There’s a price to pay for being independent. Possibly no manufacturer continually learned that lesson better/worse than Studebaker. With big ambitions yet more often than not modest budgets, the sensations of South Bend often shot for the stars but found little oxygen to continue their journeys beyond the stratosphere.
Where larger manufacturers could find cash to carry them into modest restyles and updates, smaller brands had to stick to guns they fired. This is where the story of the “first by far with a Postwar Car” 1947 Studebaker found itself 6 seasons later in 1952.
Not able to field an all-new car for their 100th Anniversary in the vehicle business, Studebaker sent a massively restyled version of their 1947 vintage automobiles to showrooms. New to the line was a fashiona(bly) late 2 Door Hardtop coupe that was all the style leading rage since GM released a trio of beauties in 1949.
Still available was the wrap around window Starlight Coupe, like our subject Commander series car. Out however was the Aerospace-inspired Spinner Grille of 1950-51.
Out back the fender grew small fin like appendages that gave a more pert appearance with another round of vertical tail lamps. Other than the Two Door Hardtop, most of the body in between remained the same.
While Chevrolet/Pontiac and Plymouth/Dodge weren’t all that much more new for ’52, Ford/Mercury offerings had distinctly more modern styling, and were competitive with Studebaker in terms of size, price and performance. With Korean war restrictions on production not helping matters, the once futuristic flyers were now old hat, and saw a sales decline over offerings from the previous model years.
These moments happened despite innovations like the only Overhead Valve V8 available in the popular priced class of cars, and the only not fully outsourced automatic transmission used by an independent other than Packard’s Ultramatic. The more flexible Automatic Drive, co-developed with Borg Warner, was possibly the 2nd most flexible automatic transmission on the market after GM’s much in-demand Hydra-Matic, and definitely light years ahead of 1-2 speed units offered by a number of brands. 0-60 times varied due to transmission and axle ratio choice, but the 12 to 17 second range offered by the 120 horse mighty mouse motor decidedly bested sleepier performance offered by a number of rivals. In 1952, you had to step up to solidly medium priced offerings from DeSoto, Oldsmobile or Hudson to get more enthusiastic performance.
The high compression blend and tidy displacement offered remarkable economy as well. Overdrive equipped Commander V8’s could see gas mileage in the Mid 20 range under a light highway foot, and over 20 mpg out on the road wasn’t uncommon for automatic transmission models. In a number of ways, the steady innovations and improvements, despite the older body, made the 1952 Studebakers perhaps the finest of this generation fielded.
Of course, it was a bit too little, and the rocket that was the 1953 Studebaker line was set for launch. Studebaker produced just over 161,000 units for 1952, a particularly steep decline from the 1950-51 model years. This Commander Starlight was one of 8,911 built between the Regal and State trim levels, as the former flagship halo coupe stood in the shadow of more than 14,000 Starlight Hardtop Coupes. Overlooked then, and certainly a forgotten postcard in the Studebaker gift shop, they deserve a beloved bask in the sun all their own 65 years later.