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California Truckin: 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express

1937 Studebaker J-5 Coupe Express

Of all the classic trucks we have seen over the years, few look better than the ones to come out of Studebaker. One of our all time favorites is their J-5, particularly the Coupe Express model. The flowing lines and swooping shape of these trucks just looks fantastic to us. Studebaker only built about 3k Coupe Expresses in 1937 and this one has been hiding in a barn since 1992. It is going to need attention, but is all original and is still even wearing its original paint. Hopefully the rust isn’t so severe that the original paint can’t be saved, but either way this is one cool truck. Find this 1937 Studebaker J-5 Coupe Express here on eBay, with an impressive $18k opening bid.

Studebaker Coupe Express

When Studebaker introduced the Coupe Express they marketed it as a truck with car styling, which is an appropriate description. The fact that it was based off of the unfortunately named Dictator 4-door sedan meant this truck was more than just styled like a car, it was in reality a car with the back half of the body cut off and a truck bed installed in its place. Cars were built differently back in those days, so turning one into a truck really wasn’t much of an issue. Car frames were typically just as strong as any light or medium duty truck frame and their large size meant there was plenty of room for a decent sized cab and a full sized truck bed. The large inline six engine offered plenty of grunt to move a fully loaded car and offered more than enough power to move this truck and a fully loaded truck bed. Initially, demand for the Coupe Express was quite high, but the outbreak of war slowed sales and eventually led to the end of production in 1939.

Studebaker J-5 Interior

Besides sharing the Dictator’s Chassis, drivetrain, fenders, and front end the Coupe Express also borrowed much of the interior from it’s poorly named sibling. Since this is a truck, it wasn’t as well appointed and lacked some of the trim work. Most truck owner’s didn’t want a lot of chrome and trim getting in the way, but this truck wasn’t exactly targeted at the typical farmer looking for a work truck. It was aimed more upmarket, specifically at consumers who wanted a truck that was as comfortable as a car and could offer a smooth ride both on dirt roads and pavement. This meant the interior needed to look as good as the outside and offer plenty of leg and head room. This truck’s interior is showing it’s age, but looks complete and salvageable. We aren’t sure what parts supply is likely for these trucks, but the fact that many of the parts were shared with its car counterpart should make it a bit easier to find the missing bits.

1937 Studebaker J-5 Truck

This truck looks good in the photos, but we notice a few issues that make us nervous. The seller is clear that there are rust issues, but we noticed just how much sunlight is shining through the truck bed. Fixing the bed really isn’t a huge issue, but it could hint that there is more serious rust hiding in the frame. We would be sure to take a closer look underneath before handing over any cash. There really aren’t many of these trucks left, but we can’t imagine this one is really worth this kind of money. With any luck the seller will realize how much work this truck really needs and will come down a bit on their price. There are a lot of great looking trucks out there, this just happens to be one of our favorites. Are you a Coupe Express fan too or is there another truck out there that you think looks better?


  1. Dolphin Member

    “this is one cool truck”

    Those were going to be my words but Josh beat me to it.

    Not really surprised there’s already an $18K bid. The truck will need work on the bed but a spare tailgate comes with the truck. Some tin knocking will be needed but it’ll be well worth it because—those words again—this is one cool truck and it deserves to be seen.

    I hope the winner will resist the urge to resto-mod this Stude, and will keep it original right down to the flathead six. It’s even got a CA black plate and title. What’s not to like?

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  2. Barry Thomas

    Would $18k be what they call in real estate a “bully” offer? In other words, go in high in order to scarce off all the other bidders. Often used in Toronto to prevent a bidding war on a house.
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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  3. Rick

    I remember in the mid 60s there were several cars around that had been cut down into trucks, i.e. the back half cut off behind the driver’s seat and a wooden home built flatbed bolted on, at least 2 I recall were shoebox Fords (49-51). In those days pickups – any drivable pickup – were in demand, the ones that you saw sitting were always completely run out. Anyhow, in my mind the Coupe Express was the early equivalent of the El Camino or Ranchero; Studebaker beat GM and Ford to the punch by 20 years in that regard. In fact Studebaker often led the way, another example is the ’56 Studebaker Golden Hawk, one of the first purpose-built muscle cars

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    • paul

      I have a friend with one of those Golden Hawks (Super charged), that car is sweet, great sound , fantastic dash. Coupe Express, nice I have to remember that one, it was before my time but I quite like the look of it.

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  4. studedude

    I think 3,452 units were made. a screenback dogcatcher wagon and a panel were available and were included in the run. Most came in commercial red. I had one for about twenty years. I think it is in a car museum in Spokane,WA.

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  5. rancho bella

    so, lets say the truck gets restored. I’m thinking 30 to 40K to do it………..this truck is worth 48 to 58K?
    Of course these are my numbers, perhaps I’m off on my estimates

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    • paul

      True, but it’s all about heart, most resto projects when you add the time spent as well as the $’s your way upside down that’s why if you can plunk down the $’s for a done one it’s often cheaper. The down side to that is you didn’t do it & with a fresh paint do you really know what was the condition before , it could have been sitting the Atlantic ocean for a year, that is unless they can provide you with a full photo step by step before & all the way through.

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  6. Clay Bryant

    I’m always a little “suspect” when the opening bid is this high(18K).
    A little bit of trivia.If you saw 20s and 30s cars cut into a pickup,a lot of that happened during WW2.If you had just a straight car you were rationed on your gas but if you had a pickup you were allowed extra ration stamps as it was figured to be for farm or commercial use.Hence…”pickups”.

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  7. shawnmcgill

    I couldn’t agree more that it’s an extremely cool and rare truck, but $18k? And, it may go even higher than that. Just seems stratospheric for a project vehicle that is going to need literally everything. Granted, it’ll be a heart stopper when it’s done, but that’s a long way and a lot of money off. There’s no way the new owner can come out financially on this. Hope he’s doing it for the love of it.

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  8. Jim-Bob

    While I think the opening price is a ludicrous shill bid, I still like…no …LOVE this truck! It just has the look. I wouldn’t change much other than to preserve things as they sit. The bed rust doesn’t really bother me all that much as it is, after all, a pickup truck and was probably used as such for the first part of it’s life. I think a proper restoration would ruin this wonderful piece of Americana as this is one of those cases where patina adds value. It would just be cooler to be seen driving it as-is than if it were show quality perfect and stripped of it’s history. All I would add is some bales of hay held down with some hemp rope and a straw hat and vintage overalls for myself.

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  9. jim s

    i do not know how much fun it would be to drive, without a lot of work being done first, but it sure is nice to look at. it has 2 bids now so be interesting to see where it ends. great find.

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  10. Chris H.

    The price may be a bit steep, but that whole “supply and demand” thing has a hand in that number. As far as resto-mods go, I don’t see any harm in updating mechanical systems so that a vehicle can be enjoyed. There’s no reason to go overboard and lower it, etc. etc., but modern brakes, and electrical updates would be helpful.

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  11. Dan Strayer

    This is my favorite truck from the 1930s.

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  12. Dolphin Member

    The $18K opening bid is a pretty high number as ebay opening bids go, but that’s the start price the seller put into the ebay start price box, so if someone wanted to place a bid it had to be at least that high. There are now 4 bids placed by 3 different bidders and the bid price has crept over $20K.

    From here you don’t know who the bidders are, but that bid pattern looks normal to me and says that the seller knows what he has and what he was doing. The description is straight-up and could easily be checked by looking at the truck. That would be a big confidence builder for a prospective buyer who wants a scarce, cool looking pre-WW2 truck.

    Compared to the many seriouly rusty, incomplete POS vehicles you see flippers offering on ebay, this truck not only looks cool, it also looks like it could be turned into a fun driver without spending really big money. If someone made it into a decent driver they could have fun using it without making it a garage queen, and it would probably retain all the value they added if they decided to sell.

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  13. Chris Unger

    As the present owner of this old truck I can say the frame has minimal surface rust free of any metal loss. The floors, door jambs, and cowl legs are fine. The tailgate has rust out as well as the front of the bed. There were no seep holes in the bed that I can tell. The bottom of the doors are perfect and original… never repaired. The Coupe Express was built on the Dictator Chassis. This was a comfortable and fast car. The laid back steering was an instant hit. High point Coupe Express trucks for 1937 have traded over 100k. I personally believe the car will bring 25k. I am a tenacious hunter and the last 37 Coupe Express I found was in 1976. I have found hundreds of Fords, Cads, Packards and even a few great Dusenbergs. I’d have to say they were easy to find compared to this Studebaker.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for chiming in Chris! It will be interesting to see where this very cool truck ends up.

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  14. paul

    It certainly looks solid enough for a 77 year old truck, my goodness.

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  15. Mike B.

    Hoooly Cannoli! I appreciate an old truck as much as the next guy, and you always see a variety of GM / Chevy / Ford / Internationals at various shows through the seasons. But I’ve never seen an old truck that looks as cool as that Stude! That is one cool looking truck!

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  16. Dolphin Member

    15 bids, sold for $30,155

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  17. Joe M

    Well fella’s, Yes, it went for $30,150. Wow. Not surprised. I was looking for one of these 25 years ago. It took me a year and a half looking over various rust buckets but I found a driver in Freeport Illinois for $7500. A lot of money then. Flew out there and drove it back to Los Angeles where it expired in my driveway. It was rodded when I got it but the sheet metal was stock and in great shape. I decided to keep it a rod and update the running gear. I took it down to the frame and rebuilt everything, adding power steering, disc breaks, air , overdrive and 400hp of giddy up. I’ve had it up to 135mph before I got worried about aerodynamics. But Studebaker must have been thinking that because it was pretty stable at that speed. I love this truck and continue to drive it weekly and use it as a truck should be used. I’d like to have a stocker too but I wouldn’t get near as much use out of it and can’t afford to run a museum. I always get notes left on my truck from guys wanting to buy it. I just can’t see ever getting rid of it. That’s what happens to these trucks. Guys get them and hang on. Not even a divorce pried this out of my hands.

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  18. Don

    Restoring one myself. In my case the price was a bit less. I paid a total of $10 for it, but had to provide four wheels to get it out of the guy’s pasture. Nearly done now, with everything done but the paint and upholstery. Frame off restoration, repop bed floor,bed front and tailgate cleaned that part up really nice. Restored original engine by same engine rebuilder who rebuilt my 37 Dictator Doctor’s Coupe 30 years ago. Great instrument work by Bob’s Speedometer in Michigan, perfect chrome work back east, and wiring by Rhode Island Wiring. Got a great working radio (and hard to find speaker grill cover), and also a nice working glove compartment clock. Perfect side mount cover found, and many hours in the shop have it show room perfect. Saw a restored one sell recently in Michigan area for a cool $85,000. Sweet.

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  19. Ronnie

    I have a 37 Coupe Express. Started on it about 4 years ago. Just a rolling shell when I got it.
    It is street rodded with TPI chevy drive train. Plenty of patina.
    When I bought it , I wanted to make it perfect but Patina has gotten a lot more popular is a lot cheaper. This way I don’t have to worry about there Grand Kids climbing on it. I figure it is worth about 25K. now.

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  20. Don

    There aren’t many left – some say a hundred, some say a few more but probably not over 200.
    This one sold for $31,000 or so I think. A couple have sold, fully restored, near $100,000, and this appears to be going up as with many collectables.
    Mine as stated before is a full body off restoration, with no stones left unturned. Once done, if I had to sell it I would probably look for $85-$120 or not bother.
    Have a great week. Best, don

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  21. George

    I swear I just saw one of these completely restored within the last 2 years for $32500. Prices seem absolutely crazy to me. Zounds, I am slain!

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  22. Don

    I don’t think so. Unrestored they are running above $20K now with so few left. A beautiful red restoration sold in Michigan about 3 years ago for $85K. I plan to leave mine to interested family when I croak but if I did sell it I would not look at a price under $75K. It is simply too sweet and beautiful. Name another ‘pickup’ with beautiful double walled car like bed sides. Right- it is the only one. ;)

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  23. Joe

    The other pickup would be the 1939 coupe express. Only 1200 said to have been made. Depending on my mood any given day, I flip flop between the 37 and 39 as best looking truck ever. I will never sell my 37 either. It’s like having your favorite dog or a 21 year old version of your wife forever.

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  24. Don

    Agree Joe! Although I personally like the ’37 better, the Old Cars Price Guide has the ’39 higher. Maybe more rare?

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