After World War II, Studebaker led the industry by being the first automobile manufacturer to bring out a completely new car for the 1947 model year. Naturally, it wanted the country to know about its accomplishment and boasted with its advertising slogan, "First by far with a postwar car."
The design was done by Raymond Loewy, who pioneered a car with a more balanced look. The trunk was almost the same length as the hood, and the fenders flowed into the hood as well, more integrated with the passenger section of the body.
The rear glass covered the width of the car similar to the windshield. Automobile magazine called the coupes with wraparound rear glass streamlined like the Vista Dome railroad cars or a CinemaScope-style picture window. Other cars of that time had only small rear windows. The automotive joke about Studebaker in 1947 was that one couldn't tell whether the car was coming or going. The new models were a great sales success, but the 1950 Bullet Nose model, a dramatic faceliftfrom the 1947-49 models, was even more successful.
Last April, Alamo resident Dave Kurtzer acquired this Bullet Nose 1950 Studebaker Commander four-door sedan from his brother, a collector of classics. "We got to talking about it, and I took a liking to it," he said. "He made me a good deal, but with the condition that if I ever got a chance to sell it, he wanted the right of first refusal."
Kurtzer paid his brother $4,200, and the kind brother
It has often been said that Studebaker was ahead of its time, and it certainly was never more true than with the 1950 models. They came in three sizes -- the Champion on a 113-inch wheelbase, the Commander on a 120-inch wheelbase and the Land Cruiser on a 124-inch wheelbase.
According to the website, HowStuffWorks, the 1950 model year was the most successful sales year in Studebaker history. Dealer showrooms were crowded to capacity. Demand was so great that Studebaker added a third shift at its large South Bend, Ind., plant and ran its Southern California plant at or near capacity.
At the end of the model year, Studebaker employed 25,000 workers and had produced 343,164 cars. With this success, some automotive analysts began predicting the Big Three would become the Big Four.
"It's powered with an L-head, 6-cylinder engine rated at 102 HP," Kurtzer stated, "with a three-speed manual transmission mounted on the steering column, and it has a Borg-Warner overdrive."
Studebaker introduced an automatic transmission in 1950, which it cleverly called "Automatic Transmission." It was superior to what Ford and Chrysler had and maybe even to General Motors' Hydra-matic. Ford wanted to buy the transmission for its cars but Studebaker refused.
The color of Kurtzer's car is royal blue with very appealing and comfortable blue-striped fabric seats, which he believes to be period correct. The attractive and easy-to-read dash board surrounds the gauges with brushed aluminum. The odometer reads 96,449 miles, which is probably correct. For safe starting, the driver must press the clutch to the floor to engage the starter.
Commander, a favorite model name for Studebaker, was first used in 1927. Except for 1936 and the 5 Lark model years (1959-1963), the name was used until the end, including the very last car built, a 1966 Studebaker Commander station wagon.
A great feature of manual shift Studebakers, especially in areas like San Francisco, was the Hill Holder. When a driver was driving up a hill and had to stop, he or shestepped on the brake and depressed the clutch pedal. Drivers could remove their foot from the brake, and the brake would still hold until the clutch was completely released. There was no panicky rolling backward fear with a Studebaker.
Kurtzer has owned his Studebaker about eight months and has developed some likes and dislikes. "I'm not disappointed in the car," he said, somewhat defensively. "It's fun to have and fun to show, as there are so few of them. I've taken it to the Danville Hot Summer Nights show and driven it around the local area some."
But somehow, I don't think this old Studie is going to have too many birthdays in Alamo. Looking over at his late-model Cadillac, Kurtzer said of his Studebaker, "It's not fun to drive. It takes real effort to turn the steering wheel, and the steering radius is not good."
It's probably true that Studebaker was ahead of its time, but it wasn't so far ahead that it offered power steering in 1950.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com