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Studebaker Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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The Studebaker brothers Henry, Clem, Jacob, Peter and John Mohler (of German origins) built up the largest wagon making business in the world during the late 1800s, and were based in the town of South Bend, Indiana. Their fi rst car produced in 1902 was electric, but petrol engined cars followed in 1904, which were ostensibly horseless buggies. Their first cars were built in Detroit, while the wagon building side of the business remained in South Bend until 1920 when it was sold to the Kentucky Manufacturing Company. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was renamed in 1911 as the Studebaker Corporation. The Pre-war Suburban model sold well and during WW1 the company produced gun carriages and cars for the military.

Following WW1 the Studebaker line-up included a Light Four, Special-Six, Big-Six, and Light-Six models, the latter of which was produced between 1920-1924 with around 200,000 built. By 1925 the company were placed 7th in the US car manufacturing industry. Studebaker hit hard times during the great depression with only 25,618 cars built in 1932. Indeed, the company fi led for bankruptcy in 1933 with receivers Paul G. Hoffman and Harold S. Vance of truck builders White, putting the company back on the road to recovery.

In 1936 Studebaker hired Raymond Loewy, one of the America’s top industrial designers to come onboard and unleash his immense creative talents. It was to become an extremely fruitful and long running relationship that endured right up until the 1960s. His fi rst input was with the Commander model of 1938, followed by the Champion, and Studebaker enjoyed much prosperity up until the outbreak of WW2, when they were engaged with building the Weasel amphibious troop carrier, Wright- Cyclone aero engines and trucks for the war effort. 

Following WW2 the new Champion model was a great success, with styling once again courtesy of the Loewy Design Studio with much credit going to Virgil Exner who left to join Chrysler in 1949. The top of the range Champion Starlight Coupe of the early 1950s, was in a class of its own, with nothing else quite like it on offer from other manufacturers. More brilliant designs from Loewy were to follow in the shape of the President and Hawk Series of two-door sporting coupes. Studebaker merged with Packard in 1954. However, this did not prevent fi nancial worries looming and the compact Lark model of 1959 staved off almost certain demise for a few more years.

The swansong was the Avanti of 1963, another Loewy design triumph. It was Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert’s last ditched efforts to rejuvenate the company’s image with a sporting four-seater with a GRP body. However, with initial production problems, and with the Corvette as the main competition, only 4643 were built, though the production rights were later purchased by Leo Newman and Nathan Altman, who soldiered on with the Avanti II. The factory at South Bend, Indiana, closed in December 1963, but production of the compact Daytona and Wagonaire continued at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with the last car built on March 17th 1966, thus ending 114 years of Studebaker as a manufacturing company, initially with wagons and later cars The forerunner of the successful Hawk series of cars, the post-war President portrayed an interesting front bumper/ grille design known colloquially as the ‘fi sh-lip’ for obvious reasons! Studebaker did indeed offer some pretty garish colour schemes that included Pink and Black and possibly the most lurid being Lemon & Lime. The President Speedster pillarless coupe was actually a show car at the start of ’55, but ended up as a limited production run, and boasted plenty of chrome and brightwork. Power came from a 259ci V8 engine rated at 185bhp, with power steering and brakes as standard equipment.

The Speedster model offered a diamond quiltedpattern leather trimmed interior and an attractive tooledmetal appliqué dashboard, with white on black instrument gauges. Only 2215 President Speedsters were produced in ’55 making them quite a rarity nowadays and a good performer too. Motor Trend Magazine reckoned it was a fun car to drive. Price £15,000 upwards.

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