Born as a horse-drawn wagon builder, from the minds of immigrants from Holland. The Studebaker Automobile company is one of the most iconic American automobile manufactures of the first half of the 20th Century.
Originally one of the staples of the state of Maryland’s business and manufacturing landscape. The Studebaker Wagon company built horse-drawn transportation when the United States of America was only a collection of newly formed colonies.
After amassing a fortune, buying large amounts of land, and manufacturing some of the most recognizable wagons of America’s early history (the two most famous being the Conestoga and the Prairie Schooner). The companies founder Peter, passed away in the early 1750’s. Leaving the company in the very capable hands of his descendants.
A couple generations later, and after a relocation to South Bend, Indiana. The company continued to build wagons during the height of westward expansion. As well as supplying wagons for the Union Army during the civil war. It was the next generation, however. That began the organization’s foray into automobile production.
They started their “horseless carriage” production by building exclusively electrically powered cars from 1902 through 1911. I find it ironic that many of the first cars ever made in the United States, not just from Studebaker, were electric. With how the current automotive landscape is in 2017. With countries looking to completely ban the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles here in the near future. It makes me wonder what could have been if electricity was favored over oil in the early days of automobile development and what that would have made the future like moving forward.
Tangent over. After relative success in the Indianapolis 500 during the early 30’s, two World Wars and the Great Depression. Studebaker was a radically different company. Producing trucks, and family sedans.
The car we’re focusing on here. Is a 1953 Champion Starliner Coupe. What makes this one particularly interesting is that it’s had a few modifications done throughout it’s life. Being that you don’t see many Champion coupes around anymore, even in Indiana. Let alone one that’s been modified, made this a particularly interesting find.
It came in one day to my place of work. Gliding in, low over the concrete. The rumble of a V8 burbling out of the square side pipes that exit on either side of the car. Tucked nicely underneath the sleek fenders, sits a set of American Racing wheels and BF Goodrich tires. I shared a few lines of conversation with the owner and I was able to discover some of the details about the car.
When the car was restored many moons ago. Someone decided to ditch the original 3 liter inline six. In favor of a Ford small block V8 and a three speed automatic transmission. Other than a few suspension modifications to get the car to sit a little lower. Nothing else has been changed. The body, remains just as it left the factory over sixty years ago. Proper hot rod style. Throw a bigger motor in. Figure the rest out later.
After sharing some parting words with the owner. I ran and grabbed my film camera and snapped some images of the car, laid out underneath a tree in the early summer sun. With the dappled light, glistening in and out between the trees. I could really get a sense of the simple, yet somehow complex lines of the Starliner coupe. With a high waistline and an almost C1 Corvette like winged crease in each door. A short, low slung roof. With a recessed B-pillar and an eerily BMW like “Hofmeister Kink-esque” C-pillar, which meets a wraparound rear window. Follow the chrome trimmed waist and your eyes meet the end of the car. At finned rear quarter panels and a recessed trunk. It’s really a gorgeous design.
It’s really a shame the Studebaker Automobile Company didn’t last. But, not long after this car was made. After increasing pressure from the “Big Three”, a merger with Packard, and worker revolts from the United Auto Workers union (read “A bunch of greedy assholes”). The Studebaker automobile company met it’s end in 1967. After, selling most of it’s assets, closing all of it’s manufacturing plants and rumored sales partnerships between Nissan and Toyota.
Well, I guess we’ll just have to appreciate Studebaker for what they were. Not how they ended up. I know this type of car really isn’t something we normally write about here on the blog, but it’s something extremely local to us. So I believe that it warranted a look and a story on our part. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. You didn’t have to read this far.
Now, however, I want to make a day trip up to South Bend to visit Studebaker’s museum. We’ll see though.
Till next time.