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.
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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