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How Studebaker Works

1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 Studebakers
The 1947 Commander was one of Studebaker's first models to return when production resumed after World War II.

Costing some $11 million to develop, the appealing 1947 Studebakers -- the first new models since 1942, because of World War II -- had evolved from sketches done as early as 1940 by young Robert E. Bourke. It was that work that prompted Bourke's hiring at design firm Loewy Associates by Virgil M. Exner, the group's chief stylist.

Exner had joined Loewy before the war after a career at Pontiac. Though Exner began the '47 Studebaker program, he left Loewy before the design was finalized, so the end product was a blend of Exner and Bourke ideas.

Postwar Presidents were still some years off in 1947, but Commanders returned along with Champions. The latter, no longer called Skyway, were little changed mechanically, but rode a two-inch-longer wheelbase. A special 123-inch chassis was reserved for a lush new Commander Land Cruiser priced at $2043.

Other Commanders retained the prewar 119-inch wheelbase. Both series listed two- and four-door sedans (the latter now with "suicide" back doors), long-deck three-seater coupe, and a new five-passenger "Starlight" coupe with radical three-element wraparound rear window. All were available with base DeLuxe trim or, for about $120 more, in new Regal DeLuxe form.

Also new were a pair of Regal convertibles, a $1902 Champ and $2236 Commander. Studebaker returned to profitability in 1947, earning more than $9 million on 58.5-­percent higher calendar-year car/truck sales.

The upward trend continued in 1948, with $19 million in earnings on calendar-year output of over a quarter-million cars and trucks -- both Studebaker records. Predictably, South Bend's cars changed little for '48, though a winged hood medallion provided instant identification.

Another, more significant linewide change was a price hike averaging $200, bringing stickers to $1535-$2430 in reflection of strong postwar inflation. South Bend moved up a notch on the industry roster, finishing seventh for the model year with nearly 185,000 cars.

Though brand-new styling was planned for 1949 to one-up the competition again, lack of time precluded it, so Studebaker settled for refinements. Champs sported a new grille composed of horizontal and vertical louvers forming three rows of rectangular openings, and the Commander six was stroked to 245.6 cid, good for an even 100 bhp. Despite the lack of change, profits soared to $27.5 million. Studebaker was 98 years young in 1950, which would be its best-ever car year. Model-year production totaled 343,166. Grand preparations were underway for the firm's "second century," about which there were many equally grand predictions. But, of course, that second 100 years would be cut far short -- to exactly 14. Seeking to look fresh against newer-design rivals for 1950, Studebaker gave its basic '47 bodies a dramatic cowl-forward facelift that was controversial at the time. According to designer Bob Bourke, the new "bullet nose" front was ordered by the French-accented Loewy with the words, "Now Bob, eet has to look like zee aeroplane." It did, and had the most-bizarre face of any American car since Graham's abortive 1939-40 "Sharknose."

The new front increased wheelbase a nominal one inch for all 1950 Studebakers, bringing Champs up to 113 inches and Commanders to 120. Engines were unchanged. So was the line-up, except for a quartet of price-leading Champ Customs in the low $1400s. That year's Land Cruiser was tagged at $2187.

The year's big technical news was "Automatic Drive" as an across-the-board option. Studebaker had designed this excellent new fully self-shifting transmission in cooperation with the Detroit Gear Division of Borg-Warner -- the only postwar automatic developed by an independent other than Packard's Ultramatic.

Wheelbases were rearranged again for 1951, thanks to an improved chassis with better brakes, easier "center-point" steering, and a 115-inch wheelbase for all models (up two on Champions, down five on Commanders) except the Land Cruiser, which got a 119-inch spread.

Champ power was unchanged, but there was big news in Studebaker's first V-8, a new standard for Commanders. Sized at 232.6 cid, it pumped out 120 bhp by conventional means, although overhead cams and hemispherical combustion chambers had been considered.

Rising production costs forced Studebaker to raise prices a bit for 1951, and again at midyear for a range running $1560-$2380. But buyers seemed happy to pay for South Bend's lively new V-8, which boosted Commander sales no less than 70 percent.

Appearance changes for '51 were slight. The bullet nose was toned down by painting its chrome outer ring, the prominent air vents above the sub-grilles were erased, and model names were spelled out on hood leading edges. However you think it looks now, the 1950-51 ­bullet nose was quite salable. Though Korean War restrictions held 1951 car production to 268,566, Studebaker actually increased its market share from 4.02 to 4.17 percent.

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