Have A Commander: 1953 Studebaker Coupe

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I have long admired the Raymond Loewy designed 1953 Studebaker two door models. Sleek and low when every other American car you saw on the road was more or less a set of boxes on wheels, these cars could have saved Studebaker in the early to mid-fifties. Unfortunately, the combination of extraordinarily high labor costs, mismanagement of the supply chain, poor build quality and really bad product planning doomed the company to also ran status against the marketing power of the Big Three (or Four, counting American Motors).

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Anyway, I still love these cars (even the name is great – “Starlight Coupe”) and this good looking example for sale here on craigslist in Tucson, Arizona caught my attention when I saw the ad.

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At least from the photos, it looks really clean. The seller says it’s a barn find and has been in storage for decades. The Coral and Ivory two tone color scheme is said to be mostly original paint.

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According to the seller, the upholstery was redone sometime in the distant past and apparently does not show any wear or tears. All the gauges work except the clock. According to the seller, this Studebaker starts easily, and both runs and drives very well.

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The tires have good tread but are old, suggesting replacement will be due. There are no engine or transmission leaks. The car has its original V8 with a 3 speed column mounted transmission, with the added bonus of the overdrive option.

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All the lights and signals work. The seller says it will be sold with many extra parts too. I can see some water stains in the back seat area.

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The odometer shows 75,136 miles and the seller believes it is “most likely” original mileage.

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I can’t tell if this is a Commander Deluxe or a Regal. Does one of our readers know? One thing I can tell is that the asking price for this car, at $14,500, is top dollar for a 1953 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, whatever it is. Is this car nice enough to command that kind of money? Not from me, but I am a window shopper anyway. What do you think?

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This is a really nice almost original survivor, but it’s not perfect, and it’s not completely original either. Still, I’d love to have a car like this one and I am guessing that once the seller lowers the price a bit, a new driver will be cruising in this beautiful car.

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Comments

  1. Andy Frobig

    Well, I’m a window shopper too, and as a first-year model and a barn find, there are bound to be things that will go wrong on this car, but it is a beautiful design in good shape. Think about what you’d get for this price that’s been made in the last ten years. Wouldn’t you rather have a ’53 Studebaker?

    Like 1
  2. Bob S

    Since I saw a BMW 2002 Tii sell for $70k on BAT, I’d say worth the asking.

  3. boxdin

    Gorgeous then and now. Way ahead of its time too. And the many variations up to the Hawk in 67? All are timeless.

  4. Dolphin Member

    I remember when these were new on the road in the early ’50s. I also remember that my grade school teacher drive a ’53 Chevy sedan with the stovebolt six and Powerglide.

    I also remember which one looked REALLY cool, and which one….didn’t.

  5. Bob Hess

    College car was a ’53 coupe with a 320hp Olds engine and trans. Enough mods to make it run like crazy keeping the original body. Beautiful car even today.

    Like 1
  6. Kevin Member

    As always I picture what I’m reading and am hung up on a typo. “column mounted transmission”, lol.

    If I had money to burn, hell yes I’d buy it. Forget full restoration, just the drivetrain would be enough.

    Like 1
    • David Wilk Member

      Good point. Of course I meant to write “shifter.” Sorry about that. No excuse for not proofreading the post.
      David

      • Kevin Member

        I meant no disrespect. Unfortunately, typo’s jump off the page at me. My best high school subject and the tons of books I’ve read have turned me into a bit of a spelling bot. Not a good internet trait.

  7. Fred W

    One of my favorite cars of all time when in hardtop form.Somewhere I have a photo of myself sanding on mine back in the 70’s. An episode of Chasing Classic cars featured one that was even the same color and was like the day it left the factory. Wayne kept it in his collection.

  8. Henrie

    I can not understand why Studs were not appreciated in its day . Crappy management of the company ? Engineered downfall ( like BWM ver Borgward ) ? Plain badly promoted ? ? ? Even today , at car meetings , they don’t seem to attract the attention they deserve . As a child , these were my dream cars – Golden Hawk, , Silver Hawk and Commander ( that I only saw pictires off )

    Like 1
    • Peter Lee

      I have a ’56 Sky Hawk. It’s two-tone green and a real crowd pleaser. Also, most times it’s the only Studie on the field. People are so limited in their tastes that all they like are Mustangs, Corvettes,”57 Chevies, and muscle cars. Pearls before swine.

    • Dave Wright

      Studeabaker built interesting cars but like everything, they were a product of the market in the day. They might have been priced wrong to sell well. I do think they had trouble with dealer and parts support. There were good dealers off course but many that were not.

    • Ed P

      Ford started a price war with Chevy in ’53. It continued thru ’54. The Independents could not cut prices as much and suffered. The war changed nothing for Ford and Chevy but, killed the Independents.

  9. Ric Parrish

    It’s a coup, so much tighter than the hard top, my brother and I each had one, parked side by side in our dad’s carriage house. I recently discovered the two 1953 21/2 ton 6 by 6’s sitting side by side on our old movie ranch are…Studebaker/Reos.

    • Joe Howell

      I had a 1958 M58 built by Studebaker/Curtis Wright with engine built by Continental.

  10. Eric Dashman

    IMO the 53 and 54 models were the cleanest of these 2 door coupes and hardtops. In later years they either added too much chrome (Commander in 55) or large fins, and then the Hawk grill (from the Chrysler 300 letter series). All of those changes took the aero-dynamics away from that body. I thought it was designed by Raymond Loewy, and it has always been known as the Loewy coupe, but it may have actually been designed by someone else (Bourke??). These were frequently run on the Bonneville Salt Flats with very little body modification.
    In the early 80s I bought a 54 2 door coupe (there was a 2 door sedan model too), the door post model for $400. It was worn and had some rust, as in no floorboards to speak of in the front, but it had a 62 Hawk 289 V8 with a 3 speed and OD. I rebuilt the top end because it was a real smoker and knurling the valve guides and replacing the seals made a huge difference. They were notorious for their small oil drains in the heads. You could have a quart of oil in each valve cover, which put a lot of strain on the seals. Some owners took to adding an external drain line down to the crankcase. Otherwise, the 289 was a great engine. You could actually bore it to 0.090 oversize there was so much iron. The crank was really heavy and they had something like 1 1/2 times the swept bearing area of the GM 283 and the Ford 289.
    Unfortunately, I got married and had to move into town forcing me to sell it. I got $350 cash for it and have always regretted giving it up. I still want to get one and modernize it as a daily driver.
    The above vehicle is nice, but a bit pricey for the post model. If it was the hardtop in survivor condition 3, this would be an okay price. I think $10K for this one is about right.

  11. Poppy

    I believe that the lack of chrome belt line trim atop the door and rear quarter window ledge make this a “deluxe” model versus a “regal” model. Looks like a nice, complete, original car. V8 with 3-speed/OD combo is the preferred stock setup. Probably has a Dana 4.10:1 rear axle in it for sprightly acceleration. Some prefer the hardtop K bodies versus this C body version, but this will feel like a more solid car when driving it.

  12. David

    Although known as the Loewy Coupe, it was actually designed by Bob Bourke. Bourke worked for Loewy and was the man-on-the-ground at Studebaker doing the work. According to a book I have about Bourke’s designs, Loewy used to fly into South Bend every blue moon to see what was going on. The book says Loewy would move an insignia or other minor item around on the design and Bourke would either talk him out of the move or ignore the move in later versions.

    Bourke liked clean lines and didn’t have anything to do with the fins and grills added to his design in the later Hawks, etc. By then he had move on to form his own design firm in New York. He did try to do a refresh of his earlier clean design for Studebaker as a proposal to reinvigorate Studebaker sales. He kept that car for himself, though I think it is now in the Studebaker museum in South Bend.

    This looks like a nice surviving example, though hard to tell from pictures what needs to be done.

  13. Peter Lee

    All true. He is also credited with the front of the ’49 Ford.

  14. Ric Parrish

    Peter Lee, does your ’56 have the little short vertical fin in the back? Very rare.

  15. Peter Lee

    No, that was the Golden Hawk which used the last of the Packard engines.

  16. Ric Parrish

    A guy in my home town made one ( a Golden Hawk) into a dirt track stock car, it broke my 17 year old heart. I bought the Hawk front clip and put it on my 1954 Lowey Coupe. It was actually pretty cool. I have only seen a few of these cars, I still want one. The Hawk was a wild looking dirt track car though.

  17. DENIS

    I like these things, decent shape, but I think it’s at the top-end of the price range….but there’s a seat for every ass and an ass for every seat….I would stop at 10g so I reckon I can’t have it…

  18. AMCSTEVE

    These are very popular cars in the hot rod community. If you’ve ever seen some of the versions out there that have been modified they are breathtaking. That price he’s asking may not be to out of line considering that these were Kind of rare.

  19. Edward Knapp

    as a true lover of all post ww2 studebakers -i have owned 3 stude cars.1-1948 champ 1 1949 comander i6both used.3 last but not least a 1955 new off dealers floor v8 stick 3spd w/od.. loved them all. presently doing a preservation on 1953 comander 232cid v8 with at.100%intack at 82 yrs young my 4yr old grandauther says granpa my car. thank you allfor reading this luv studebakers great cars ed Ted knapp west palm beach fl 33414

  20. Joe Howell

    These were always Bonneville salt flat favorites. A fair number were in my small town in the 60’s. All were owned by a large bunch of brothers who hoarded and hot rodded them. The 401 Buick was a favorite swap if I remember correctly. Still a beautiful car.

  21. Robert winter

    Just out of High School I had a 53 coupe. Red but painted Chevy Impala blue. Lowered in front and lakers. Removed the grill bar. LOVED the car! Nothing like it on the road. Did anyone mention the overdrive in every gear? Lift up in the gas and it shifted to OD. At least thats how I remembered it.

  22. Bultaco

    When this thing came out in 1953, people must have thought it looked like a spaceship when parked next to the typical ‘53 Chevies, Plymouths, Nashs, and Fords that populated the roads. In typical Stude fashion, it probably had a chassis carried over from their prewar models, but it sure looked futuristic.

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