If necessity is the mother of invention, adversity often fathers greatness. Take Studebaker's Depression-era Presidents, exemplified by this lovely 1938 Studebaker State President coupe. They were unquestionably South Bend's finest cars before World War II, and many still regard them as the best Studebakers of all time.
Though the President name didn't appear until 1927, as a replacement for the Jazz Age "Big Six," it reached its zenith in the early 1930s. With elegant four-square styling, long wheelbases, and smooth straight-eights, they were "classics" in every sense of the word. Today they are literally so, the 1927-1932 models having been so honored by the Classic Car Club of America.
Though "hard times" nearly claimed Studebaker in 1933, the President continued to offer magnificent motoring at bargain prices. Streamlined styling arrived that year and was carefully evolved over the next four seasons.
A 1935 stunner was the President Land Cruiser, a rakish fastback sedan inspired by Phil Wright's arresting 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow show car. But other models weren't so inspired, and by 1937, Studebaker president Paul Hoffman decided to seek an outside designer in the hope of stimulating still-lagging sales.
His choice was the redoubtable Raymond Loewy, whose first effort was a 1938 line that looked bang up-to-date with squared windows, closer-fitting fenders, and shapely barrel grilles. Low-cost Commanders retained conventional pod-style headlamps, though moved down from the hood sides to the front-fender "catwalks."
Mid-line State Commanders and the standard and State Presidents wore unique headlamps that echoed the grille shape, a form doubtless inspired by the futuristic locomotive Loewy had recently penned for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Beneath the new look, the 1938 Presidents carried the usual 250.4-cubic-inch engine, a fixture since 1934, and a very capable chassis with independent "Planar" front suspension engineered by the inventive "Barney" Roos.
The beauty pictured here belongs to Carroll Studebaker, who is a descendant of Clement, one of the original Studebaker brothers. Carroll tells us that this car is one of only seven 1938 President coupes built with dual side mounts. Delivered price was $1,057, reasonable even for the year of the "Roosevelt Recession." Actual miles? Less than 27,000 -- but wouldn't you love to put just a few more on the clock?
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