Back in the early 70s I bumped into an editor for Boston Magazine at a party. We chatted, and by the time we parted company he had asked me to do a story for him. I had been telling him about an idea I had for a story about one of the nation’s last Studebaker dealerships, which was still operating in Revere Beach, near Boston, years after Studebaker had stopped producing automobiles. I wrote this story and they sent me a check. As far as I know, they never published it.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
The Revere Beach Parkway is a windy road, and Feldman Motors squats on the apex of one of the curves, so small that the line of rusty cars nosed up to the sidewalk is only a dull blur in the corner of your eye as you drive past.
If you turn your head and slow down a little, you can pick them out; a Studebaker Lark and a couple of Hawks. There’s a Packard, one of the last models built, and it looks like it might have been red.
It is dark inside Feldman Motors, but there is some noise in the back of the shop and in a few minutes Irving Feldman shuffles out to the front, peering through think glasses. He is 65, and he’s been here for 20 years.
Feldman had chuckled on the phone and hedged suspiciously about being interviewed. “Oh, well, I can’t afford it right now,” he said. No charge, he was told, but he’s still not sure.
“Who do you work for? No bullshit?” He examines the press cards, turning them over to read the back.
He moves to the back of the shop to talk to a customer. The shop is full of yesterday’s cars. Packard Clippers, Studebaker Hawks and Cruisers. A white Hawk stands near the door, and the street noise disappears when you shut the door and squirm into the red leather seat. The clock is ticking, and automobile clocks never work. The odometer says 9,000 miles, but Feldman says it’s probably 109,000.
“In 1955, the best days of my life I had here, we were selling, servicing, we had a group of 12 men. Then, 10 years later, the bottom dropped out of it.”
The bottom began to crumble when the Studebaker Packard Corp. decided to drop the Packard line in the late 1950s. Feldman Motors and Studebaker-Packard dealers across the country found themselves dealing in nothing but Studebakers. It was a worrisome time for the dealers, but Studebaker was showing signs of resuscitation; they redesigned the Lark and came out with the Avanti, a beautiful four-seater with a fiberglass body and an optional supercharger.
It wasn’t enough. Studebaker moved its car-making operations to Canada for two years before the Studebaker joined that Big Hudson Hornet in the Sky in 1966.
“I had four Studebakers on order when we got the news from the company,” Feldman said. “I called the customers and told them they didn’t have to take the cars if they didn’t want to. But I told them I would stay here and carry parts, and service the cars if they bought them. They all bought the cars.”
It’s hard to forget the good days, the mid-1950s, when Feldman Motors was selling cars, when 12 men in the back were repairing the Packard Clippers amd Patricians and Studebaker Hawks. And the fall – the decline of Studebaker-Packard – is hard to forget, too.
“They (Packard) went out of business and for a few years we were doing wonderful. We just took all Studebakers, then, even they lasted less than 10 years on their own and then they’re out.
“We work, we make a living, but it is a hard living now.”
It’s not hard to take yourself back to 1955 and imagine Irving Feldman tooling a big Packard Patrician with dealer plates into his dealership, walking into his showroom in a blue suit to talk to a customer. Today, he wears baggy pants and a faded blue sport shirt open at the neck. Today, his showroom is empty.