Studebaker Trucks in the 1940s
In January 1941, Studebaker introduced a completely new line of trucks it called the M-series. Available in four models from half- through two-ton capacity, it found nearly immediate acceptance from buyers and would fill the lineup as Studebaker trucks throughout the 1940s.
The half-ton model, referred to as the M-5, was perhaps one of the most ingeniously designed vehicles of all time. Despite its distinctly truck look, most of its principal components were taken from Studebaker passenger cars. Among other things, this included the engine, transmission, instrument panel, hub caps, bumpers, and wheels. What made it especially unique was the fact that the running boards were interchangeable from right to left and the fenders were interchangeable front to back. While this was not immediately noticeable to the casual observer, it saved the company many thousands of dollars in tooling costs.
The M-series cab, with minor modifications, was used on the nearly 200,000 6 x 6 and 6 x 4 military vehicles Studebaker produced for World War II. After the war, production of the M-series line resumed through March 1948.
The design work on the new 1949 line was done principally by Robert E. Bourke, who is perhaps better known for his styling of the beautiful 1953 coupes and hardtops. Bourke was hired by Studebaker in 1940 and soon became close friends with Virgil Exner, who was then in charge of Raymond Loewy's design staff at Studebaker. Though Bourke was engaged in military work in South Bend during the war, he and Exner often got together after hours to work on Studebaker postwar projects.
The automobile companies had made an agreement that all work on civilian vehicle projects be shelved during the war. Since Exner was not employed by Studebaker but by Loewy and Associates, he felt in a very strict sense that he was not violating the agreement. Using this rationale, he and Bourke managed to get a jump on the industry by having full-size clay models ready for management approval shortly after the war ended in August 1945. The revolutionary new 1947 model passenger cars, introduced with much fanfare in June 1946, beat the Big Three out of the box by more than two years.
Truck design work was not ignored either. Photographs from 1945 of full-size clay mockups of what became the 2R-series truck clearly indicate that the general design concept was well advanced by then. The only significant body change made on the production models was the elimination of the fender-line door crease. Hub caps were also refined and a larger, more "trucklike" front bumper was adopted.
That the truck had to wait nearly 2-1/2 years before being introduced is understandable in view of the logical preference given by management to the new passenger cars. It was also a time of severe materiel shortages brought about by labor problems at many of Studebaker's major suppliers.
Studebaker dubbed the new models the '49ers. The entire line had been completely revamped, as the tall vertical grille and sharp angles of the M-series gave way to a wide, bold, horizontal grille with the cab and fenders presenting a rounded aero shape. In contrast to the M-series, relatively few passenger car parts were used on 2Rs. Those that were included the headlight rims (rotated 180 degrees), hub caps, and hood ornament.