1937, 1938, 1939 Studebaker Coupe-Express Development
No one can say with certainty who came up with the idea for the 1937 Studebaker Coupe-Express. At the time of its introduction, James R. Hughes was director of the Studebaker body-engineering department, and Paul Auman headed up the experimental-body division.
It is certain that both men were involved in the project, though the idea could have originated with someone in sales or perhaps president Paul G. Hoffman, an ardent truck proponent, or even board chairman Harold S. Vance.
It appears that the cab was created using a four-door sedan as a base -- the width of a Coupe-Express door is identical to that of the four-door sedan. The doors won't interchange with a sedan, though, since the upper rear portion is squared off on the four-door and rounded on the Coupe-Express. Still, some manufacturing economies were realized by virtue of the similarity. The cab body for the Coupe-Express was also used by all the larger conventional-cab trucks in the line from 1937 to 1940.
The Coupe-Express got its name from the fact that it had three-passenger coupe seating and an "express" body, express being the common term at the time for what we now call a pickup. This type of vehicle had long been popular in Australia, where these utility vehicles came to be called "utes." Generally, however, the utes were modified from actual coupe bodies.
Unlike many late-1930s pickups, the 1937 Studebaker
Coupe-Express pickup bed did away with cargo
boxes and tailgates with visible ribs, stampings,
and overhanging flare boards.
While the Coupe-Express was not a unique concept from a styling standpoint, it was certainly unique for its stylishness and its amenities, the likes of which had never before been offered by any other manufacturer.
The all-steel cab was insulated, and fully lined and upholstered in cloth (like that used in Dictator-series cars) or imitation leather. Genuine leather was also available in dark blue or tan for an additional $12.50, or maroon, bright red, light gray, dark green, or light blue for $25. Mohair was a $5 special-order option.
Other appointments also included a full three-passenger seat with adjustable back, passenger-car instrument panel and gauges, a roomy glove compartment with lock, and Hancock rotary door latches. Other built-in features included a warm-air defroster, ashtray, armrests, vent wings for controlled ventilation, and interior lighting. In short, it possessed every practical convenience familiar to passenger-car owners.
To assure a comfortable carlike ride, it had two-stage rear springs (a first on a light-commercial vehicle). The front suspension was a conventional I-beam suspended by elliptical leaf springs and tubular shock absorbers. (Price sheets sent to dealers in 1937 also mention the availability of "planar" independent front suspension for a $20 charge, though it is not known if any J-5s were so equipped.)
The engine was similar to the Dictator Six, an L-head design of 217.8 cid. In Dictator cars, it made 90 bhp, but for the Coupe-Express, it developed 86 bhp at 3600 rpm and generated 161 pound-feet of torque. The prominent features of the Dictator engine included a positive full-pressure oiling system, aluminum "heat dam" pistons, steel back bearings, balanced counterweighted crankshaft, combination air cleaner and carburetor silencer, Fram oil filter, and positive crankcase ventilation.
The engine was also equipped with an automatic choke control and fast idle, a manifold heat-riser valve, automatic spark control, and automatic temperature control via use of an inline thermostat. (To test for reliability, one of Studebaker's engineering requirements called for engines to be run for 50-hour periods with the throttle wide open.)
A three-speed transmission was standard, but performance and economy could be enhanced by the optional overdrive, which listed for $44.50 -- also a first for a light-commercial vehicle.
Next, get more details on 1937 Studebaker Coupe-Express design features.
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