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Art Deco Project: 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express J5

After Studebaker built the unfortunately named Dictator, Raymond Loewy grafted its front sheet metal, frame, and running gear onto a useful bed, creating a new type of vehicle. Studebaker called this the “coupe express” – a sort of “car in the front/pickup in the rear” arrangement. A forerunner to the coupe utility (think El Camino), Studebaker’s offering is a rare Art Deco masterpiece made only from 1937 to 1939, and in tiny quantities.  The load rating was half-ton, and the cabin would seat three. Here on facebook Marketplace is one of these rarities – a 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express. This vehicle is in project condition, as you might guess from the photo – but never fear, the seller has been collecting parts to aid the restoration for years. He is asking $9250 for the whole shebang. The buyer will need to take a trailer to Stevens Point, Wisconsin to collect the carcass and parts. We have NW Iowa to thank for this tip – thanks Iowa!

The Coupe Express is powered by a 218 cu. in. flathead six-cylinder, good for about 86 hp. A three-speed manual gearbox was standard, but buyers could opt for a Borg Warner unit with overdrive. This engine bay is missing a few parts and what is present has a serious coat of rust. That said, the engine turns freely. Driving a ’30s truck – even one in the high style provided by Studebaker here – is an unwieldy exercise. Downshifting is nigh impossible, and it’s helpful to learn rev-matching or double clutching for upshifts.

No detailed photos of the interior are provided so it’s hard to know how complete the dash is, but the Coupe Express shares many parts with the Dictator. Once it’s spiffed up, the interior will be on the luxe side relative to other light trucks of the era. Helen Dryden, hired in 1935, was responsible for the well-appointed cabin. Vent windows, and optional equipment including a heater, radio, and turn signals were just the tip of the iceberg. Buyers could choose from among several interior fabrics. The gauges have an appealing Art Deco flair. The only drawback mentioned by owners is the cramped cabin – taller drivers might be uncomfortable.

The seller notes that the grille is in great shape and comes with an extra surround; connoisseurs will know that this was a one-year-only front end. In 1938, a redesign rounded the frontal area of the grille. The doors and rockers require rust repair, but plenty of useful parts come with the sale. The bed is constructed of double-walled sheet steel – unlike the usual wood found in most trucks of this ilk – and it’s in good shape. Every fender will need minor mending. Readers will need to weigh the merits of our subject vehicle against a similar project that sold a couple of years ago for a beefy $16,250. Looks like there’s plenty of headroom for restoration, too, as top-notch examples sell for about $80k! I hope this Studebaker can be kept as original as possible, but what do you think?


  1. Nevada1/2rack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Good pick, Michelle.
    If there were ever a truck that needed to be saved, this is one for the annals of transportation as a perfectly iconic example of Art Deco period trucks.
    What this example could be is illustrated by Geomechs photo in the comments of Jim’s feature of another one a few years ago – https://barnfinds.com/restoration-started-1937-studebaker-coupe-express/

    Like 12
    • JimmyinTEXAS

      I agree this should be returned to at least driver quality, if not a complete restoration. I am not young enough, nor are my pockets deep enough to consider either option. I wish the seller and any prospective buyers good luck.

      Like 8
      • Ricardo Ventura

        I’ve seen some projects in similar conditions and with good results.
        How many Coupe Express have been seen recently?

        Like 3
  2. Greg

    Not a truck, not a passenger car. Not big market for them. As a custom on a late model chassis might bring more money if you want to sell finished job. I rarely suggest such. But this poor thing is beat. Restoration would cost more than one in prefect shape sells for. They were pretty truck like cars.

    Like 3
  3. Chuck Simons

    Needs to be saved. Even if it’s ratty… A Stude V8 with TT would do it well.

    Like 4
  4. Arfeeto

    Neither fish nor fowl–and therein lies the attraction. And value.

    Like 2
  5. dogwater


    Like 1
  6. Doremonger Member

    Doors are shot and the ones they collected do not match. Doors and fenders for this are nearly impossible to find.
    Crazy to do a faithful restoration, in my opinion. Put it on a custom chassis and try to keep the exterior and dash as original as possible. Maybe you could take the Dictator doors they collected and recut them to fit, but hard to tell.
    A really pretty restomod of one of these sold on BaT within the last year.

    Like 2
  7. eric22t

    i hate to see this ole studie like this but for me it’s a pass. i never cared for this art deco look. yes there are beautiful but they just don’t do it for me. that being said someone will save her and he will know who his local studie hoarder is.

    for me it would be a 3/4 ton studie champ with all the bells and whistles

    Like 1
  8. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    The problem with this car isn’t rust. The problem is that it’s on Facebook Marketplace. I swear to god, people on that site have no communication skills whatsoever.

    First of all, why can’t I just CALL if I am interested in buying something you want to sell?? But NOOOO…you have to engage in an endless series of quick messages….Is it still available…yes…when can I come to see it…anytime…Saturday?…..(wait 2 days for a response from the seller)…..can’t do Saturday…..OK, then what day is good?….(wait 2 more days for response)…Where are you located?…..Tampa…..Where in Tampa?….(wait 2 more days for response) and so on and so on. It’s maddening. It’s like pushing a boulder uphill.

    The I-phone and the internet have turned everyone’s brain to mush.

    Like 15
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Ha ha, OMG, you crack me up! Great comment.

      Like 5
    • Howard A Member

      Rex,,this isn’t about Facebook, and I realize your frustration, but we, as a generation, created this, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Like the old CB radio, the power button is in the upper right corner. It’s well known, the computer age has undermined our ability to communicate in person, and a seemingly accepted way of interaction, anonymously through stupid partial sentences and silly icons. What we should be focusing on here, is the lack of interest in a vehicle like this. The time has passed and people like me have to just accept, that nobody wants this stuff. “Junk”, as one poster put it, and while shocking to us that might appreciate a ’37 Coupe Express, the harsh reality is, nobody cares anymore. I differ with Ms. Rands comment, your comment does NOT crack me up, it’s a sad state of affairs, this FB crap, and will be the demise of our society as we know it. It’s almost there now.

      Like 1
      • Arfeeto

        Howard, for what it’s worth, I’m of precisely the same mind as you vis-a-vis social media. Indeed, I’d recommend your comment a thousand times if I could.

        Like 0
  9. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    I’m sure crlsful will agree with the above statement.

    Like 6

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