1950-1951 Studebaker Origins

Studebaker was proud to be "First by Far With a Postwar Car," but after three years on the market, its vehicles very much needed a distinctive new look for their carried-over bodies. In fact, the 1950-1951 Studebaker origins were as a counterpoint to the post-war car, when celebrated styling consultant Raymond Loewy decided his staff should look to the heavens for inspiration.

1950 Studebaker
The bullet-nose look unveiled on 1950 models
wasn't original, but it was Studebaker's signature.
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Perhaps no automaker is more identified with a single design than Studebaker with its 1950-1951 "bullet-nose" cars. The feisty South Bend independent didn't invent the "spinner" front end -- the 1948 Tucker and 1949-1950 Ford used similar themes, as have several European models. Studebaker's styling differed mainly in degree.

Ads called it "The Next Look," implying it would start a trend. It didn't, but that mattered little to company executives, who were content to chalk up sales unmatched in Studebaker's previous 48 years of auto production and in any of the next 16.

Studebaker styling in this period was handled by Raymond Loewy, who was established by the early Thirties as a top-flight industrial designer of everything from lipsticks to locomotives. His first production cars were for Hupmobile: the 1932 second-series line, followed in 1934 by the "Aero­dynamic," which was influential but not a commercial success.

Loewy signed his first Studebaker contract in 1936; the 1938 models were the first credited to his firm. With dozens of clients, Raymond Loewy Associates employed many designers at its New York headquarters, including Clare Hodgman, Virgil Exner, and others who did most of the actual prewar styling work for Studebaker.

As his business grew, Loewy increasingly became a manager and a tireless self-promoter, taking credit for projects regardless of whether he himself put pen to paper.

In the late Thirties, Exner was sent to set up shop at the Studebaker factory and hit it off with engineering vice president Roy Cole. The two were soon conspiring to undermine Loewy's influence in South Bend. Exner felt his boss didn't give designers enough credit; Cole thought Loewy charged too much for his services.

When Studebaker contracted Loewy Associates to design all-new 1947 models, Exner and Cole worked up their own proposal in secret -- with the advantage of engineering parameters not made available to the "official" Loewy team. It was this design that management ultimately chose and introduced in mid 1946. Studebaker was two years ahead of the competition -- "First by Far With a Postwar Car," as ads blared. To Exner's chagrin, advertising credited Loewy with the new styling.

Loewy promptly fired Exner for his treachery and replaced him with Bob Bourke, Exner's subordinate and friend. Bourke, who made significant contributions to the '47 design, would head Loewy's South Bend studio into 1955, after which Studebaker and Loewy parted company.

People loved the 1947 Studebakers, the little-changed '48s, and the modestly updated '49s. Though the fresh styling concealed mostly prewar mechanical concepts, refinements were made to improve longevity and reliability.

For example, the low-price Champion had arrived in spring 1939 with a lightweight L-head six of 164.3 cubic inches. This went to 169.6 cubic inches and 80 horsepower for 1941-49, then added five horsepower. The costlier Commanders used a larger six dating from Stude­baker's 1932 Rockne. By 1949, this engine was up to 245.6 cubic inches and 100 horsepower.

The 1947s did introduce stronger new box- section frames, self-adjusting/self-centering brakes, and "black light" instrument-panel illumination, but retained "planar" front suspension, a Studebaker staple since 1935. This still used a transverse semielliptic leaf spring clamped to the box section of the front cross member, but was modified to lower the center of gravity. Shocks remained Houdaille double-action hydraulics, but the 1947s achieved a smoother ride through more-even weight distribution. A two-piece driveshaft with center universal joint eliminated the rear floor tunnel.

The 1947-1949 models were a great sales success, lifting Studebaker to eighth in the U.S. industry with a market share of 4.12 percent. Production was at record levels. So were corporate profits -- $27.56 million in calendar 1949 alone. Things looked great, and were about to get even better.

The bullet-nose idea had been on Bourke's drawing board since 1940-1941, when he first sketched several elements of the eventual 1950 Studebaker. Chief among them was a protruding nose with flanking pontoon fenders suggesting the front of an airplane.

Some Studebaker managers, doubtless recalling the Thirties, feared buyers might shun anything so radical. But Loewy, ever the master salesman, convinced them to go ahead. "We aimed at the light, fast impression of an airplane ... a feeling of motion and speed," he said later. This daring look drew critical comments, but not from Tom McCahill, then the dean of automotive journalists. "I think the new Studie is the best looking car in its class," he told Mechanix Illustrated readers. Not bad, coming from a guy capable of some pretty scathing remarks.

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1950 Studebaker

Public reaction is what matters in the auto industry, and "The Next Look" 1950 Studebaker, featuring the company's signature "bullet-nose" look for the first time, was a winner -- more popular than even the 1947. Sales began in August 1949, nearly a month ahead of other 1950 cars.

1950 Studebaker
The 1950 models were Studebaker's most
successful in terms of sales.

Hundreds of dealers sent glowing telegrams describing announcement day: "Showroom crowded to capacity." "Public acceptance best ever." "Huge crowds, all agreed Studebaker still leads the way." "Showing a definite flop, showroom holds 100 people, needed room for 500!"

For all this hoopla, the 1950s were identical to the 1947-49 models except for the bullet nose, minor trim, and vertical instead of horizontal taillights. However, the new front end added an inch to wheelbases, taking Champions to 113, Commanders to 120. Both lines again offered two- and four-door sedans, a convertible, and a five-passenger Starlight coupe with its distinctive panoramic rear window.

Champion also listed a three-passenger business coupe. Commanders again included a top-line Land Cruiser sedan, now on a 124-inch wheelbase, with extra rear-seat legroom and rear-door vent windows. All models offered DeLuxe and extra-cost Regal DeLuxe trim save the convertibles and Land Cruiser, which were Regals only.

The Champ's Regal package, priced at $79, included stainless-steel rocker-panel and window moldings, wool upholstery in place of pile cloth, front floor carpeting instead of a rubber covering, and a fancier steering wheel with chrome horn half-ring. In Commanders, the $124 option substituted luxurious nylon-cord upholstery.

All models continued on 15-inch wheels, but Commanders were heavier, so they came with 7.60 tires on six-inch-wide rims versus 6.40s on five-inch-wide wheels. Commanders also had 11-inch cast-iron brake drums, while Champions used nine-inch drums.

Added in March 1950 were Champ Custom sedans and coupes with no hood ornament or rear fender shields, painted rather than chromed headlamp/taillight rims, and only a small round trunk handle/light assembly. They looked spartan, but at $1,419-$1,519, they were among the most affordable full-size cars around. Studebaker was targeting traditional low-priced leaders Chevy, Ford, and Plymouth, and thus advertised Champ Customs with the clever slogan "It's 4 To See Instead of 3!"

All 1950 Studebakers boasted a new double-A-arm front suspension, with Champions featuring tubular shocks mounted inside new "long-travel" coil springs. Commanders had slightly different geometry to handle their extra weight and retained lever-action shocks. Champs used an antiroll torsion bar in front; Commanders added a rear bar, plus center-point steering.

But the big engineering news was Automatic Drive transmission. Devel­oped jointly with the Detroit Gear Division of Borg-Warner, it became available for Land Cruisers in late April 1950, then spread to other models as production increased. Automatic Drive was superior to most competitive automatics in several ways.

First, it was air-cooled, so it did without costly, complex water-cooling. It also allowed push-starts if needed, did not "creep" the car forward from a stop if the driver released the brake, and included a hill-holder that prevented rolling down an incline at idle. Selecting Reverse at more than 10 mph automatically put the transmission in Neutral to prevent damage.

Stude­baker was the only independent besides Packard to develop its own automatic transmission. Ford Motor Company wanted to buy Automatic Drive for its 1951 line, but Studebaker declined, thus missing a chance to make considerable extra money. This transmission continued through 1954, after which Studebaker switched to the less-costly Flight-O-Matic.

Demand for the bullet-nose '50s proved so strong that Studebaker added a third shift at its large South Bend factory and ran its Southern California and Hamilton, Ontario, assembly plants at or near capacity. A 14-month model "year" (July 15, 1949, to September 27, 1950) produced 343,164 cars -- the most for any vehicle in Studebaker's long history. By the end of 1950, company employment was up to 25,000, a peacetime record.

The dealer count grew too, swelling from 2,628 in December 1949 to 2,851 a year later. Net sales totaled $477,066,000. After-tax profits were more than $22.5 million. And Studebaker's market share, which had improved every year since 1936, reached a new high of 4.25 percent (or more than 5 percent including truck sales). With that, Studebaker could again claim to be America's most successful independent vehicle maker. Some analysts began speculating that the Big Three might soon be the Big Four.

Studebaker had a terrific follow-up to blockbluster 1950: a modern new V-8. Like the trendsetting 1949 Oldsmobile and Cadillac engines, it was a light, compact, and efficient overhead-valve design. Engineers led by Stanwood Sparrow began work in 1948, with development headed by engine specialist T. S. Scherger. The result was another Stude­baker exclusive among the independents, and years ahead of the Chevy, Ford, and Plymouth overhead-valve V-8s.

Arriving as standard for the 1951 Land Cruiser and Commander, the Studebaker V-8 was an oversquare design with 232.9 cubic inches on a bore and stroke of 3.38x3.25 inches. Horsepower was a lively 120 despite a conservative 7.0:1 compression ratio.

Some have likened the engine to a smaller Cadillac V-8. Indeed, the two were close in physical size. But there were significant differences. The Stude­baker engine used solid lifters instead of hydraulic, camshafts driven by gear rather than chain, conventional instead of "slipper" pistons, and locked rather than "floating" piston pins.

It was also 54 pounds lighter than the Caddy engine. Both put spark plugs above the exhaust manifold for easy access, a feature lacking in the later Ford and Chevy overhead-valve V-8s.

Studebaker engineers didn't overlook fuel efficiency with their V-8. In the 1951 Mobilgas Economy Run, a Commander won Class B with a 28-mpg average. A Land Cruiser posted 27.6 -- nearly three mpg better than the previous year's Commander Six. (The Champion, with an unchanged six, managed 28.6 mpg, tops for all full-size cars entered.)

The new V-8 Commander was not a muscle machine, but "Uncle Tom" McCahill termed it "a rip-roaring, hell-for-leather performer that can belt the starch out of practically every other American car on the road."

His overdrive-equipped test model clocked 0-60 mph in 12.5 seconds and reached nearly 100 mph. After driving two more '51s, McCahill concluded, "The new engines are swell. Comfort, performance, and durability are excellent, and I believe Studebaker people are due for one of the biggest years in their history."

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1951 Studebaker

All 1951 Studebakers wore a smaller, silver-hued spinner with a painted instead of chrome trim ring, plus large chrome-plated diecast grilles in place of the low, deep-set twin intakes of 1950. A support shield between the bumper and fenders replaced the previous tubular bumper mounts.

1951 Studebaker
The 1951 Studebakers had a body-colored nose ring,
but retained the chrome look with a bigger grille.

Sedans adopted the one-piece windshield previously reserved for Starlights, convertibles, and the Land Cruiser, plus one-piece rear windows. Taillamps were enlarged and the decklid handle was redesigned. A few model names changed. Champion now offered Custom, DeLuxe, and Regal trim. Commanders regrouped into Regal and State models below the company's flagship Land Cruiser.

More significantly, the compact V-8 allowed Commanders to share the Champion's shorter chassis and front "clip," trimming seven inches of wheelbase, 10 inches of overall length, and 205 pounds from the 1950 versions. Land Cruiser went to a 119-inch wheelbase.

Though this change saved considerable tooling expense, there was another reason for it. As sales vice president K. B. Elliot told dealers in an October 1950 bulletin, the aim was to narrow the Champion/Commander price gap, thus encouraging six-cylinder prospects to splurge for a V-8. As a result, the previous year's $348 spread between the top-trim Champion and Commander four-doors shrunk to $111.

All 1951s used an improved "Miracle Ride" chassis with wider and stronger front control arms, all-round tubular shocks, and softer new four-leaf rear springs widened 43 percent (to 2.5 inches) from the previous five-leaf springs. Champs also adopted center-point steering.

As before, three-speed column-shift manual transmission was standard. Overdrive cost $87, Automatic Drive $190. Studebaker pioneered the hill-holder in 1936, and this remained standard for Commanders and the Land Cruiser. Champ buyers paid $12.50 for this convenience.

Though model-year sales were down considerably at 268,565, the 1951 run was shorter than 1950, and the government had curbed civilian production on account of the widening Korean conflict. But as the sales staff hoped, Commander sales improved from 23 percent of the total to 48 percent as buyers responded to the new V-8 and lower prices.

Unquestionably, 1950 and 1951 were the peak years for Studebaker car sales, profits, and employment. But fashion is fickle, and the bullet-nose models were soon forgotten. By the mid Eighties, though, they were back in vogue as collector cars and as Fifties icons for movies, museum exhibits, and ad campaigns.

As one author put it, "they were so far out, they were in." Modern cars may be hard to tell apart, but you can still spot a bullet nose a block away and know it's a Studebaker -- just as South Bend intended.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Fred K. Fox of the Studebaker Drivers Club.

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1950-1951 Studebaker Specifications

The name Studebaker is known to every car fan, and the 1950-1951 models are the ones that made the name for the South Bend company. Here are 1950-1951 Studebaker specifications for every trim level of the bullet-nose models, Champion and Commander.

1951 Studebaker
The 1951 Studebakers looked much like the 1950s,
but had improved suspension for a smoother ride.

1950 Studebaker Champion
ModelWeight (lbs.)
Price (new)Number built
Custom 4-door 2,730$1,519
16,000
Custom 2-door
2,695
$1,487
19,593
Custom Starlight
2,690
$1,514
3,583
Custom business
2,620
$1,419
1,562
DeLuxe 4-door
2,750
$1,597
46,027
DeLuxe 2-door
2,720
$1,565
45,280
DeLuxe Starlight
2,705
$1,592
19,028
DeLuxe business
2,635
$1,497
2,082
Regal DeLuxe 4-door
2,755
$1,676
55,296
Regal DeLuxe 2-door
2,725
$1,644
21,976
Regal DeLuxe Starlight
2,715
$1,671
29,966
Regal DeLuxe business
2,640
$1,576
849
Regal DeLuxe convertible
2,900
$1,981
9,362
Total


270,604

1950 Studebaker Commander
Model
Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
DeLuxe 4-door
3,255
1,902
11,440
DeLuxe 2-door
3,215
1,871
4,588
DeLuxe Starlight
3,215
1,897
4,383
Regal DeLuxe 4-door
3,265
2,024
14,832
Regal DeLuxe 2-door
3,220
1,992
2,363
Regal DeLuxe Starlight
3,220
2,018
7,375
Regal DeLuxe convertible
3,375
2,328
2,867
Land Cruiser
3,355
2,18724,712
Total Commander


72,560
Total 1950 Studebaker


343,164

1951 Studebaker Champion
ModelWeight (lbs.)
Price (new)Number built
Custom 4-door 2,690$1,571
9,972
Custom 2-door
2,670
$1,540
10,689
Custom Starlight
2,650
$1,566
2,781
Custom business
2,585
$1,471
2,429
DeLuxe 4-door
2,715
$1,649
26,019
DeLuxe 2-door
2,690
$1,618
18,591
DeLuxe Starlight
2,675
$1,644
9,444
DeLuxe business
2,610
$1,549
961
Regal 4-door
2,720
$1,728
35,201
Regal 2-door
2,690
$1,697
8,931
Regal Starlight
2,675
$1,723
14,103
Regal business
2,615
$1,628
373
Regal convertible
2,890
$2,034
4,742
Total


144,236

1951 Studebaker Commander
Model
Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
Regal 4-door
3,065
$1,839
29,60
Regal 2-door
3,045
$1,807
8,034
Regal Starlight
3,030
$1,833
8,192
Regal business
not available
$1,758
1
State 4-door
3,070
$1,939
21,134
State 2-door
3,045
$1,907
3,903
State Starlight
3,030
$1,933
11,637
State convertible
3,240
$2,244
3,770
Land Cruiser
3,165
$2,071
38,055
Total Commander


124,329
Total 1951 Studebaker


268,565

Selected Specifications

General


Champion
Commander
Land Cruiser
Wheelbase (in.)
113 (1950)
115 (1951)

120 (1950)
115 (1951)
124 (1950)
119 (1951)
Overall length (in.)
197.25 (1950)
197.5 (1951)
207.9 (1950)
197.5 (1951)
211.9 (1950)
201.5 (1951)
Front tread (in.)
56.4 (1950)
56.5 (1951)

55.5 (1950)
56.5 (1951)
55.5 (1950)
56.5 (1951)
Rear tread (in.)
54
54
54
Fuel tank (gal.)
18
18
18
Cooling system (qt.)
10; 11.5 w/Climatizer
13.5; 15 w/Climatizer (1950)
17.25; 18.75 w/Climatizer (1951)
13.5; 15 w/Climatizer (1950)
17.25; 18.75 w/Climatizer (1951)
Construction layout
front engine, rear-wheel drivefront engine, rear-wheel drive
front engine, rear-wheel drive
Type
body on frame
body on framebody on frame
Body material
steel
steel
steel

Powertrains


Champion
Commander (1950)
Commander (1951)
Type
Inline L-head six-cylinder Inline L-head six-cylinder90-degree overhead-valve V-8
Material
Cast-iron block and heads Cast-iron block and heads
Cast-iron block and heads
Bore and stroke
3.00x4.00 3.31x4.75
3.38x3.25
Displacement (cubic inches)
169.6 245.6
232.6
Horsepower (@ rpm)
85 @ 4,000
102 @ 3,200
120 @ 4,000
Torque (lbs-ft @ rpm)
138 @ 2,400
205 @ 1,200
190 @ 2,000
Compression ratio
7.0:1 (standard);
7.5:1 (optional)
7.0:1 (standard);
7.5:1 (optional)
7.0:1 (standard);
7.5:1 (optional)
Main bearings
4
4
5
Carburetor
1-bbl Carter1-bbl Carter2-bbl Stromberg
Valve lifters
mechanical
mechanical
mechanical
Transmission
3-speed manual*, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears,
column-mounted shifter

3-speed manual*, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears,
column-mounted shifter

3-speed manual*, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears,
column-mounted shifter

Crankcase (qt.)
5, 6 w/oil filter
6, 7 w/oil filter
6, 7 w/oil filter
Electrical System
6-volt, positive ground
6-volt, positive ground6-volt, positive ground
­

*Standard. Transmission options included overdrive and, from mid 1950, Automatic Drive three-speed torque-converter automatic.

Suspension, Brakes, Tires, and Wheels


Champion
Commander
Land Cruiser
Front
Independent coil spring and wishbone
Independent coil spring and wishboneIndependent coil spring and wishbone
Rear
Solid axle; semielliptic leaf springs
Solid axle; semielliptic leaf springsSolid axle; semielliptic leaf springs
Shock absorbers (front and rear)
Tubular
Houdaville (1950)
Tubular (1951)
Houdaville (1950)
Tubular (1951)
Brake type
4-wheel hydraulic, cast-iron drums
4-wheel hydraulic, cast-iron drums4-wheel hydraulic, cast-iron drums
Tire size
6.40X157.60X15 (1950)
7.10X15 (1951)
7.60X15 (1950)
7.10X15 (1951)
Wheels
Steel disc
Steel disc
Steel disc

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