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1941-1942 Studebaker Commander and President

Studebaker Mechanics

The 1941 Studebaker President was powered by the 250.4-cubic-inch L-head straight-eight engine. This power­plant was created in 1928 by the engineering team headed by the famous Del­mar "Barney" Roos. For 1935, it became only eight-cylinder available in the catalog of Studebaker mechanics.

1941 Studebaker
The 1941 Studebakers were available
without the color line on the side.

By 1941, horse­power had been upped to 117 as a result of changes in compression, carburetion, and manifolding. The engine provided a ratio of 0.468 horsepower for each cubic inch of piston displacement and 28.9 pounds of car weight per horsepower. Presidents won the Gilmore economy run in 1940 and '41, and in the latter year, averaged 22.53 mpg in a supervised run from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon.

The Commander was powered by a six-cylinder L-head engine, which traced its heritage back to the 1932 Rockne 65. Designed by Ralph Vail and Roy Cole, it originally displaced 189.8 cubic inches and developed 66 horsepower. When the Rockne was dropped from production after 1933, the engine found a home in the Dictator series through 1937, and eventually in the Commander.

By 1941, displacement was up to 226 cubic inches and horsepower to 94. (Enlarged again for 1949, this engine survived through 1950 in the Commander line and to 1960 in trucks.) The 1941 version produced 176 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm and provided 0.42 horsepower per cubic inch -- one of the most efficient engines then being produced. In the Gil­more economy run, it won its class each year from 1936 through 1941, taking the grand sweepstakes award in 1939 and 1940.

In 1935, Studebaker introduced its exclusive self-stabilizing "planar" independent front suspension. In 1941, it featured a single 48-inch-long transverse leaf spring 2.5 inches wide, packed in grease, and wrapped. The spring was securely bolted to the center of the front cross member and at each end to the lower kingpin yokes. Houdaille lever-type shocks were used front and rear.

Another mechanical "first" for Stude­baker was the automatic hill holder, introduced as an option on its 1936 models. In '38, it became standard equipment on all Presidents and Commanders. This unique device permitted the driver to park on an incline and remove his foot from the brake without concern for roll-back when the clutch was depressed.

Most Studebaker buyers in 1941 opted for the gas-saving overdrive transmission. Besides its economy features, it also helped prolong engine life by significantly reducing engine revolutions. For example, on cars with overdrive and a 4.55:1 axle ratio, the final-drive ratio was 3.48:1. At a mere $47.50, overdrive would pay for itself many times over during the life of the car.

At the outset of production, the Land Cruiser and Cruising Sedan came in only two trim levels, referred to as Custom and Delux-Tone. The Custom was the base model and generally had a solid-color exterior (though the color belt could be painted a contrasting color for an extra $5), plus beige interior trim with a choice of Bedford cord upholstery or Canda cloth at no extra cost.

For an additional $65, one could order the Delux-Tone models, which were embellished with two-tone interior and exterior finish, white sidewall tires, a fancier steering wheel (with ornamental horn ring), stainless-steel door-sill moldings, a chrome strip on the garnish molding, and -- on Land Cruisers -- stainless window-reveal moldings.

Almost the entire industry was offering all-new bodies in 1941, and in virtually every instance, manufacturers could claim them to be longer, lower, and wider. In the case of Studebaker, the wheelbases were increased by three inches on the President 2.5 inches on the Commander. This permitted moving the engine and body forward on the chassis, and allowed the rear seats to be set 11.25 inches ahead of the rear axle, thus providing passengers with increased riding comfort.

The front seat was 2.5 inches wider, and more leg room was available in both front and back. Wider doors, the elimination of running boards, and lowering of the floor made for easier en­trance and exit. Though overall height was approximately two inches lower, there were an additional 163.75 square inches of total glass area and no reduction in head room.

On March 14, 1941, a Skyway trim option was added that gave a completely new appearance to the line. It eliminated the stainless color belt. Other exterior refinements included chrome bands encircling all windows, fender-top parking lights housed in long chrome housing, rear fender skirts, whitewall tires, additional front bumper guards and bumper-tip wings, wide stainless-steel lower-body and fender-finishing strips, wheel trim rings, and rear-fender gravel deflectors with six bands of chrome.

The interior featured a two-tone deluxe steering wheel, leather panels around the front-door window controls, a two-tone instrument panel, bolster-type pleated upholstery, and carpets front and rear. Rich broadcloth or Canda upholstery in either fawn or blue-gray was offered. As an extra-cost option, seats could be upholstered in leather at either $27 or $37, depending upon the color selected.

Shortly after the introduction of the Skyway series, a new body style was introduced, the Sedan Coupe. It was a two-door, six-passenger model with easy access to the full three-passenger rear seat through the 43-inch-wide doors. Its one-piece curved windshield is believed to be the first offered on a mass-produced car-provided one cares to dismiss considering the 109 long-wheelbase Chrysler Airflow Custom Imperials built from 1934 to 1937 as "mass produced." The Sedan Coupe was an extremely attractive body and it was offered in Skyway and Custom trim levels on the Commander chassis, but only with Skyway trim on the President.

Corporate records indicate more than $310,000 was paid to the Budd Company for the dies, jigs, and fixtures necessary to produce stampings for the Sedan Coupe. Total production of this body type was quite small, showing only 477 on the President chassis and 5,195 on the Commander.

Company president Paul G. Hoffman's objective of selling 151,000 new cars in 1941 was not achieved, but the total of 133,997 was quite a respectable number. Of the total, 85,000 were Champions, 41,998 were Commanders, and 6,999 Presidents. This was 26,000 more than were sold in the 1940 model year and the highest production year since 1929. Considering that Studebaker also introduced a completely new line of trucks in 1941, making a total of 9,714 civilian commercial vehicles and another 4,724 to fill military orders, it was a very busy and profitable year for Studebaker.

Today, the 1941 models are highly collectible among Studebaker enthusiasts, ranking among the most popular in the prewar era. This is a tribute not only to the Loewy styling team, but also the Studebaker engineering department and the thousands of dealers and salesmen around the globe who all played a role in popularizing them.

Much had happened in world affairs since the 1941 model run began. The war in Europe had expanded to include the Soviet Union (attacked by Germany on June 21), and the Japanese were extending their sphere of influence in Asia and the Pacific on a daily basis. Studebaker was busily engaged in making both 21/2-ton military trucks and Wright Cyclone engines for the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. The rapidly expanding military requirements for raw materials necessary for national defense were beginning to affect all auto manufacturers.

By the time production got under way on the 1942 Studebakers on August 20, 1941, the Lend-Lease Act had been passed and the Atlantic Pact approved by Roosevelt and Churchill. The former was conceived by FDR as a means of helping the British win the war without direct U.S. intervention; the latter spelled out an eight-point policy regarding the two countries' specific objectives in the conflict. In the minds of many, it was becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. was not going to be able to sit out this war.

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