Former Race Car: 1953 Studebaker Commander

Studebaker introduced a new 2-door body style in 1953. Dubbed the “Loewy coupes” after designer Raymond Loewy, they would serve the company for the next 11 years in one form or another, perhaps the most beautiful cars that Studebaker ever built. This 1953 Commander Starliner was likely a stunning automobile when new, but today it’s missing some body parts as well as the engine, transmission, and title. Located in Ramona, California, this rolling project is available here on Barn Finds Classifieds. The asking price is $3,200 or the best offer.

The company’s new coupes and hardtops were instantly popular and would outsell Studebaker’s 4-door model at a ratio of 4 to 1. Two trim levels were offered, the Champion (with a 6-cylinder engine) and the Commander (with a V8). After three years as Starlight and Starliner coupes and hardtops, Studebaker and Loewy transformed the autos into Hawks, which would emerge as a variety of models through 1964 when the company ceased building cars in the U.S. (production moved to Canada for two years and then went bust).

Commanders used an OHV V8 that had a displacement of 232 cubic inches, developing 120 horsepower with a 2-barrel carburetor. Speed demons these cars were not, yet someone decided to turn this 1953 Commander into a race car and a roll bar was welded into place. Whether it was a drag car or something else is unknown. The seller has several old cars on his property and recruited a friend to help sell them, like this Studebaker. While the V8 and whatever transmission was there are long gone, the assumption is the car has an Oldsmobile rear-end (why?).

The hood is missing, as well, and the windshield is cracked, but what we see of the body shows some degree of promise. Perhaps as a donor for another project? To rebuild the interior, you’re going to have to figure out how to remove the roll bar. Studebaker had a good year in 1953, building 151,576 cars. Of those, the Commander accounted for 75,965 machines and the Starliner hardtop like this one saw 19,236 copies roll out the door. If you took this racer home, what would you do with it? Restomod maybe?


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Sawzalls are made to build and remove roll bars. Quick and easy. Original instrument cluster and hood gone, plus no engine or transmission would lead me to make a restomod out of this. Looks pretty solid with all the bumpers intact and body panels in good shape. Olds rear end could indicate it had a an Olds engine and transmission like the ’53 I used to have. Kept the original rear for the gear ratios but as a drag car the builder probably needed different ratios.

    Like 2
    • Eric

      Nope Olds lockers were the 9” cords of the 50s and 60s

      Like 1
      • Spigmo Manometor

        Oldmobile had the same wheel bolt pattern/diameter as the Studebaker.

  2. Troy

    In this condition I don’t think it’s a builder I think its a Donor for other ones and scrap metal I hope they get close to their asking price

    Like 1
  3. Vince H

    This car is not a Commander it is a Champion.

  4. Vince H

    Since it is a Champion that is probably why the rear was changed.

    Like 1
    • ray bader

      Says it’s a Commander

      • Poppy

        Body tag says it’s a Champion. That’s also why the engine was changed.

        Like 1
  5. Dave H

    I happen to live in Ramona (which is San Diego area) and can check it out if anyone becomes interested.

    Like 1
    • Theodore Expealaspurticuss

      Looks alot like a Champion to me. As a teenager I had the opportunity to purchase a 54 Commander that was equipped with a Packard V8 engine sized at 352 cubic inches. The brakes needed rebuilt, but the price was $25. I passed and regret it to this day.

  6. Kevin Williams

    Studebaker did not go bust in 1966. They merely closed the automotive production division and soldiered on with Onan, STP, Gravely and other divisions.

    Like 7
  7. George Birth

    Not enough to make restoring worth while, could be a decent parts car.

  8. Howard A Member

    Love the trailer hitch,,”dude, you’ll have a lower et if you leave the camper in the pits”. Just parts, if someone is actually restoring one. They were rare to begin with, except in and around South Bend. Few saved one as they, like the arch nemesis, Rambler, became the butt of all jokes and adorned many a back row, next stop was the crusher. If all you could afford was the lowest of the low, Rambler/Studebaker were your choices. $50 bucks got you a very tired, but running Ramblerbaker,( with a case of oil in the trunk included) merely wheels, beaters with heaters, and nothing more. Sadly, I see little, if any future for these kinds of “total” projects. I bet at one time, this was a pretty fast car.

    Like 1
    • bobhess bobhess Member

      Front tow bar mounts says racer of some kind (went through that with our first race car until we got smart and bought a trailer) and the rear hitch would carry race tires on a small trailer if you drive it to the track. Auotocrossers do that to this day.

  9. Jeffrey J Wasniak

    Studebaker was bought basically as a tax write off for curtis wright and the president they put in was suppose to shut it down BUT they didnt know he was a car guy and tried to save studebaker hence the avanti was born,,new hawk and lark style cars,,,but then he came down with cancer and couldnt finish the project to save studebaker and the end came sooner than if he was there

    Like 3
  10. Will Fox

    A former race car? Where…….the “barnyard 100”?!

    Like 3
    • bobhess bobhess Member

      Had to race somewhere with that roll bar installation. Best guess is drag racing as there wasn’t that much road racing back then and this doesn’t look like it has any modifications for circle track or anything else.

      Like 1
  11. Paolo

    Not much rust for a Stude, perfect to rebuild or restore into a vintage drag car or hot rod, could be a lot of fun. That steering linkage and pittman arm is mighty antiquated.

    Like 2
  12. Derek

    The shoulder belt mounts; why weld something and also bolt something to it (potential stress raisers and weak points) when you can just loop the belts around the cross-bar? It’s lighter, too…

    Like 1
  13. lschuc

    this is not a Champion-bodied car as the writer says. the body tag on the cowl shows “14G K5” which indicates a 1953 Champion Starlite coupe (no B-pillar) which would have come with a flathead six engine. Only a Commander would have come with a V8 engine.
    The instrument panel opening, while changed from original, is the same shape as a Champion six display. A commander instrument panel has, I think four instrument pods.

    Like 1
    • Poppy

      The K body was the pillarless coupe as you stated, but it wasn’t called the Starlight. The Starlight was the pillared coupe and the Starliner was the hardtop, as this car is.

    • bobhess bobhess Member

      My ’53 was a Commander and did have the 4 pod gauges in that space.

    • Vince H

      the 14G tells you it is a Champion. If ir were a Commander it would be 5H.

      Like 1
  14. Robt

    Always loved these old studebaker bodies set up to run at Bonneville.

    Like 1
  15. Ward William

    Given the condition and all the missing parts, I’d just give it to ICON and ask them to do me a Derelict with it. It’s a bitchin body shape. I can see it sitting low and mean with an LS donk.

  16. Bruce Berst Member

    This body style still holds a multitude of land speed records at the salt flats no matter what powered them!!!

  17. CCFisher

    151K cars sounds like a good year, but 1953 wasn’t all that good for Studebaker. There were quality control problems with the new bodies, and Studebaker had tooled up to produce mostly sedans, when buyers wanted mostly coupes. Both factors severely limited production. Studebaker production was well over 300K in 1950.

    Like 1

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