Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1953 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe

"This dramatic new Studebaker comes to you straight out of the dream book. It brings you the continental charm of Europe's most distinguished cars. But it's thoroughly American in deep-down comfort and in handling ease. Long and racy and sparkling with drive appeal, every 1953 Studebaker gleams with an enormous expanse of glass for full vision. Every distinctive body style is completely and spectacularly new both inside and outside. All this at a down-to-earth price – with Studebaker low operating cost!"

What a sight at the Playa Anc√≥n in Trinidad del Mar! Admittedly, it needs a bit of imagination to fully admire the classy and fine lines of this Studebaker Starlight Coupe when the hood is open. In all the years, just twice we came across Studebaker's "Loewy Coupe" in Cuba. The other time we saw one roaring by on the Carretera Central with no chance for a photo of this all-time classic car. Hence, we'd classify these cars as one of the island's truly rare breeds.

When presented in late 1952, the Studebaker coupe looked just like a showcar. And indeed, it was originally conceived as one: in early 1951, Bob Bourke, chief designer of Raymond Loewy's Studebaker Studio, penned the lines for a showcar that should preview the 1952 Studebaker models. These 1952 Studebakers were merely a facelift of the 1950 "bullet-nose" design, sporting a redesigned frontend that somehow resembled the front of our pictured car. To spice things up, Bourke sketched a road-hugging coupe that looked incredibly cool already on paper. The story goes, that Studebaker's General Manager Harold Vance was fascinated by the drawings and commissioned Bourke to build a clay model, but ordered him to "watch the costs", already hinting at a possible production. With the boss being the biggest fan, the project went easily through all decisive stages, and when presented in late 1952, the Starliner Coupe together with it's lower priced sibling Starlight Coupe (which sported a B-post behind the door while the Starliner was a pillarless hardtop), stunned even the experts. With just 56.5 inches (1,43m) of overall height, the car was at least six inches lower than anything else on American roads, save for some imported sportscars. But it wasn't just the extremely low silhouette that impressed so much, but the lean shape, clean lines and perfectly balanced proportions of the new car. Other cars of the era looked tall and boxy in comparison, just like this, this or that.

The buying public quickly embraced the new "Loewy Coupes", which lead to another problem for Studebaker: because none of Studebaker's product planning people had imagined such a success, the production capacity had been planned in favor of the classic sedans, leaving just 20 percent to the coupes. In the order books, however, the coupes outsold the sedans by a margin of nearly four to one, causing long waiting lists and a fair amount of cancelled orders from impatient customers. Still, around 70.000 sold "Loewy Coupes" accounted for nearly half of Studebaker's total production at the year's end.

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