t work out in his favor. He started working on cars when he was 15. By 19, he was employed as a technician, and by 37 he owned his own shop, Dave’s Body Shop in Trenton, Mo. He still owns the 6,000-square-foot shop, which has four full-time employees working on almost 30 cars a month, and annual revenue of a little less than $650,000.

“I’ve always had a car around to restore, but I’m not working on any more full-time restoration projects,” says Woodson, who retired in 2003. “I just hang around the business so I can have free coffee and work a little on the cars.”

The Spendy Studebaker

Woodson owns and has restored a ’54 Ford Pick Up, a ’59 Chevrolet Impala, a ’75 Oldsmobile Convertible, a ’64 Chevrolet El Camino, a ’64 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport, a ’69 Plymouth Roadrunner, and a ’68 Oldsmobile Toronado. The one most important to him is that spendy Studebaker.

“I bought it in the ’70s from a salvage yard. [Before that, it was in] this old man’s barn. It sat around in my barn and next to my house for 30 years before I started restoring it on one Fourth of July,” says Woodson. “The Studebaker was pulled up behind the old barn as long as I can remember.”

Restoring the President

“We got the wheels from a car in Connecticut, reworked the body, and tore down and cleaned the engine,” says Woodson about the Studebaker’s restoration work. “But it’s got its original brakes, original starter, original distributor cap and coils and original radiator.”

All the other parts Woodson managed to make from scratch by shipping lost wax casting samples out to a guy in Washington who would then send the parts back in bronze. Then Woodson would take the bronze piece to a plater.

“The trouble is usually finding a decent piece that you can make copies from,” Woodson explains.

For other parts, Woodson made them himself from steel. “I made all the little controls that go in the steering column, the light switch, the spark control and accelerator—kind of like cruise control. And I made what they call a ‘foot board’ for the back seat,” he says.

Woodson did most of the Studebaker restoration on his own, with just a little help from some high school boys. He has no plans to sell the President. He likes taking it to shows, where it continues to win awards.

“It’s won three best of shows and three or four first places. [It won] second place at the International Studebaker show in Omaha in 2005,” says Woodson.

“I have a son in the business with me so he’ll get it when I’m gone, and I doubt he’ll sell it,” says Woodson. “We’ll probably end up donating it to a museum in the end.”

Like many of the cars Woodson appraises on the witness stand, the Studebaker isn’t worth much monetarily. But the car’s rags-to-riches story, says Woodson, “was a personal quest for me.” And that, of course, is invaluable.

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