Saturday, December 6, 2014

1955 Studebaker Commander V-8 Regal Ultra Vista 4-door Sedan

"Here, in a far-advanced 1955 Commander of unmistakable distinction, Studebaker engineers and stylists have superbly combined sensational performance and outstanding beauty. It's a notably out-ahead automobile in every way — powered by an amazing new Commander V-8 'Bearcat' engine that introduces new Studebaker discoveries and techniques in the science of gasoline combustion. Just the least pressure of your foot on the gas pedal brings lightning response that is truly breath-taking. But this is economical high horsepower. It doesn't squander gasoline. This new Commander V-8 is sensationally thrifty to operate."

In 1955, American automobile production soared by 45 percent, making it a fantastic year for most car manufacturers. Studebaker, too, could capitalize on a tremendous production increase, although it meant just temporary recovery from a devastating previous year. Studebaker was one of the losers of the price war that erupted between Ford and GM in 1954. While this fierce competition didn't hurt the initiators, many "independents" severely lost market share because they couldn't keep up with the aggressive pricing of the "Big Three". Studebaker's production nosedived from 151,500 cars in 1953 to about 68,000 cars in 1954. Something had to be done to make the Studebakers more attractive.

The answer seemed obvious, and in the view of Studebaker's management, the lineup for 1955 certainly ticked all boxes: it sported a liberal amount of chrome trim and dashing two-tone color combinations. The sedans gained a trendy "Ultra Vista" wrap-around windshield. Their flashy design served notice that Studebaker intended to keep pace with the "Big Three" in styling matters.

Thus, the stylists had done their homework right. Yet, a tastefully restrained and elegant look had been the visual signature of past Studebakers, and now the cars appeared overdone and somewhat tacky. The designers weren't to blame. According to Bob Bourke, chief designer of Raymond Loewy's Studebaker studio, the front mask was supposed to be painted originally in body color, but after a veto from the sales department, it became a garish chrome affair. All the flashy chrome makeup couldn't betray from the fact, that the cars were based on an already three-year old body, while the competition had just launched their all-new models for 1955. 

Under these circumstances, Studebaker seemed to fare surprisingly well, as the annual production rose to 116,300 units in 1955. But it was a short alleviation: next year, the sales plunged again to just 63,100 cars, bringing more trouble to the ailing company. In the latter 1950s, Studebaker came into heavy water and began oscillating between ups and downs. Relief should appear one more time with the introduction of the Lark, Studebaker's new "compact car" that should keep the company afloat into the 1960s. Then, by 1966, it was finally "game over", and America’s oldest car brand conceded defeat.

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