Monday, December 21, 2015

Studebaker's "Airplane" Front-End Styling

More than once I've mentioned that around 1950 automobile stylists in America began using aircraft and science-fiction space ships as inspiration for possible future designs.  Flashy air intakes, faux jet exhausts and other such details appeared on a number of cars during the 1950s.  Perhaps the most obvious example of airplane style borrowing, aside from the later tail fin fad, was the frontal design for 1950 and 1951 Studebakers.


1947 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe
This design was sensational when it first appeared shortly after the end of World War 2.  The Higher-priced Commander and Land Cruiser models had a different grille, but Studebaker front ends changed little over the 1947-49 model years.

1950 Studebaker Champion De Luxe 3 passenger coupe
The first major facelift was in place for the 1950 model year.  Most of the changes were forward of the cowling.

1950 Studebaker front end - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
The view of the grille is impeded by clutter.  Oddly, in a time when large chromed bars were expected on grilles of American cars, Studebaker offered little more than two dark holes.

1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe - Howard Baker estate auction photo
The following model year the grille was larger (though I'm not sure of the openings actually were ... I need to inspect an actual '50 Studie).  The central spinner was restyled as well.  At any rate, now there is a lot of brightwork, if not heavy chromed bars.  Another change was the addition of a flat panel (apron) connecting the front bumper to the car body.

1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe
A better image I found on the Internet, but do not know its origin.  For 1952 Studebaker reverted to a more conventional front design whose grille hinted at what to expect on the totally new 1953 models.

A major characteristic of the 1950 facelift was the tapering of the fenders to the headlight housings along with the tapering of the hood and central part of the front to a circular ensemble greatly resembling an airplane's propeller spinner.  This yielded a trio of circular focus points.  1949 Fords also had a central "spinner" detail, but on a front end that was far less sculptural than Studebaker's.

I really don't know what to conclude about this design.  It clearly is not in keeping with the Spirit of The Automobile.  Its strong airplane influence is too foreign.  Yet it has a curious appeal; as a boy I enjoyed looking at 1950-51 Studebakers.  Moreover, 1950 calendar year American production was nearly 270,000 cars, a big improvement over 1949's nearly 230,000, and the best ever, post-World War 2.

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