Thursday, January 31, 2013

Studebaker Speedster Development

How it became Studebaker’s 1955 Trendsetter

By: Murray Stahl (12-18-2008)(Rev. 1-31-2013)

The Studebaker Speedster was originally conceived as a show car but was quickly moved into limited production as a high trim level President Hardtop Coupe. One can easily surmise that Studebaker management was using this car as a “toe in the water” entry into the sporty personal car market to match the competition. In 1955 the only cars that even pretended to be sporty were the Corvette, Thunderbird, Chrysler 300 and Kaiser Darrin; three of the four were of the two seater, sports car mode, all relatively new to the market. Studebaker must have sensed a rare opening to exploit an opening in the bruising automobile marketplace of the mid-fifties. It couldn’t afford a clean sheet of paper, all new design but it did have a very low, swoopy coupe that turned heads.

The Speedster name had been used by Studebaker before the depression and awkwardly enough was also being used by Porsche in 1955. I cannot think of another point in automotive history when a model name was in use by two unrelated Auto companies. There is no documentation but it seems reasonable to conclude that Porsche’s use of the Speedster moniker triggered Studebaker’s move to name their 1956 Sport Coupes “Hawks.”

It was in 1953 that the Studebaker, Loewy designs pioneered the long, low pretty touring coupes. The 55 Speedster was designed to exploit the strength of the Loewy design. The 1953 design was almost universally praised as a trendsetter but sales didn’t track the praise. Studebaker’s new design just wasn’t working, market share continued its slide. The quote "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever." By Napoleon Bonaparte comes to mind.

Studebaker’s break-even point was nowhere in sight and 54 sales were horrid. Upon reflection it’s obvious that the quality lapses in the 1953 model launch had hurt badly. Then they had to face the fact that the sleek looking long wheelbase design on the coupe simply didn’t cleanly pass onto the shorter wheelbase, higher sedans; they looked short and stubby to most potential customers.

They sold more coupes than ever but couldn’t overcome the loss of the bread and butter, family sedan sales. The sum-total of these lapses severely impacted sales for 53 and 54. The Studebaker Company was always conflicted; in order to break out of their miniscule market share niche they had to be different yet different, while capable of fostering large sales increases was inherently risky. Any mistake or misstep is a big mistake to a small company. Studebaker management had to be acutely aware of their marketplace peril.

You don’t have to dive very deeply into psychobabble to see the dilemma of the smaller car companies like Studebaker. In 1954 Chevy, Ford and Plymouth sold 3.2 million cars to Studebaker’s 161,521. That essentially meant that you would have 20 neighbors with a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth before you found another Studebaker. That doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that Studebaker tried to compete across the board with the Champion in the low-priced field and Commander / President deep into Oldsmobile’s price range, all under the same name, Studebaker.

By definition a Studebaker owner was an outsider with a minority opinion. The human condition values conformance and buying a Studebaker or Nash et-al Independent branded you an outsider. It’s trite but “go along to get along” was a factor that determined many automobile buying decisions. If you purchased the type of cars your neighbor’s drove you were automatically validated, one of the gang, a regular guy. To be sure some cars thrive on different and quirky, think Porsche or even Jeep but they remained true to their niche reputations and didn’t suffer through a severely flawed product launch like the 53 Loewy coupes experienced. Studebaker never developed a niche place in the market where they could prosper; instead they tried to compete with GM across the board on GMs terms; an impossibility long term. (See “Jeep, the improbable survivor” at:

1955 was a year of changes for the industry and Studebaker. The 6 volt positive ground electrics and the 6 quart, V-8 oil sump were all in there last year. All wiring became vinyl coated, tires were tubeless across the board. They dropped their 1 ¾ inch exhaust and adopted a 2 inch only for 1955! Chevrolet and Plymouth were known to be fielding their first V-8s and all eyes would be focused on them. The industry became enamored with the wrap-around windshield; a mid-year change that proved very costly for Studebaker as they scrambled to incorporate the wrap-around look on their sedans resulting only in two car models that year and production chaos. 1955 was also the year of Studebakers merger with Packard; a star-crossed partnership akin to two downing men fighting for one life preserver. It was into this “perils of Pauline” sort of atmosphere that the trend setting Speedster idea was born.

For 1955 the sales department and dealers seemed to take charge of design. They needed better sales and thought that they knew the correct design path that would lead them there. You can just imagine the pro and con blackboard as they wrestled with their position. The con side was now well known and dominated by the fact that sedans pay the bills and they just weren’t selling. Coupe sales were up but just couldn’t compensate for the sales loss on the sedan side. Everyone at the meeting was part of “overhead” so their untenable position as the industry high cost producer was probably ignored. There was just no easy solution to unhealthy labor costs, inefficient plants, lousy economies of scale and a generally high fixed cost position. The elephant was in the room but ignored; in a triumph of hope over reality or perhaps just the enormity of the restructure that was needed. Studebaker, now (Studebaker-Packard) was a small company with a large company cost structure that needed major change in a hurry. A difficult position that was much easier to ignore than address.

Studebaker’s pro side was more nuanced and manageable. They would note that the three-year-old V-8 was a success and had increased sales at the high end of their sales book where profits were fatter. They had a relatively robust engine design even to the use of solid lifters like hot-rodder’s of the day yet pushing out only a puny 127HP. The engineering staff would advise that yes, output could be raised. Everyone at the table would smile as engineering outlined dual exhausts, four-barrel carburetion and various tweaks that would let their V8 realize 175+ horsepower. Horsepower sold in the fifties management now knew that keeping Studebaker’s V8 output so low amounted to a great lost opportunity.

High on the pro side would be the swoopy coupes styled in the very low mid-fifties European Manner with a long front and rear deck. Their reality was that the coupes were pretty and there were no funds or time for a new design anyway. There would be a lengthy discussion about increasing coupe sales. It would inevitably revolve around the heavy chrome bright work that GM was using on their cars and how it seemed to have goosed GM sales. All attendees would be very aware of how devoid of chrome Studebaker’s models were. The press and art world had applauded the stark beauty of their styling but the bread and butter sedans based on the pretty coupes were not selling. There was no money or time to design a separate sedan so they would default to an increase in bright trim to ape the successful Buick models.

Also on the pro side of the board would be the Packard money that filled Studebaker’s cash bucket. While both Studebaker and Packard were well off their breakeven points and awash in rising deficits, Packard had bought a significant dowry to the merger. It would all go.

The front end would be heavily modified. Someone would suggest they make it reflect the intake of a Jet fighter, “Super Saber.” Side trim would be devised and the parts bin was hit heavily for simulated wire wheels, spot lights, bumper guards etc.. At the end they would be pleased with their efforts but still nervous about increasing showroom traffic. A dealer or sales manager would suggest creation of a show car like GM often did.

From here the ideas would cascade, make it unique, make it fast, and use different color schemes. How about a luxury interior, different dashboard on a fully optioned “halo” car. Humm, a “halo” car implied enough cars to entice buyers into multiple showrooms, why not. Hey, let’s call it “Speedster.” So, as I imagine was the basic concept of the Speedster devised. It was now time to cue the musical theme from “chariots of fire”, ah success.

There was little time so the designers would have to hurry to embellish the top of the line President coupes. A bright tiara would outline the wrap-around rear window. A pretty little crest and script spelling “Speedster” would grace the side trim running the length of the car. The optional center hood trim piece would be tweaked and trimmed in gold. Of course the most cost effective change would be three-tone paint schemes unique to the “Speedster.” The interior would be quality leather in a diamond-stitched pattern very popular with hot-rudders of the time. One of the designers would suggest a “machine-turned” face on the dashboard somewhat like the old Cord had used. It would be only a short leap to the use of wildly optimistic “Stewart Warner” reading 160MPH and 8,000RPM. The excitement of the moment would overshadow the lack of a glove box; perhaps they simply forgot it. By the time it came to market the Speedster was to be sold fully optioned except for the new air-conditioner units. The horsepower of the 1954 V-8 was increased from a modest 127 to a marketable 175HP, a 38% boost for the 55 President; the Speedster boasted 185HP to enhance it’s special place in the sales book. It was decided to build an initial twenty cars for the auto show circuit but they quickly decided on a limited production run that eventually totaled 2215 cars. The initial run of 20 cars all featured the outrageous lemon and lime paint combination to stand out at auto shows. The Speedster had entered center Stage of the automotive marketplace. That’s my story of its creation and I’m sticking with it.

The Speedster came to market at $3,253 while you could purchase a Corvette at $2,800. Of course the Speedster seated 5 very comfortably while the wife’s purse would cramp the Corvette. The Speedster generated very large amounts of both general and automotive press and it was quite favorable. Everyone road tested it and a couple of the car magazines had two articles in the model year. Motor life claimed an honest 110MPH; great stuff in 1955. It was evident that Studebaker was returning to the performance market after an absence of many years; John Dillinger drove Studebaker getaway cars in the thirties but the staid Studebaker management had ignored performance as a sales tool post war.

The limited production Speedster with its sporty, low slung “family sports car” persona did drive people to the show rooms and stimulated press interest. Once people were in those showrooms the Speedster “halo” cars work was done; it was then up to the regular Studebaker line of cars. I think that without the Speedster’s showroom stimulus Studebaker sales may have totally collapsed. It had held the line and pointed the way to the Hawks of the future.
In 1956 Studebaker fielded 11 automobile models, up two from 55. The Hawk lineup totaled four and was headed by the Golden Hawk. It sported the Packard V-8, engine turned dash similar to its Speedster predecessor and full gauges. All Hawks were on the 120.5 inch wheelbase and employed grill work reminiscent of Mercedes. The Flight Hawk was the entry coupe and came with only the Studebaker six. They were only to be a pillared coupe but true to form Studebaker produced quite a few open hardtop Flight Hawks mostly for export.

Studebaker cash flow was fast disappearing but the depth of their offerings in 1956 was astounding. Eleven models, two wheelbases, two V-8s and the largest line of coupes ever. By March of 56 S/P would be actively seeking a new merger partner to prop up their enterprise. By June Packard would cease to exist as a manufacturer with its own unique automobile platforms; henceforth Packard’s would be badge engineered Studebakers for a short while. A sad end for a pioneer company that began life in 1901. Two many models, lack of manufacturing scale, high labor costs and an inefficient factory operation combined to eventually doom Studebaker Packard.

The manufacturing complexity of many models with low volume production must have created a continual state of panic in South Bend. The company should have furnished tranquilizers to its engineering and accounting staff.

Yet there were lapses; in 1955 and 56 Studebaker had no 4 door wagons or convertibles. One wonders what impact a culling of models would have had. Maybe one Hawk model with only a Studebaker V-8 could have been offered at a more attractive price but with all the luxury accouterments on the money saved by elimination of all those models. Having the senior Studebakers on two different wheelbases had to cost more than the benefit you might gain. Studebaker wasn’t viable as a “full line” manufacturer for many decades; if they had consolidated models to increase value and dropped trucks might they still be with us, could they have morphed into a niche player? We’ll never know but it is a fact that well run companies will close or sell divisions that don’t meet profit or growth goals. In our recent past IBM shed its trademark hardware business and concentrated on software services; Corning glass sold off its house ware line and moved into fibre-optics; it can be done.
In 1957 you could have your Hawk with Studebaker’s own supercharged V-8. Forever true to their roots Studebaker’s coupe era ended with the Gran Turisimo of 1962 and the Avanti of 1963. More milestone cars styled to transcend time with styling that approached fine art, created on a budget that the “big three” wouldn’t consider adequate for door handle design.

The Speedster set Studebaker on the road to highly styled touring coupes. It was the direct ancestor of the Hawks despite the name change perhaps triggered by the confusion with Porsche. It was one of the first group of “factory hot-rods”, a trend that remains to this day. It’s a milestone car whose styling still turns heads today; I say Hoo-rah to the Speedster.

I own the Speedster pictured on the sites home page. It’s a rather unusual Speedster with a manual transmission and electric overdrive (a Borg Warned OD); a manual transmission is unusual in a high end car even in 1955. The black-white-black color combination was only available in the last few months of manufacture and I find it elegant. Its pleasant to drive a car that still turns heads almost sixty years after its manufacture.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Speedster-Desoto-Lincoln Road Test Comparo

A good friend gave me a June, 1955 (June) copy of the magazine “Motor Life”. It has a number of road tests and one is of a Studebaker Speedster. It’s interesting reading about what drivers thought of cars back in the day. The writer (Ken Fermoyle) was generally quite pleased with the Speedster dinging it only for the 4 ½ turns of steering, the comparable Desoto was 3 ½ turns; there was no ding for Lincoln with the same 4 ½ turns. I thought it very interesting that the Speedster ran 24.53 MPH per 1000 RPM thus 73.6 MPH at 3000 RPM. My geek-like thought process led to comparisons, all road tests were with automatic trannys, here goes.
Detail ------Studebaker Speedster
Rear Axle Ratio --3.54
Weight ----3250 Pounds
Cubic Inches -----259.2
Horsepower -----185
Pounds per HP-----16.89 Pounds
Quarter Mile Run---20 Seconds—80MPH
Torque -------------258 Pounds at 2800
Zero to 60 MPH----10 Seconds
Top Speed---------110 MPH
Detail Desoto Fireflight
Rear Axle Ratio-----3.54
Weight--------------4300 Pounds
Cubic Inches--------291
Pounds per HP-------21.5 Pounds
Quarter Mile Run-----19 Seconds--
Torque--------------274 Pounds at 2800
Zero to 60 MPH------12.5 Seconds
Top Speed---------105 MPH
Detail of Lincoln Capri
Cost ----------------$3910
Rear Axle Ratio------3.07
Cubic Inches -------341
Horsepower --------225 HP
Quarter Mile Run-----18.9 Seconds
Zero to 60 MPH------12.5 Seconds
Weight--------------4510 Pounds
Top Speed----------105 MPH
I think advantage Speedster mostly due to its weight advantage. It’s of note to recall that Studebaker’s V8 of 1954 had only 120 Horsepower so the Speedster in 1955 enjoyed the benefits of Studebaker’s decision to up the power by 65 HP or 54% year to year!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There is an article immediatly following the Speedster specs listing that follows the how & why of the Speedster as it camke to market. If you like antique cars you might want to read my other website where there are many articles available to download,

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

1955 Studebaker 259 V8 Engine Specs.

Model Designation: Commander V8: 16G8 (this engine was only used after Jan. 3, 1955) President V8: 6H
Wheel base: 2 & 4 door sedans: 116-1/2"; coupes & hardtop convertibles: 120-1/2; Land Cruiser: 120-1/2"
Valve Location: In head
Bore and Stroke: 3-9/16 x 3-1/4
Piston displacement, Cubic Inches: 259.2
Compression ratio: 7.50
Maximum Brake Horsepower: Commander 16G8: 162 @ 4500 RPMPresident V8 6H: 175 @ 4500 RPM (prior to Jan. 3, 1955)President V8 6H: 185 @ 4500 RPM (after Jan. 3, 1955)
Maximum Torque Lbs.Ft. @ RPM:Commander V8 15G8: 250 @ 2800 RPMPresident V8 6H: 250 @ 3000 RPM (prior to Jan. 3, 1955)President V8 6H: 258 @ 2800 RPM (after Jan. 3, 1955)
Normal Oil Pressure Pounds: 40
Spark Plug Make: Champion H11
Spark Plug Gap, Inch: .035
Firing Order: 18436572 (front to rear: left bank: 1-3-5-7; right bank 2-4-6-8)
Ignition Timing: IGN on Vib. Damp.
Engine Idle Speed, RPM: 500
Cylinder Head Torque Lbs.Ft.: 60
Compression Pressure & Cranking Speed: 120 Min.
Voltage & Polarity: 6 volts, positive ground
Fitting Pistons with Scale:Shim Thickness to use: .002 (1 inch wide feeler);
Pounds Pull on Scale:: 11 to 16
Ring End Gap: (Fit rings in tapered bores for clearance shown in tightest portion of ring travel.)Compression: .008Oil: .008
Clearance in Groove: Compression: .002-.0025; Oil: .0015-.002
Wristpin Diameter, Inch: .875
Operating Clearance: Intake: .024 Hot Exhaust: .024 Hot
Valve Seat Angle, degrees: 45
Valve Timing: (BTDC = before top dead center; ATDC = after top dead center) Intake opens: 19 degrees BTDC Exhaust Closes: 6 ATDC
Valve Spring Pressure Pounds at Inches Length: Inner Spring: 50 @ 2-1/32
Valve Stem Clearance: Intake: .0015-.0035; Exhaust: .0015-.0035
Clearance for Timing Intake: .030
Connecting Rod Bearings: Journal Diameter, Inches: 1.99925-2.00025 Bearing Clearance, Inch: .0005-.00215 Rod End Play, Inch: .007-.012 Rod Bolt Tension: Lbs.Ft.: 52-54
Main Bearings: Journal Diameter, Inches: 2.4995-2.5000 Bearing clearance: .0006-.0027 Shaft End Play: .003-.006 (Thrust on front bearing) Main Bolt Tension: Lbs.Ft.: 88-93
Cooling System: Without heater: 17-1/4 quarts With heater: 18-3/4 quarts
Fuel Tank: 18 gallons
Engine Oil: 6 quarts
Transmission: w/out overdrive: 2-1/2 pint; with overdrive: 3-1/2; w/Auto. trans.: 9-1/2 quarts
Rear Axle: 3 pints
Distributor part number: 1110839 (distributor rotates counter-clockwise when viewed from top)
Cam Angle, degrees: 28-34
Breaker Point opening, Inch: .013
Condenser Capacity: .20-.25 Mfds.
Breaker Arm Spring Tension: 17-21 Oz.
Centrifugal Advance: (degrees at RPM of distributor) Advance starts: 2-1/2 degrees @ 350 Full Advance: 17 degrees @ 1450
Vacuum Advance Data: Inches of Vacuum to Start Plunger Movement: 4-6 Inches of Vacuum for Full Plunger Travel: 10-1/2 - 12-1/2 Maximum Vacuum Advance, Dist. Degrees: 8
Generator Number: 1102778 (generator rotates clockwise, 6 volts, positive ground)
Generator output: 45 amps @ 2450 RPM
Brush Spring Tension: 28 oz.
Field Current: 1.87 - 2.0 at 6 volts
Regulator Number: 1118950
Cutout Relay: Voltage to close points: 6.4 Reverse Current to Open Points: 1 amp Armature Air Gap: .020
Voltage Regulator Setting: 7.4 volts
Current Regulator Setting: 45 amps
Current and voltage armature air gap, Inch: .075
Part number: 1107115, 1107116 (starter rotates clockwise)
Bush Spring Tension, Ounces: 24-28
No Load Test: 70 amps, 5.65 volts @ 5500 RPM
Torque Test: 550 Amps, 3.25 volts, Torque, Lbs.Ft.: 11
Caster, Degrees Limits: -1 to -2-1/2 Desired: -1-3/4
Camber, Degrees Limits: 0 to +1 Desired: +1/2
Toe-In, Inches: 1/16 to 1/8
Toe-Out on Turns, Degrees: (If toe-out is incorrect, when other adjustments are correct, look for bent steering arms.) Outer wheel: 20 Inner Wheel: 22-1/2 to 23-1/2
Kingpin Angle, or Steering Axis Degrees: (If king pin or spindle support angle are incorrect, but camber is correct, look for bent suspension arms or steering knuckle support) 6 @ 0 Camber

The Official Studebaker Reference Guide

Lowey Commander Hardtop

President Coupe
Starting Serial Number: 16G6 Champion... G-1316501
Ser. 16G8 Commander... 8380601
Ser. 6H President... 7150001
Location: On plate on left front door post.
Starting Motor Serial Number: 16G6-Champion... 1138001
16G8-Commander... V-312701
6H-President... P-101
Location: 6 and straight 8 - Upper left side of cylinder block.
V8 - Top side front of cylinder block.

Production Information: Champion 50,368
Commander 58,792
President 24,666
General Specifications:
Model Wheelbase (In.) Tread (front) Tread (rear) Length Width Height Shipping Weight (lb.) Tire Size (In.)
16G6-Champion n/a n/a n/a 204 n/a n/a n/a 6.40-15
16G8-Commander n/a n/a n/a 240 n/a n/a n/a 6.70-15
6H-President n/a n/a n/a 206 n/a n/a n/a 7.10-15

General Engine Specifications:
Model # of Cyl - Bore & Stroke # of Main Bearings Type of Lifter Used Displacement Taxable H.P. Developed H.P. Max. Torque Compression Oil Pressure
Champion 6 Cyl. 6 - 3 x 4 3/8 4 Mech. Adj. 185 21.6 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 7.5 40
Commander - V8 * 8 - 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 5 Mech. Adj. 259 40.6 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 7.5 40
President - V8 8 - 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 5 Mech. Adj. 259 40.6 185 @ 4500 258 @ 3000 7.5 40

* After engine numbers 8397201; 8843001; 8958101; the engine was changed to the same engine of the President, except HP is only 162@4500 & torque is 250@2800.

Engine Tune-Up Specifications:
Model Plug Type Plug Gap Dwell Point Gap Ign. Timing Compression Inlet Tappet (hot) Exhaust Tappet (hot) Fuel Pressure Min. Engine Idle
16G6 Champion J7 .030 39 .020 2B 140 .016 .016 4 3/4 550
16G8 Commander H11 .035 31 .013 8B 130 .026 .026 4 3/4 550
6H President H11 .035 31 .013 4B 130 .026 .026 4 3/4 550

Table of Contents | Chapter 5 - Studebaker Cars - Postwar
Studebaker applications and repair kits

Year Engine Model | - - - - - Carburetor - - - - - | Kit

1955 6 170 16G Champion Carter WE 2108 1209
1955 8 224 Commander (Early) Stromberg WW 6 115 537649 1233
1955 8 224 Commander A/T Stromberg WW 6 116 537879 386
1955 8 259 16G (Late) Stromberg WW 6 115 537649 1233
1955 8 259 6H President A/T Carter WCFB 2214 518
1955 8 259 6H President S/T Carter WCFB 2219 518
1955 8 259 6H President S/T Carter WCFB 2330 537887 518

Studebaker General Specs
FRAMES version

Year ProdTotal ModelDesignation WheelbaseInches WeightMin/Max TireSize WheelBoltPattern ValveLocation BoreandStroke PistonDisplacementCubicInches CompressionRatio(Standard) MaximumBrakeH.P.@R.P.M. MaximumTorqueLbs. Ft.@R.P.M. NormalOilPressLbs SparkPlugType SparkPlugGap PointGap DwellAngle FiringOrder IgnitionTimingBTDCorMark Grnd+/-Volts

1954 34,966 Champion 6 15G 116.5 2705/2950 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 169.6 7.50 85 @ 4000 138 @ 2400 40 J7 .025 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
16,469 Champion Coupe 6 15G 120.5 2740/2825 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 169.6 7.50 85 @ 4000 138 @ 2400 40 J7 .025 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
13,062 Commander V8 5H 116.5 3075/3120 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
11,059 Commander Coupe V8 5H 120.5 3180/3265 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
6,383 Land Cruiser V8 5H 120.5 3180/3180 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 232.6 7.50 127 @ 4000 202 @ 2000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
1955 39,673 Champion 6 16G6 116.5 2740/2815 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185.6 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
10,701 Champion Coupe 6 16G6 120.5 2790/2985 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185.6 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° +6
43,878 Commander V8 Early 16G8 116.5 3005/3080 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 224.3 7.50 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
Commander V8 Late 16G8 116.5 3005/3080 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 162 @ 4500 250 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
14,910 Commander Coupe V8 Early 16G8 120.5 3065/3275 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 224.3 7.50 140 @ 4500 202 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
Commander Coupe V8 Late 16G8 120.5 3065/3275 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 162 @ 4500 250 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
24,665 President V8 Early 6H 120.5 3110/3301 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 175 @ 4500 250 @ 3000 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
President V8 Late 6H 120.5 3110/3301 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259.2 7.50 185 @ 4500 258 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .013 28-34 18436572 4° +6
1956 21,731 Champion 6 56G 116.5 2780/2835 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
4,949 Flight Hawk 6 56G 120.5 2780/2780 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
2,236 Pelham 6 56G 116.5 3000/3000 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.50 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
20,221 Commander V8 56B 116.5 3085/3140 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.80 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
7,095 Power Hawk V8 56B 120.5 3095/3095 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.50 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,333 Parkview V8 56B 116.5 3300/3300 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 7.80 170 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
17,243 President V8 56H 116.5 3180/3210 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
8,507 Classic V8 56H 120.5 3295/3295 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,050 Sky Hawk V8 56H 120.5 3215/3215 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1,522 Pinehurst V8 56H 116.5 3395/3395 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.80 195 @ 4500 286 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,071 Golden Hawk V8 56J 120.5 3360/3360 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 4 x 3 1/2 352 9.50 275 @ 4600 380 @ 2800 45 N18-67B .035 .015 28-34 18436572 5° -12
1957 9,348 Scotsman 6 57G 116.5 2680/2875 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
15,513 Champion 6 57G 116.5 2755/3015 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
18,448 Commander V8 57B 116.5 3015/3355 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.0 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
5,684 President V8 57H 116.5 3170/3415 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
6,063 Classic V8 57H 120.5 3270/3270 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,283 Silver Hawk 6 57G 120.5 2790/2790 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
11,035 Silver Hawk V8 57H 120.5 3185/3185 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.0 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H11 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
4,356 Golden Hawk V8 57H 120.5 3400/3400 7.10x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.5 275 @ 4500 333 @ 3200 40 H10 .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1958 21,990 Scotsman 6 58G 116.5 2695/3030 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
6,765 Champion 6 58G 116.5 2795/2835 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
88 Scotsman V8 58B 116.5 3185/3420 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.3 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
11,738 Commander V8 58B 116.5 3185/3420 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.3 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
3,908 President V8 58H 116.5 3355/3365 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 225 @ 4500 305 @ 3000 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1,171 President V8 58H 120.5 3355/3365 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 225 @ 4500 305 @ 3000 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
2,442 Silver Hawk 6 58G 120.5 2810/2810 7.50x14 5 x 4.5 In Block 3 x 4 3/8 185 7.8 101 @ 4000 152 @ 1800 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
4,908 Silver Hawk V8 58H 120.5 3210/3210 7.50x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 8.3 210 @ 4500 300 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
878 Golden Hawk V8 58H 120.5 3470/3470 8.00x14 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 5/8 289 7.8 275 @ 4500 333 @ 3200 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
1959 78,798 Lark VI 6 Cyl 59S 108.5 2577/3470 5.90x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
19,945 Lark VI 6 Cyl 59S 113 2577/3470 5.90x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
16,539 Lark VIII V8 59V 108.5 2899/3225 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
7,889 Lark VIII V8 59V 113 2899/3225 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12
2,417 Silver Hawk 6 59S 120.5 2795/2795 6.40x15 5 x 4.5 In Block 3.00 x 4.00 170 8.3 90 @ 4000 145 @ 2000 40 J7 .030 .020 38-40 153624 2° -12
5,371 Silver Hawk V8 59H 120.5 3140/3140 6.70x15 5 x 4.5 In Head 3 9/16 x 3 1/4 259 8.8 180 @ 4500 260 @ 2800 40 H18Y .035 .016 28-34 18436572 4° -12

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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Studebaker’s New V-8

Triumph and tragedy, An Independent Automobile Company’s quest to survive a change in it’s reality.

By: Murray D. Stahl
(Proud Owner of a Studebaker Speedster )

In 1951 the Cadillac and Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8s were barely two years old. The handwriting was on the wall; an automobile company could only prosper with a modern overhead valve V-8 engine. Studebaker had been contemplating a V-8 for years. In fact after the war the new “coming or going” Studes had frames designed to accept a front or rear mounted power plant either V-8 or pancake 6. (D) (E)

It doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to surmise that Studebaker began thinking of a V-8 as a marketing advantage right around 1948. It had to be a wakeup call when the upstart Kaiser-Frazer outsold Studebaker for a few months in 48-49 even though Studebaker sported a newly designed body style.

It was during this period that Kaiser had a dedicated team working on a V-8 headed by Paul Bastian with Harold Bullard and David Potter. They were far along on the design when the plug was pulled due to poor cash flow. It’s known that Mr. Potter presented his ideas to Studebaker. Today we would call the use of good designs found in various competitors engines “best practices” and there is no doubt that Studebaker built a stout V-8 design by picking and choosing from those best ideas. (K) (G)

Even then the Independents were fighting over a dwindling piece of the market share pie. (K) Studebaker probably saw a large portion of those K-F sales as coming out of their totals. The post-war market where you could sell anything you built was ending and all the independent automobile companies were faced with the same problem, succinctly analyzed by Bill Williams in a 1973 Special Interest Autos article:
“It costs as much for a small company to retool a new car as it does a big one. Chevy or Ford though can amortize that tooling over, say, a million cars while a company like K-F is lucky to produce a tenth of that. Now it’s true that it costs less to tool for a 100,000 car run than for a million car run but not enough less to make the lower run competitive.
Similarly, it costs K-F exactly the same to buy a one-page ad in Life as it did one of the big three. Again (they) could spread this per-car ad cost over perhaps a million cars, so for each car the ad costs, lets say one cent. But for a 100,000 car run that same ad cost K-F ten cents per car.”

The same daunting cost threshold faced Studebaker and all of the other independents. It’s not documented but it seems reasonable to assume that Studebaker was well aware of this cost-disadvantage versus the big three and saw their salvation as being a bolder kind of full line manufacturer. This would certainly explain their very bold, controversial and often-beautiful post-war car designs. It also fostered thrift; the 1953 bumpers were still being used during Studebaker’s end game in the mid-sixties; Chevy had 9 specific bumpers in the same period. They pioneered sliding roof designs and championed the use of Superchargers. The age old question, “Does adversity foster innovation and Excellence” comes to mind. There's no doubt they put themselves into an untenable position by not addressing the fact that their overall costs per vehicle were much higher than their competitors. High labor cost, sliding sales and an inefficient manufacturing plant constituted a perfect storm. High cost equaled low sales and profits that severely constricted funds for redesign or innovation. This circle of problems eventually doomed Studebaker even though their design talent fought bravely to break out of it. Studebaker's break-even point was hovering around 282,000 vehicles sold in a year.

Studebaker was a “full-line” Automobile producer with a miniscule market share. Their competitors enjoyed market shares as high as 55% while theirs was 4% at its high-point in 1950, sinking fast from there to well under 1% in 1954. I suppose Studebaker management could have thought that they could overcome their inherent, structural disadvantages and become a large enough company to survive and prosper but that only shows a triumph of hope over reality.

As the new V-8 was introduced Studebaker management was congratulating themselves on 1950 sales of 334,554 vehicles. It was a high water mark. Soon the company would be hanging on by their proverbial fingernails selling 82,000 cars, 113,920 vehicles in 54. A 66% drop in three years despite a “state of the art” engine and redesigned automobiles. The new engine was a triumph hitting all its design and quality benchmarks but it could not be the silver bullet Studebaker needed. In my opinion their basic business model was faulty.

For Studebaker to market a V-8 in 1951 was a remarkable achievement. Little Studebaker was the only independent to market a V-8 prior to1955, and even this great little engine was designed before anyone realized what a big deal the horsepower race was going to be. A case can be made that Hudson and Kaiser failed due to the lack of a “Modern” V-8. (K) Packard was late to the V-8 party and it certainly contributed to their demise. Nash, aka American Motors lengthened their life and shined themselves up for a sale with their own V-8.

The new engine offered more power and the additional benefit of greater economy as well. In the Mobilgas Economy Run of 1951 a V-8-powered Commander with overdrive managed a 28-mpg average from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon via Death Valley. That beat the 1950 L-head Six Commander's mileage by more than four miles per gallon. As you look at the EPA figures for our modern full size cars take note of how few can match this fuel economy 50 plus years later.

Korean war restrictions and an abbreviated model year due to labor problems meant Studebaker couldn't approach its 1950 sales record. Production in 51 dropped to 268,565 cars, but V-8 Commander sales were a far greater proportion of overall sales than previously: In 1950 Commander sales were just 21 percent of sales, while in 1951 they more than doubled to 46 percent of the total. Thanks to this sales success, plus war production making trucks for the use of the military Studebaker rolled into 1952, it’s centennial, looking proud and strong due in no small extent to the new V-8.

The first Studebaker V-8 started out at a modest 120HP; four years later they gained 46% more power to 185HP on the 55 Speedster. This was accomplished without raising the compression ratio; they did it by tweaking their over-square engine design, slightly expanding the bore, shortening the stroke. Adding a four-barrel Carburetor and split manifold exhaust. (D) An analysis shows that a typical long stroke engines pistons travel 40-odd miles up and down for every 100 miles of automobile travel. In a modern short-stroke engine like the new Studebaker each piston will cover only 29 miles over the same distance. (H) Everything else being equal the less distance a piston travels, the less wear it generates.

When the stroke is shortened the incoming air-fuel mixture has a good deal less velocity through the valve ports; that lengthens valve life and reduces engine noise. In 1955 the little engine that could went from 232 Cubic inch displacement to 259 and boasted a better power to weight ratio than any US automobile save the Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe. It would eventually reach it’s zenith at 289 cubic inches. (H) (E) (J)

The application of forged cranks, rods and pistons along with the high alloy cast blocks promised durability not usual in a low priced car. The use of timing gears instead of chains cost more but assured trouble free, high mileage engines. The designed in full pressure oiling gave the engine state of the art lubrication. “All Studebaker blocks were seasoned; they were cast and painted to inhibit rust then set outside for two cold South Bend winters.” (C) This allowed the block to pre-stress before machining. It was this “seasoning” that held their crankshaft and cylinder bores true, free of stress and was a major reason for high mileage longevity. It was a very unusual practice in all but high-end vehicle engines.
(B) (C)

Hop-up magazine in their 1953 manual of new engines by Gene Jaderquist said that the new Studebaker V-8 so closely follows the Cadillac V-8 in it’s general design and appearance that with the valve covers removed only an expert could tell them apart. All the outside dimensions are within 3/8 inch of each other and the intake manifolds are interchangeable. The valving is similar but for a ¼ inch extra length on the Studebaker. On the Studebaker their rod and main bearing area exceeded the Cadillac by 22% and the little Studebaker V-8 made .515 HP per cube to the Caddy’s .484. (A) Studebaker was the only early adopter of a
V-8 to use solid lifters. With a modified cam they reached 7000RPM in testing with these lifters. (O)

Studebaker had hoped to reduce cost by shortening the engine footprint, which would allow a shorter and lighter car. They were successful; the V-8 powered car came in at 215 pounds lighter and 10 inches shorter than the six cylinders it replaced. Due to the extraordinary cost of developing a new engine from scratch and tooling it for production the design had to allow for the near certainty of much higher Compression and higher cylinder pressures. Their design gave the new engine a lower end tough enough to handle any loads the foreseeable future would likely demand. (B)

Studebaker engineers had planned for compression increases by securing each cylinder Head with 18 bolts; six bolts surrounded each cylinder. This allowed for extraordinary head sealing that virtually eliminated Cylinder head leakage even when subject to the pounding of a supercharger or turbine. To put it in perspective; “late model Mopar, Ford small block and Y-blocks have 10 head bolts, a Buick V-6 (stage ll) has 14.” The very durable, long-lived, Chevy small block V-8 has 17 bolts to Studebaker’s 18. (E)

A small engine to start and it stayed small but only the Chrysler, using a very expensive to build hemispherical head technology, produced more HP per cubic inch. (E)

The trend in fifties engine design was to thin wall casting however Studebaker once again took a different path. They elected to go with a heavy wall casting that would accept large overbores. Few automobile manufactures could boast a possible .187-inch overbore. Even with that enormous overage the castings piston walls remained about as thick as a Chevy V-8 thin-wall block at standard. (C)

In a fit of hyperbole, Tom McCahill, the dean of auto test drivers called the little engine fitted to a relatively light body “nitroglycerine stuff.” Perhaps he was just peering into the future. The little mouse-motor began life as a 120HP weakling but grew to a 335HP production engine by the end of its life. (L) A definite tribute to the robust design. Even Consumer Reports when road testing the new engine praised it for running “quietly and smoothly.” It’s unusual that they praised an engine during this era. (N)

The new 1951 Studebaker V-8 had a built in durability beyond its rather bland, early vitals:

Type: OHV V-8, Seasoned iron block, iron heads
Displacement: 232.6 cubic inches
Bore x stroke: 3.38 x 3.25
Solid Lifter valve train
18 Bolt Heads, 6 bolts/cylinder
Forged crank, rods and pistons
Chromed piston rings
Compression ratio: 7.0:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 120 @ 4,000
Torque @ rpm: 190-lbs.ft. @ 2,000
Fuel delivered through a Single Stromberg two-barrel downdraft carburetor

The US automotive industry in 1951 sold 5,338,435 new cars, including the 1000 millionth. Most models were 'carry-overs' from 1950 with the customary annual facelifts. Only Kaiser-Frazer and Packard's 1951 models were entirely new. Ford and Plymouth introduced their first hardtops in a catch-up effort to match the GM hardtop convertible coup. Hardtops had become very desirable fashionably resembling convertible coupes except that the tops were metal and could not be folded down.

The little Studebaker V-8 came to market during these most difficult years for America's independent auto manufacturers. While the biggest problem was most likely Henry Ford II glutting the market with new cars in a vain effort to catch and pass Chevrolet. The Ford sales blitz put enormous pressure on the smaller companies unable to absorb large losses to sell cars. The old proverb, “when elephants dance the mice tremble, comes to mind. Another problem was the market's embrace of the V-8 engine, which required costly tooling and design changes beyond the capacity of most of the smaller automakers. Studebaker was the first independent to come out with a V-8 and even this great little engine was designed before anyone realized what a big deal the horsepower race was going to be. (F)

Proud Moments at the birth of their V-8
Photo from Studebaker Museum

In the end this small, century old company showed great daring when it bought out the very first OHV V-8 made by an independent automaker. The proof of their determination was the high quality design for their new V-8. This was quickly born out as the new engine found it’s way into 1951 Commanders. There was only a single, small recall and total warrantee costs were appreciably lower than the decades old six it replaced. A very early spate of cam failures was quickly addressed and did not dim customer confidence.

Photo taken at the Studebaker International meet held in September 2008 at Lancaster Pa. by author

The innovative, lets try anything, spirit Studebaker fostered sometimes veered off course. Borg Warner made Studebaker automatic transmissions and along with Studebaker designed a mechanical power steering unit. It was powered through a belt and featured a series of clutches. (M) While touted as simpler than every other manufacturers hydraulic power steering it was discontinued mid-year 1953. The real world found it very noisy and impossibly complex. Road tests late into the model year still talked about it’s unavailability so it seems it only wasted design funds, not warrantee problems. It was very close to still-born. (O) To my eye it looks complex to the point of a parody of a simple design.

Once GM had dropped their small block V-8 bomb into the automobile marketplace the hoary old long stroke, low power flat-head engines everyone had in their sale brochures looked old fashioned and no amount of innovative styling risk could change that perception.

Back in the day carmakers reveled in different; why in 1930 the Cadillac division alone made a V-8 a V12 and a V16. Customer choices abounded. By 1950 General Motors was offering customers the choice of a flathead six or eight cylinder car (Pontiac); an overhead valve six (Chevrolet & GMC), an overhead valve V-8 (Cadillac & Olds), an overhead valve straight eight (Buick) and all kinds of permutations of 2, 3 or 4 speed automatic transmissions. That’s five dramatically different engine designs just at GM. Ford countered with a flathead V-8 or flathead four along with a late arrival overhead valve six. Chrysler hid their head in the sand, completely ignoring any V-8 or overhead valve configuration until 1951. They had done very well with essentially the same flathead six and eight cylinder engines for 25 years. Chrysler also hedged their bet with a semi-automatic transmission that retained a clutch pedal like it was a security blanket in a Charlie Brown cartoon. The marketplace had punished Chrysler in the thirties for an innovative and bold body design and they only seemed to shed the fear of failure with the Hemi developed concurrently with the Studebaker V-8.

These were only the major companies; independents like Packard had marketed wonderful straight, flathead sixes, eights, V12s and V16s. The Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg consortium flirted with front wheel drive and manufactured engines that are still usually considered works of art. Franklin made great air-cooled engines for their expensive cars long after conventional wisdom deemed them too noisy and suitable only for lawn mowers. Crosley and Chevrolet briefly sold “copper” engines that had a lifespan about the same duration as a fruit fly’s.
In an era when drivers routinely tinkered and repaired their vehicles people were fiercely loyal to cars and engines they were familiar with. Once you mastered a flathead the prospect of working on an overhead valve engine was daunting. Change is scary. You could peg people as “Chevy” or “Ford” guys. To my Dad anyone admitting to being a “Studebaker” guy was as far out there as a quarterback wearing a dress. He was an “Olds” guy but willing to humor friends loyal to other makes as long as they were GM makes. When my older brother opened a British sports car dealership it was like finding out his kid was a commie. In those days car ownership was like joining a religious sect except that you could argue about it and argue they did.

It was into this difficult environment that Studebaker blew into the market with its own overhead valve V-8 in 1951. The new engine displaced a diminutive 232 cubic inches while pumping out 120 horsepower. The relatively lightweight Studebaker bodies allowed this V-8 to climb quite high on the performance charts for 1951 with acceleration and top speed figures close to the Oldsmobile 88. The year preceding the new V-8 was very mixed; industry production at 8 million set a record while Studebaker production at some 334,500 units was up 9.7%. Despite the increase in sales profits only rose 1% as Studebaker settled their labor dispute with a contract that would forever haunt them. (F) Whenever revenues rise by 10% while profits only eke out a 1% increase the differential poses a problem. A case can be made that this was the start of Studebaker’s demise. Studebaker's break-even point fluttered around 282,000 vehicles sold in one year. Soon the company would be hanging on by their proverbial fingernails, selling 113,920 total vehicles in 1954. It got worse when 30% of Studebaker's big dealer network abandoned them by 1956. By 1956 sales had cratered to only 85,401 cars, by 1958 it was only 79,301 vehicles. The grim reaper could be clearly seen silhouetted on the horizon. (F) The new engine placed Studebaker in a more competitive position than the other independents but it alone could not negate their horrid cost situation and the botched launch of the new design in 1953.

The Olds and Cadillac V-8 had started an avalanche. One by one, almost every other American manufacturer brought out its own OHV V-8 engine; Chrysler and Studebaker in 1951; Lincoln in 1952; Buick and Dodge in 1953; Ford and Mercury in 1954; Chevrolet, Pontiac, Plymouth, and Packard in 1955; and even AMC in 1956. Each of those engines had its own peculiarities, but they were all in the mold of the Oldsmobile and Caddy V-8. The overhead-valve V-8 would dominate the American industry well into the 1980s, resulting in some staggeringly powerful engines whose output has only recently been surpassed.

So here it was, Studebaker had their V-8 and had just signed on to produce a line of low, swoopy, clearly gorgeous coupes in 1953 that would forever be called, “Loewy coupes”. The designers had viewed this car as a low production kind of “halo” car. It seemed that no thought had been given to just how it would look as a higher more truncated sedan. It looked small and unusual and sold poorly. One of the basic facts of automotive life is that designers love working on convertibles, coupes and sports cars; it’s up to the adult supervision to bring them back to reality. The four door family sedan was the cash cow of all “full line” automobile manufactures; it remains a mystery how the mesmering glow of the pretty coupe design had made Studebaker management lose sight of that basic business fact. A sampling of road test, new model introduction articles showed almost no interest in the sedan, they seem to be rarely even mentioned. (P) (O) (Q) They wanted an innovative, bold design to yank them from their sales doldrums but instead they piled on another layer of problems. As Stated by H.L. Mencken, “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

By 1954 they had stumbled into a merger agreement with Packard that closely resembled two drowning men reaching for a single life preserver. As they merged both companies were losing fearful amounts of money struggling with disappearing sales, obsolete plants and a high cost structure.

In my opinion Studebaker’s demise could have been predicted and avoided by a more intuitive management in the early fifties. In 1950 they had money, a shiny new V-8 ready for launch and many choices for a new car design. They chose the path to continue as a “full Line” manufacturer. They were the only independent with a full line of trucks and heavy defense work. Given that, it should have been possible for management to look into the future a bit and see that the defense work would wane, the competitors could compound “economies of scale” and their labor costs were outrageous. Insight into the future to plan and react is the definition of good management. Others usually handle the day-to-day operational decisions; foresight is what management is paid for and this is where Studebaker stumbled badly.

With our benefit of hindsight we can fantasize that an early move into a high-quality, niche player situation may very well have worked. Porsche, Aston Martin, Morgan and even Avanti Motors come to mind. The key would have been recognizing the confluence of problems they would face early on. As Charles Darwin famously stated, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to Change.”

I can visualize (Ok dream) of a Studebaker company in the fifties that actually analyzed it’s situation and realized that it had very rarely exceeded it’s breakeven point in revenue from vehicles excluding the military business. Since 1941 an almost constant level of military vehicle contracts had propped it up. Could they possibly have thought they would always get the contracts? In my dream they decide to become a high-quality, low volume niche manufacturer, it would require them to shed truck, sedans and most of their unwieldy dealer network. It would be difficult but so was trying to market the awkward conversion of the Lowey coupe to a four-door sedan. The Avanti, Hawks and Speedster showed their design expertise was greatest in specialty, essentially niche automobiles. A breakeven point of 40 to 60 thousand highly styled, high quality autos would seem doable while an every two year cycle of complete redesign of a full product line on dwindling revenues proved to be “a bridge to far” for them. There was that brief window when they had the money. Porsche with their 911, Leyland with the Mini and the seemingly timeless Avanti show that a great design, if properly exploited, remains viable far into the future. The key seems to be “design character” that is able to transcend time. It doesn’t have to be a high-end vehicle, it just has to be true to it’s intended use. The Volkswagen beetle was designed as a high-quality, inexpensive and extremely durable automobile. It was produced virtually unchanged for many decades and became a legend. On the other side of the spectrum sits the Porsche 911; a costly, high-quality, state of the art piece of rolling art that proves that if form follows function then design continuity works. Porsche and Volkswagen didn’t tinker with the original purpose of the vehicle, enhancements were complementary to the original theme be it performance or thrift. The Gran Turismo was a wonderful effort but came to market well after the buying public had tired of the many years of Studebaker struggles. I wonder what would have been had a Sherwood Egbert and Brooks Stevens surfaced early on. They seem to have “got it.”

It’s fantasy but remember the Avanti soldered on for 30 plus years despite chronic under funding. The new V-8 was sorely needed but it certainly couldn’t solve all of Studebaker’s problems.

As this is written it appears that our remaining US auto manufacturers have fallen behind their peers in cost control and innovation forgetting the history of their own industry. The buying public in its group Knowledge is able to discern what is the better product. A sales salvation isn’t possible without having the better product. Its very sad that our current Automobile manufactures have lost sight of how to provide the overall value that their customers demand (R)

The final days of Studebaker saw some wonderful car designs created on budgets that wouldn’t fund a door handle design at GM. The Speedster, Hawks, Lark, Gran Turismo and Avanti were tributes to what I think were the best designers in Detroit. They consistently updated the aged designs and produced many timeless and distinctly different cars. Everything they worked on was based on a design at least 13 years old.

The little V-8 was able to run at 147.36 MPH for 50 Kilometers. The Supercharged Stude V-8 set 72 new USAC records IN 1962 including 118.33 MPH for 500 kilometers and a top speed of 153.48 MPH. Heady stuff for a lark. (F) (D)

Studebaker failed, as most companies do, from management failure compounded by a lack of understanding of the company’s situation. In their death throes they created milestone designs that turn heads today. The failure of Studebaker is constantly reviewed because of the recognition of what could have been. A management with vision could have made them into a niche contender, an icon. In 2008, many decades since the doors closed, the Studebaker Drivers Club (SDC) is the largest and one of the most active single Marquee clubs. That’s a great tribute to their design skill and just plane pluck.

(A) 1953 Hop-up magazine manual of New Engines by Eugene Jaderquist and Griff Borgeesen

(B) The Studebaker V-8 engine; a presentation by E.J. Hardig, T.A. Scherger and S.W. Sparrow at the SAE Summer meting on 6-7-1951

(C) Engine Report, Studebaker V-8 by Classic Auto Restorer, February, 1997

(D) Total performance Independents by Richard Datson

(E) Studebaker Extreme Duty Engine Book by Richard Datson, (1995 edition)

(F) Studebaker, the complete history by Patrick Foster

(G) Road Test Comments on the McCulloch Supercharger, Motor Life, August 1955 article on Supercharged Speedster

(H) Popular Science, November, 1954

(J) Special Interest Autos, SIA #51, June 1979

(K) The last onslaught on Detroit by Richard M. Langworth

(L) Ultimate American Engine Data by Motorbooks

(M) Speed Age, April 1953, America’s First Motor racing Magazine

(N) Consumer Reports, March, 1955

(O) Speed Age, September, 1953

(P) Fortune Magazine, Automobile Topics, February 1953

(Q) Popular Science, February 1953

(R) The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki