Studebaker Stories:

The Early Fifty Model New Studebakers


By Gary Hacker, San Francisco, CA, email
It was 1948 and I was 13 years old.
Dad had long been in the automobile business since before he met my Mom, that must have been about 1933. He sold Chevrolets in Oakland for F.H. Dailey Motor Company on East 14th Steet. When the war started and new auto production stopped, he worked part time at his car lot while working for the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond assembling Liberty Ships.
In 1948, Dad bought out Henry Villa in Albany, California and took over the local Studebaker Dealership, calling it "Hacker Motor Company". I was excited when he drove home his first personal new car, a Champion Starlight Coupe. We lived in the country, a small town called Lafayette in Contra Costa County. A few lucky neighbors were buying the very first B&W TV's.
The 49 Studebaker model change was not significantly different but new car openings were a big thing at that time and with searchlights and bright lights inside, the showroom was abuzz with activity. I recall Mom having a new 49 Champion Convertible and the after school drives to the local swimming pool with the top down seem like only yesterday.
Dad came home one night all excited about the 50 Model soon to make it's debut with a radical change taking place. At that time, new cars came by railroad freight car loaded four to a carriage, two angled upward and two on the bottom. I accompanied "Sam", Dad's right hand man to the freight yard to unload the first four new 50 models; I was so excited. There they were; three Champions in the carriage and one Commander, filthy dirty from the trip but looking great. Two of the Champs were Starlight Coupes angled above the two sedans, and all with a chrome studded pointed nose. Tail lights were different as was the dashboard, the Champs had a gray plastic point in place of an optional clock. Living in the country, I was privy to a drivers license and what a treat it was to be able to drive one of the four cars back to the dealership. It was an exciting drive getting looks from all directions. Another carload arrived the next day, one being a yellow convertible. All were serviced and polished as headliners to the Grand Opening which lasted an entire weekend and packed the showroom. On the first night, six cars were ordered and sold.  Later in the year, the first Stude Automatic Transmission was a hit, I believe it was made by Borg Warner. I have many photos of that exciting year with the new 50 almost doubling sales from the previous year. I remember one outlandish salesman with his pretty blond wife who drove a new yellow Commander Convertible.
Studebaker was pushing trucks on its dealerships and my Dad had a long line of them on the back of the used car lot. Some were cab and chassis. Most dealers sold them at $50 over cost to clear the floor for the cars.
The big news for 1951 was the announcement of a V8 engine for the Studebaker Commander. Well into high school by that time, and a speed demon, I couldn't wait to try the out the power of the new engine. It was rated at only 120 HP as I recall but with a stick shift and overdrive, it went like hell. The front nose had been modified, now having a plastic cone and a little more refinement.
My best friend and I would sneak out at night, rustling the keys from my Dad's coat, and making off with his V8 Coupe after bedtime. One night, at 16 years old, I tore through Walnut Creek at 80mph with a California Highway Patrol Oldsmobile hot on my trail. The V8 Stude held its own against the latest CHP "88" and we escaped into the night without getting caught. There was a red Starlight Coupe "demo" with a worked over V8 and overdrive that I always tried to get my hands on.
The 1952 model was a rather uninteresting shovel nosed design that failed to arouse much excitement. My interest shifted to my first real car, a 1940 Chevrolet Coupe, Harbor Blue, that I drove everywhere. The 51 Studebaker models still held customer popularity.
The new 1953 Sports Coupe was an early sensation. Everyone screamed with delight when they first saw it. That is everyone but my Dad. He felt, and was proven correct, that the conservative Studebaker owners would not take to such a radical design. Although both me and my friends adored the new Raymond Loewy designed coupe, after the initial excitement sales began to drop. Dad sold out the dealership in 1953 and bought a Lincoln-Mercury Dealership in Alameda.
But I will never lose my attachment to the early 50's Studebakers and marvel how they still hold such a fascination for me. Whizzing through the countryside in a new Studebaker Convertible was the peak of excitement in the life of a teen aged boy.

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