Cars We Love: 1952 Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe

1952 Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe

The 1952 Commander Starliner Coupe was Studebaker’s first hardtop coupe – a design mimicking the appearance of a convertible – and was the highlight of Studebaker’s Centennial Anniversary. Studebaker began making vehicles in 1852, starting with farm and military wagons, and progressing to electric and gasoline-powered cars in the early 1900s. For their anniversary, designer Robert Bourke, chief designer for Raymond Loewy’s renowned Loewy and Associates design studio, revised the entire 1952 Studebaker line, moving away from the controversial ‘bullet-nose’ Studebakers of 1950 and ’51 toward a more mainstream appearance.

Despite tight budget restrictions, Bourke did a remarkable job imparting a new look to the ‘52 Studebakers. The new front-end design featured a divided chrome-plated grille, new headlight bezels incorporating the parking lights, and a chromed front bumper with large bumper guards near the headlights and smaller bumper guards flanking the front license plate holder. A large hood medallion and hood ornament were standard. The top-of-the-line State Commanders also had front fender top ornaments, chromed of course. Bourke gave the rear of the Studebakers a refreshed look with a new deck lid handle and hooded taillights.

Studebaker offered two lines in 1952. The Champion line was powered by a six-cylinder engine and came in three trim levels, Custom, DeLuxe, and Regal. Cars in the upscale Commander line were powered by a state-of-the-art overhead valve V8 engine producing 120 horsepower, and came in two trim levels, Regal and State. A three-speed manual transmission was standard and a three-speed automatic transmission was optional.

While the Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe was visually pleasing and the V8 engine offered performance better than, or comparable to, other contemporary cars, events both external and internal conspired against high Studebaker sales. The Korean War was still going on and the government was limiting car production to preserve war-related material. In addition, there was a nationwide steel strike in the summer of 1952 that severely reduced steel supplies to automakers. With these issues, coupled with poor assembly quality and ongoing management problems, Studebaker built only 161,662 cars for 1952, of which 14,548 were Commander Starliner Coupes.



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Photo by Rex Gray

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