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1941-1942 Studebaker Commander and President

1942 Studebaker

Since considerable money had been expended in creating new bodies for the 1941 model line, there would be no significant changes in this department for the 1942 Studebaker. The restyling of the front sheetmetal, however, gave the '42s an entirely new look.

1942 Studebaker
The 1942 Studebakers were not restyled,
but war preparations eliminated brightwork.

Two-piece stainless grilles, split only by a narrow vertical bar, extended entirely across the front of the car. Slightly below and inboard from the head­lights on Commanders and Presi­dents were two round "blanks" where fog lights could be added for an additional $12.25. Larger, more massive bumpers and bumper guards guarded fore and aft, and bigger, more ornate horizontal taillights were formed around the lower fenders. All brightwork except the headlight rims was new for 1942.

As in '41, there were three trim options, with the Custom being the base model and the Skyway the top of the line. In between was the Deluxstyle, successor to the Delux-Tone of 1941. The difference in the three was in appointments. Skyways were two-toned, had rear fender skirts, stainless moldings around the windows, and fully chromed rear-fender gravel shields. Deluxstyle cars were distinguished by wide stainless moldings below the side windows.

The only significant mechanical im­provement for 1942 was the introduction of Turbo-matic Drive. This innovation consisted of a fluid coupling, an automatic vacuum-operated clutch, and a conventional three-speed transmission with kickdown overdrive. The clutch pedal was eliminated, and gear shifting was reduced to a minimum.

Studebaker engineers had done a considerable amount of testing on this new transmission, and it received a great deal of advertising promotion early in the model run. An October 8, 1941, sales bulletin sent to dealers indicated that delayed production of the new transmission was due to an inability to get the machinery necessary to produce the units. This was a result of precedence given by the suppliers to defense priorities. The letter went on to say that the machinery had finally been received and orders for the Turbo-matic would be taken after November 1. (The cost was established at $90).

Then, in early November, another message said that production would be postponed indefinitely due to "the requirements of the defense program."
Only six cars equipped with Turbo-matic were produced between August 21 and September 15, 1941. Three were Presi­dents and three Commanders. One of the Presidents was sent to Borg-Warner for testing and evaluation, and a second was earmarked for factory use. It is not known whether any were ever released to the public. (Rumors of a survivor in eastern Iowa in the Seventies were investigated, but nothing turned up.)

Other improvements of a minor nature included moving the starter switch from the dash to a button on the floorboard under the clutch (as on Champions), and making trunk lights standard on all models. Presidents were fitted with 15-inch rims, and a new type of overdrive transmission entered service in December. Available only on the President, it was set to engage at 20 mph rather than 30 mph, and stay in down to 17 mph. This made the overdrive available for nearly all traffic situations rather than just for open-road use. The factory noted that the torque of the President engine made this improvement possible, and that under optimum conditions, it could produce another 4-5 miles per gallon.

Instrument panels were completely redesigned and were particularly attractive, with engine-turned panels of stainless steel. The finish of the radio grille was of clear lucite. Seat bottoms were wider; upholstery and door panels more luxurious.

Directional signals were added to the list of accessories ($19.25), as was a unique steering-wheel radio remote control. This permitted the driver to change stations from a lever on the steering column ($70.25 for radio and remote). A rear-seat radio remote control consisting of a foot-activated button mounted on the floor was also available ($5.25). We can well imagine the arguments that these two options might have caused between the front- and rear-seat passengers!

Another casualty of defense preparedness was the elimination of whitewall tires. Due to the Japanese cutting off Amer­ican access to Malaysian rubber, the government ordered tire companies to discontinue the manufacture of white sidewalls after August 23, 1941. It required about 24 ounces more of crude rubber to produce a whitewall tire than a similarly sized blackwall. Since 14 percent of all new cars came with this option, eliminating them was estimated to save 12 million pounds of precious rubber a year.

However, since dealers were allowed to purchase tires out of the surplus stock held by the tire companies, there were probably a few cars that left showrooms so equipped. As the crisis deepened and shortages grew more acute, even spare tires were eliminated. All cars and light trucks leaving the Studebaker factory after Decem­ber 11, 1941, had only four tires.

Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor would soon bring almost all automobile pro­duction to a government-imposed stand­still. Before taking this drastic step, however, officials sought to con­serve certain critical metals like chrom­ium, nickel, and stainless steel by requiring most brightwork to be eliminated. (The bright trim on completed cars still in stock had to be painted over.)

Consequently, all Studebaker cars built on or after January 16, 1942, were considerably altered in appearance by this regulation. Stude­baker referred to these cars as "series 90," since 1942 was the company's 90th birthday. Today, however, they are generally referred to as "blackout" models. In order to provide vehicles that would ap­proximate the beauty of their more glittery predecessors, Studebaker did much research on the use of noncritical metals like Indium silver, and utilized baked-enamel finishes in colors that would offer pleasing contrast to that of the body.

Production of the series 90 during the last two weeks of January 1942 came to 4,612 Champions, 1,688 Commanders, and 408 Presidents -- about 13 percent of the model-year total. Sur­viving examples are quite rare. The last Studebaker off the assembly line on Jan­uary 31, 1942, was a President Sky­way Land Cruiser bound for Mexico. It would be almost four years before civilian car production would resume. During that period, all sales of new cars still in dealer or factory stock would be strictly monitored by the Office of Price Administration.

The total of all new unlicensed cars in February 1942 was roughly 550,000, of which about 8,000 were Studebakers. By the time car rationing ended on Novem­ber 1, 1945, there were fewer than 25,000 remaining. In fact, Studebaker records show sales of 45 new 1942 cars in 1946 and 150 more in 1947!

Studebaker automobile sales in 1941 and 1942 were excellent. The company had net sales of $115,700,333 and showed a profit after taxes of $2,486,397 in 1941. In addition, it moved up one position to ninth place among U.S. automakers, garnering 3.06 percent of new-car sales. Although Studebaker would achieve an all-time high in employment and profit during the war years, there is no reason to believe that the upward sales trend that started in the late Thirties would not have continued had the war never happened.

The company dropped the straight-eight engine and the President line after World War II. (A V-8 would be introduced in the 1951 Commander, and the Pres­i­dent name revived for a top-of-the-line series in 1955-58.) A short run of prewar-style 1946 Champions would serve until a dramatic all-new design was brought out. Thus, the cars produced in the 1941-42 period were quite unique in design and engineering.

Due to the relatively large number produced, there are still a fair number of most body styles available at fairly reasonable prices. That and the fact that they can maintain modern freeway speeds in relative comfort help make them some of the most collectible prewar Studebakers.

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