1939-1940 Studebaker Champion

Developing the 1939-1940 Studebaker Champion Body

In all, Studebaker was able to shave nearly 400 pounds from the chassis and driveline. Shown here is a 1940 Champion DeLuxe, with a few simple cosmetic changes from the 1939 masterpiece.
In all, Studebaker was able to shave nearly 400 pounds from the chassis and driveline. Shown here is a 1940 Champion DeLuxe, with a few simple cosmetic changes from the 1939 masterpiece.
David Durochik

Having devised the required engine, Studebaker proceeded to build an automobile around it. As a first step, engineers purchased eight low-priced cars (four from the U.S. and four from Europe), disassembled each, and weighed the parts.

Attention was also given to each vehicle's unique features. The idea was not only to become thoroughly familiar with the competition but to find areas where significant weight savings could be achieved.

The result was a new chassis that was stiffer and stronger per pound than any previous Studebaker frame -- and 30-percent lighter than those of class competitors.

Its backbone comprised straight crossmembers arranged in the usual "X," but fully boxed at the center and unusually deep at 7.9 inches. Wheelbase ultimately emerged as 110 inches, just two inches less than that of the 1939 Ford and Chevy.

Front suspension was never in doubt: an improved version of the "Planar" independent system devised by Delmar G. "Barney" Roos and introduced with Studebaker's 1935 models. This involved a transverse semi-elliptic spring with 11 leaves clamped to the box section of the front frame crossmember.

Shocks were medaille double-action hydraulic units front and rear. Steering was by Rosstwin-lever gear with variable ratio (19.5 to 24:1). A 17-inch steering wheel also enhanced handling ease, as did needle bearing in the knuckle pins.

With their lighter powerplant, engineers could trim 46 pounds from the suspension, wheels, and steering without sacrificing ride, handling, or safety. The frame itself weighed 68 pounds less than the competitive chassis; the rear axle assembly was lighter by 33 pounds. In all, a savings of 357 pounds was realized on the rolling chassis and driveline, including some 80 pounds in unsprung weight (i.e., weight not directly supported by the springs).

There's an engineering axiom that says every pound of unsprung weight equals five pounds of sprung weight, so that 80-pound reduction actually amounted to about 400 pounds so far as ride was concerned.

In the meantime, Studebaker had secured the services of Raymond Loewy, the suave industrial designer who'd already achieved prominence with a client list that read like a Who's Who of American industry.

Though Loewy contributed to many of the designs emanating from his New WK studio, the sheer number of projects at any given time dictated that most of the actual work be done by talented subordinates. Loewy himself tended to function more as a "front man" with clients -- he could certainly "sell" a

design -- and is thus usually credited with work not solely his own.

The new low-priced Studebaker was no exception. Though typically termed a "Loewy" design, it was actually penned by Clare Hodgman, the head of Loewy's products division. In his book Never Leave Well Enough Alone, Loewy described Hodgman as "one of the country's foremost designers," one "gifted with a delightful sense of icy humor [who] is the ideal traveling companion for those long stretches through the Middle West. . . ."

This was the firm's first Studebaker commission, so Hodgman labored mostly in New York, but the success of this project led to other contracts, and Loewy eventually set up a special studio in South Bend.

Learn about the Champion's final design touches in the next section.

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