There can be an amazing price paid for beauty. Studebaker found out far too well when it decided to put a stunning coupe on the market in 1953. Giving the general buying public access to a international flavored fantasy at a fraction of bespoke prices lead to many a headache. Unfortunately, Studebaker didn’t have any expectation of overwhelming success for their new star.
What we behold here are perhaps the most fatal beauties in the history of the American Automotive Industry. In that failure, however, they created an automotive segment that would come to dominate the American Automotive landscape in just over a generation.
The clean grace and decidedly athletic lilt of the look of the new Studebaker Coupes (available in pillared Starlight and Hardtop Starliner guise) were refreshingly modern and perhaps a bit too futuristic to 1953 eyes.
When one compares them to what the Big 3 was offering that year, they still seem unabashedly modern compared to their contemporaries from 60 years ago. Even the gaudier updates that add more chrome to the 1956 version do not sully the linear poise of the original design.
The stunned public turned out in droves for the possibility of dream cars come true in 1953. Unfortunately the problems between internal strife and external demand proved too stressful for Studebaker to deal with.
The first source of the problem was that the Coupes rode on a different frame than the normal Studebaker Sedans. This meant Studebaker was producing 2 distinct car lines in an outmoded factory that could barely sustain demand for one car line. It unfortunately led to numerous quality issues with the cars before leaving the factory, nevermind when they arrived in customer hands.
Studebaker had also anticipated that the sedans, with the Coupe styling applied to the more awkwardly upright shorter sedan bodies, would take the bulk of the sales. By the time the production line started to take into account the demand for the coupes, the stories of poor build quality took one blow. Another blow was a cost war between Ford and Chevrolet that deeply wounded independent brands. Many potential customers got fed up and went with comparatively priced, better assembled (if more dowdy) Bel-Airs and Crestlines over the Star-Crossed Studebakers.
In the fallout from these mistakes, Studebaker quickly recast the Coupes as specialty models, and ever increasingly started highlighting super luxury versions of them; staring with the President Speedster in 1955, culminating with the Packard V8 equipped Golden Hawk in 1956.
Priced well into Oldsmobile-Buick territory, they represented the first salvo into the Personal Coupe market. Ford would capitalize in this portion of the market with their Squarebird version of the Thunderbird a short 2 years later. This portion of the market would become the honey spot for American Manufacturers within 15 years, by which time no American Car brand worth their dealership network wouldn’t offer something more close coupled and “exclusive.”
Unfortunately Studebaker got left in the dust not once, not twice, but three times in a market segment it created. The Golden Hawk faded in recession strangled 1958, and the body limped on until it was recast with some Thunderbird like traits as the Grand Turismo Hawk in 1962, where it carved a short revival. Studebaker also tried the segment with the avant garde Avanti in late 1962, but ended up repeating a number of the same mistakes that befell the original Starlight Coupes 10 years earlier.
Innovators often don’t get the credit they deserve for their creations, and Studebaker notably missed a few accolades for their ideas. Here’s a toast to some of the finest beauties of all Automotive times, and a bit of forgiveness for all of the flaws they embodied.