Dave and Sue Ciappa have owned and built more than their fair share of top-shelf street rods over the years (many of which have graced the pages of SRM), but this time around Dave wanted to do something a bit different, styling wise. Being a true-blue car couple, the Ciappas gave thought to a wide array of subjects before making the decision to go the Studebaker route. Dave, like many automobile aficionados, had always had a soft spot for the Starlite coupe-or the "shovelnose," as the style has been lovingly known. With this in mind, he and Sue kept their eyes open in the off chance that they would find a suitable subject.
Dave eventually found a small ad in an automotive classified rag that described a really strong candidate. It was a '53 coupe that was listed as a solid street-rodded driver located out in the San Francisco area. After the typical long-distance back-and-forth contact, Dave decided it was a good opportunity and closed the deal. The car made its way back to upstate New York to the Ciappa digs and soon a complete overhaul was undertaken.
Once back East, Dave got to survey the coupe and then make his determination of how he'd proceed with the rodstoration of the Studebaker. He has always been one for building high-class, show-quality street rods and the Stude would be no different. Performance and handling are just as important as looks to the Ciappas, and it was this aspect that was addressed first.
The foundation for the '53 is a modified '62 Hawk chassis that has been outfitted with a custom rectangular tube front stub and Heidt's IFS system complete with dropped spindles, a heavy-duty sway bar assembly, and air-ride suspension. Out back they used a Chassis Engineering Inc. parallel leaf assembly, a Cadillac Seville sway bar, airbags, and a 9-inch Ford rearend. A quartet of 18-inch Coddington wheels and BFG rubber round out the complete chassis.
Powering the coupe is a muscular, port fuel-injected 327-cube SBC that's been painstakingly massaged and fitted with a host of performance components. The Mouse motor was then backed with a TCI Automotive-equipped 700-R4 overdrive transmission hooked to the beefy 9-inch via a custom-built and balanced driveshaft.
Though there was no shortage of attention to detail in the design and construction of the chassis and driveline, it's the high-class looks and cozy comfort that are the hallmarks of a Ciappa-built street rod-and the couple's Starlite coupe is one of the nicest yet. The coupe's body was rigorously restored to actually better than new condition, and a host of subtle mods were also performed. The rain gutters have been removed, the body completely shaved of emblems, the door handles removed and the openings filled, the fuel door relocated and converted to remote operation, and the stainless trim that hadn't been shaved has been straightened and powdercoated black. As you can plainly see, the car's interior has received a fantastic upgrade too. The stock dash was replaced with one from a '57 Studebaker Silver Hawk and fitted with a full complement of Dakota Digital instruments, and an ididit tilt column was added as well as a Billet Specialties steering wheel. Dave chose to replace the stock seating with that of a Ford Thunderbird, and had upholsterer Jimmy Z stitch up a classy leather interior, as well. Vintage Air air-conditioning and an awesome stereo complete the cockpit and make the car not only a phenomenally comfortable street rod but-when combined with the superb handling provided by the chassis upgrades and the kick of that muscular 327-a street rod that'll tattoo a smile on the face of any discerning rodder.