Sunday, April 27, 2014

1941 Studebaker Champion Custom Coupe

"Famed designer Raymond Loewy has complimented the good taste of every Studebaker owner by styling these beautiful new 1941 Studebakers to perfection. Studebaker's new slip-stream bodies of advanced torpedo are longer, wider, lower and roomier. The famous speed planes of the stratosphere were their inspiration. You've never seen cars so expressive of movement — so smoothly contoured — so thrillingly distinctive in every line."

Who wouldn't know Raymond Loewy in the America of the 1940s? Throughout the 1930s, he had made a name for himself as the industrial designer that turned many mediocre products into best-sellers by design. Being as good in self-promotion as he was as a designer, he quickly became the enfant terrible of American industrial design, and one of the protagonists of the influential "Streamline Moderne".

Studebaker commissioned the design of their 1938 models to Loewy. Based on the tremendous success of these cars, Loewy Associates became Studebaker's only design contractor. Studebaker's advertisers, of course, loved to credit Raymond Loewy as the designer of their cars, capitalizing on its famous name. But, as so often in design history, he wouldn't draw a single line for the design of the 1941 Studebakers. It was actually the young Virgil Exner, who oversaw their design development.

Exner was leading Loewy's Studebaker operations since he got hired away from GM in 1938. Yet, the fruitful collaboration between the young design talent and the experienced promoter should come to a sudden end when designing the Studebakers for 1947 and 1948: Roy Cole, Vice President of Engineering, had encouraged Exner to develop an own competing design proposal without Loewy's consent. Consequently, Loewy fired Exner in June 1945, when he discovered the insubordination. Cole hired him the same day as Studebaker's first styling chief, making Exner and Loewy direct competitors. Exner's proposal, unsurprisingly, was selected for production.

Exner should move on to Chrysler in 1948 where he'd become styling director in 1953, and was responsible for the stunning "Forward Look" cars that swept Chrysler to the top of American car styling in the latter 50s.

Rewind to 1941, the Studebaker Commander was an remarkable car that exudes a lot of Exner's aesthetic philosophy. Compared to other cars of this vintage, the Studebaker sits really low on the tarmac and sports a rakish, yet elegant look. Its slanted windshield is unusually wide and together with the slim and straight A-posts, it already hints at more trapezoid cabin proportions that should become common industry-wide only some years later.

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