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1937-1939 Studebaker Coupe-Express

1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express Chassis and Engine

As with the bodies, the chassis was also completely new for the 1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express. The X member in the 1937 models did not cross but was welded and riveted to a box-shaped centerpiece. The new frames did away with the centerpiece and made each leg of the "X" an unbroken line from one side of the frame to the other, making it more rigid and also lighter. The engineers claimed the new frames to be 5.5 times stiffer and 52 pounds lighter than in the previous year.

1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express
The 1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express was redesigned
and reengineered, gaining an inch in wheelbase
within an improved frame that was lighter,
yet more rigid.

To provide better balance and place sedan rear-seat passengers ahead of the rear axle, the engine was moved about five inches forward in the chassis. For the Coupe-Express, this also meant moving the cab forward by a like amount. This, in turn, increased the distance from the back of the cab to the rear axle and provided a box 5.5 inches longer than that used on the '37 J-5.

Though the increased length of the Express body could be used as a selling point, there was a drawback, and that was the mounting of the side-mounted spare tire.

All Coupe-Expresses came equipped with the spare tire mounted in the right front fender as standard equipment. When the cab was moved forward, however, it decreased the distance from the door to the front axle, making it difficult to provide the necessary clearance for the sidemount without raising it up some six inches. That is why the 1937 sidemount nestles rather comfortably into the fender, while those on 1938s and 1939s rise in a rather ungainly manner above the line of the hood.

For those interested in aesthetics, however, Studebaker offered a plain fender in place of the sidemount and deducted $4.25 from the price. (Omitting the tire also provided another $9.75 allowance.) Incidentally, right-hand-drive export models had the sidemount on the left side.

1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express engine
The 1938 Studebaker Coupe-Express was powered
by a 226-cid six that made 90 bhp.

Though the basic engine remained unchanged, the bore was increased slightly, raising displacement to 226 cubic inches. Ratings for horsepower (90 bhp) and torque (173 pound-feet) were up, too.

Another significant engineering objective for 1938 was the elimination of the floor tunnel over the transmission case. Road-clearance requirements made it impossible to lower the transmission; aesthetics and aerodynamic considerations discouraged raising the body. A smaller transmission might accomplish the objective, but this would sacrifice strength and reliability.

The solution was to toss out tradition and simply rotate the transmission by 90 degrees, thereby putting the shifting fork on the side of the case rather than the top. Though the transmission gears, shafts, and other associated parts remained essentially the same, the modification required a number of changes in shifting levers, forks, and ancillary parts.

An option available on the entire line of passenger cars and the K-5 was a vacuum-assist gearshift control. It provided for fingertip shifting via an eight-inch lever mounted just below the instrument panel. By removing the shifter from the floorboard, it allowed for real three-passenger comfort. It is doubtful that many Coupe-Expresses were ordered with this $30 option; none with it are known to have survived.

Of course, Studebaker's overdrive and free-wheeling transmission was also available in 1938 for $44.50. The rear-end ratio was the same as the previous year, 4.55:1 (optional 4.82:1), but with overdrive engaged, the final-drive ratio was a comfortable 3.29:1. To illustrate the engine-saving potential of the overdrive, consider that engine rpm at 50 mph was 2730 without overdrive, but 1818 with it engaged.

Whereas most of the 1937 models utilized the standard I-beam front axle with elliptical springs, all 1938s were equipped with Studebaker's exclusive planar suspension. Advertised as "the most trouble-free wheel suspension in automobile history," it featured a 48-inch-long leaf-type transverse spring made of silico-manganese plates 2.5 inches wide.

In the Commander and Coupe-Express, the spring contained 14 leaves, which were packed in grease and then wrapped in thin metal. When properly lubricated according to factory recommendations, the springs and other front suspension components gave reliable service and a comfortable ride.

Next, find out whether major changes were on tap for the 1939 Studebaker Coupe-Express.

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