Thursday, January 2, 2014

Studebaker's Mid-1950s Sedan Facelifts

Working as a stylist for a car company whose sales were falling and money was running out probably wasn't much fun.  On the other hand, those perilous conditions must have fueled a good deal of design creativity.  How, with an extremely limited tooling budget, can the next year's models be made to look fresh and competitive?  If you were a stylist worth your salt, you had to dig deeply into to your creative resources to succeed in this task.

This problem cropped up all too often in the history of the automobile as brand after brand fell by the wayside.  We deal with it fairly often on this blog, the subject of this post being the sedan line of Studebaker, a maker of wagons and then cars for more than 100 years as the mid-1950s approached.

The company had done well for the first years following the end of World War 2, and the 1953 model year featured a complete redesign of the Studebaker line.  The highlight was the Starliner coupe, considered one of the most outstanding car designs ever.  A number of critics assert that Studebaker was mistaken when it styled its sedans using cues from the low, rakish coupe.  I might get around to dealing with that in a future post, but for now will take the 1953 sedan design as given.

What happened was, Studebaker sales had peaked in the 1950 model year and began a decline that saw few interruptions until production ceased for good.  The 1953 redesign had no real effect at all.

Given that background, let's look at the company's sedan styling from 1953 through 1958 (the 1959 facelift, where the car was drastically shortened, is another story worthy of a separate discussion).


1953 Studebaker Champion
This is how the 1953 restyling appeared on Studebaker's low-price line.

1955 Studebaker President (early version)
1954 Studebakers were almost identical to the '53s, but a noticeable facelift was required for 1955 because most other American cars were either restyled or were given major facelifts.  Studebakers were given a garish, awkward, heavily chromed grille as the main means of freshening appearance.  The rear wheel well cover is an accessory.  But there was a problem: Almost every other make had "modern" wraparound windshields, and Studebakers didn't, at least at the time the '55s were introduced.

1955 Studebaker President (later version)
Studebakers did get a wraparound windshield later in the model year.  Its version had a back-sloping A-pillar similar to that used by Chrysler Corporation.  Other makes with wraparound windshields had either vertical or forward-sloping A-pillars.

1956 Studebaker President
1956 saw a more extensive facelift.  The rear was filled out, lengthened a little, and squared off to increase trunk room.  The front was also filled out so as to offer a more conventional appearance.  But the passenger compartment was unaltered, and therefore seems perhaps a little too soft when compared to the rest of the car.  Studebaker sedans might have sold better in 1953 had they looked more like the 1956 models.

1958 Studebaker Commander
By 1958, styling fashion called for "quad" headlamps, thin roofs and tail fins, so Studebaker went along with the crowd.  The problem with this facelift is that the quad headlights were housed so that the front fenders had to be "blistered."  This tacked-on appearance degraded what otherwise was a relatively sensible design in those extravagant, baroque times.

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