The big ammunition for 1951 arrived as the much-needed overhead-valve V-8, exclusive to the 1951 Studebaker Commander. Besides being a fine engine and the first modern V-8 from an independent, it put Studebaker at least three years ahead of Chevrolet/Ford/Plymouth.
Its greater compactness prompted a five-inch cut in Commander wheelbase. Rising production costs dictated putting the Champion on this platform, too, so it inherited the Commander's new-for-1950 center-point steering and coil-over front shocks.
Otherwise, the 1951s were much like the 1950 Studebakers. The "bullet nose" was toned down a bit by painting its large, chrome outer ring; series were renamed and trim reshuffled; Commanders got improved electric wipers (optional on Champions); and prices went up a little. The long-wheelbase Commander Land Cruiser sedan, alone on a four-inch-longer wheelbase, remained the pride of the South Bend fleet at $2,289, although the Commander State convertible outpriced it by a few dollars.
With less weight and nearly 18 percent more horsepower, the V-8 Commander caused a mild sensation. Gushed tester "Uncle Tom" McCahill: "This powerplant transforms the maidenly Studie of recent years into a rip-roaring, hell-for-leather performer that can belt the starch out of practically every other American car. ..."
Still, a Commander won its class in the 1951 Mobilgas Economy Run, averaging 28 mpg with overdrive over 840 miles. Commanders were highly respected cars of their day for long-distance travel, especially the V-8 Land Cruiser. Of course, at just $75 below a Buick Super, they had to be.
Nonetheless, an abbreviated model year and the beginning of government-ordered production cutbacks (due to the Korean conflict) hampered Studebaker output, which dropped to below 269,000 units for 1951, 124,280 of them Commanders.
South Bend was still riding pretty high and some of its most memorable cars lay ahead, but the long, slow slide to oblivion had already begun. Ultimately, being "first by far" would cost Studebaker its life.
To check out 1950-1951 Studebaker Commander specifications, continue to the next page.