Number Fifty-One With a Bullet: Studebaker Champion Convertible

Does this classify as a fat-fender car? Or a “shoe box”? It’s kind of both, really. This 1951 Studebaker Champion convertible is listed on eBay, and as of this writing, has about 4 days left to go. It has a bid at $8,500, and no reserve. It has a flat head 6 cylinder engine, and a three speed manual transmission with overdrive. It runs and drives well, but needs restoration. It’s apparently had a restoration some time in its past, and needs to be freshened up again. The ultimate classic early ’50s car, it has bumper guards in the front, and a working spotlight.

The body looks very straight, but it has rust underneath in the rocker panel boxes and the frame crossmember underneath the cowl. The tires are vintage bias ply, with portawalls. In my humble opinion, a set of new wide whites would suit this car very nicely, and they would go well with the beautiful original bright stainless wheelcovers. The glass is good, including the curved windshield. The electrical system is still 6 volt, and is in working order.

The convertible top looks to be in good condition, but is obviously vintage. This light yellow color was certainly popular in the ’50s, and I’m sure it had lots of eye-appeal to drivers of the era who were used to seeing the generally dark and drab colors so commonly found on 1940s automobiles.

The rear styling was no-nonsense. It doesn’t even say “Studebaker” back here. The lenses are made of actual glass, and the holes in the bumper suggest this car probably had accessory bumper guards to match those in the front.

The stainless trim is missing from the rocker panel on this side, but the seller says it is included. Other than that, this side looks as good as the driver side does.

Raymond Loewy’s design team at Studebaker intentionally set out to mimic the styling of the P-38 airplane. Industrial design influenced by aeronautical styling cues was very popular during this era, and I believe it reflected the confidence and optimism felt by many Americans after the close of World War II, and the beginning of the “baby boom”. It was the dawn of a golden age of American production and consumerism.

Although Studebaker is thought of as an “orphan” manufacturer now, it was long ago enough that it’s easy to forget what an important player in the automotive industry they were at that time. Nearly a quarter million Studebakers were manufactured in 1951. The convertible however, sold just over 4700 units, making this one scarce car indeed.

This car was all sweetness and light on the outside, but on the inside, it needs some tough love. Some expensive tough love. But as the seller points out, at least it’s complete and original to start with. Which beats a basket case any day. The bright red interior might look a little odd with a yellow body to some of us, but it was actually a popular choice during this era, and even green cars can be found with red interior such as this. Here is one of the original sales brochures for this model, and it looks very similar to our feature car here.

I wonder if the catalog car had red interior?

A look under the hood reveals a flat head six cylinder engine. 169 cubic inches worth, to be exact. To those of us mechanics who have worked for hours on modern cars and complained about the cramped spaces and difficult access, here is the antidote. This six-cylinder Studebaker is a “Champion,” the same car with a factory installed V8 is called a “Commander”.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Betcha didn’t know! Above is a screen capture image from Google satellite view, near South Bend, Indiana. It shows trees planted in 1938 on the old Studebaker proving grounds, in a certain arrangement. In 1985 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. How’s that for obscure automotive trivia?

This would have been a good car for our “What’s It Worth?” department, and since it has a bid with a few days left to go, does anyone care to make any predictions about where it will end up? Share your thoughts below.

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Comments

  1. MIKE LUSSIER

    That 27 Studebaker was on rt 15 in Wolcott,Vermont around 1980. It was owned by Ron Bettis it still has a Vt plate on it.

  2. Jay E.

    What a beautiful car! I can’t imagine selling a car like this if I owned it. I wouldn’t change a thing, other than doing a period restoration on the interior. I’ve got to believe it sell will far in excess of the current bid, which seems like a bargain.

    Like 1
  3. MIKE LUSSIER

    Ron Bettis has passed I believe though his sons would remember the Studebaker. Ron sold it for $2700. Yup thats right.

  4. Dave Wright

    Not really a Stude guy (with a few exceptions) Dad used to say “they weren’t a good car when new, why would you want an old one?” But if you like them, this would be a great one. Should be close to the top of the scale for bullet nose Champs. Great little car for an amateur or beginning classic car guy, there is a rabid owners group that I am sure will have all the parts and experts to cherry this old girl out. Many times the groups make the difference between successful car ownership or not.

    Like 3
  5. Fred W.

    Grandpa had a bullet nose coupe and that’s what got me started on the classic car trail, around the age of 6. Gotta love ’em.

  6. Rod

    Great looking car and something I would drive as is. Do a safety on it and enjoy it as is.

  7. Craig MacDonald

    The front overriders on the brochure pic are different from those on the car. I wonder why.
    I think the only scary thing is the frame rust. That could be an expensive fix, eh?

  8. redwagon

    a hardtop version of this for sale out front of a recycling shop near me. i am amazed at how skinny it is, not very wide at all. i’ve been tempted to stop by and see if it could even accommodate 3 abreast.

    • GOPAR

      It can, unless they’re XXL.

    • Ralph Robichaud

      Back then most Americans were quite slender, my Dad was a normal average healthy and strong man, just under 6 ft tall , yet weighed 155 lbs most of his adult life. Three of him abreast would have fitted nicely in that Studie.

  9. Woodie Man

    Really a beautiful car…….I like the wine red interior with the pale yellow/beige exterior. I think I once mentioned we had a maid/ house cleaner back in the late fifties who drove a bullet nose…with the angular rear windows. A a little kid I can remember wondering whether the car was coming or going ….cause in my tiny mind the rear window seemed like it should be the windshield….I was seriously confused!

  10. Steve Member

    Our family owned several. My dad worked for the company in advertising/marketing and got cars when they were hard to get after the war. Seems to me I remember that their engines used a lot of oil too, but I do like the visuals of these cars. Studebaker was, in many ways, ahead of its time in design.

    Like 1
  11. Joe Howell

    My first ride in this world was the trip home in 1951 from the hospital in my grandfather’s 49 Studebaker. I’ve had a warm spot for Studbusters ever since. A ragtop like this is a real head turner.

    Like 1
  12. Car Guy

    My great uncle had a two door hard top in dark blue stashed under a cedar tree on his farm. Drove it from his sisters place in Saskatoon, to BC when his sister died . Sat for years, tried to buy it when I was 16 , but didn’t want to sell it. My cousins husband got when he died five years later, last I heard it is in his garage in the process of being made into a hot rod, URG.

    Like 1
  13. Phillip Bellows

    I have restored several convertible Studebakers of the early 50s. From frame off to frame on restoration. This one appears to be in good shape. Last sold for
    28 grand. Someone could turn a profit and have fun at the same time. I also have a complete top mechanism with a working header if someone is looking for one. Also have some spare hinges for the top mechanism. They were made of pot metal so they break easily.

    Like 1
    • Bill

      I have a 49 Champion convertible with the power top mechanism removed. Is your spare top equipment usable for my car? My car is in New Hampshire. Where are you located?
      Bill

      • Phil B.

        Yes Bill it will fit right into your 49. But I am in Texas about an hour North of Dallas. 903 744 2471

    • Larry malmstrom

      I bought the car, it’s all together now,,,,tell me about the top parts you have…thanks larry

  14. Rustytech Member

    Not only were Studebakers good cars, they were strong cars. They were all my grandfather drove for years. He drove all over the east coast tuning pipe organs, he put a lot of miles on them, and they never let him down. Once a neighbor stopped by to show off his new Falcon Wagon, Pops took a hammer and thumped the fender on the Study, listened to the ring, then asked the neighbor if he thought the Falcon would take the same treatment, the answer “NOOOOO”.

    Like 1
  15. Bill Walters

    I think it will go for around 12K.

  16. charlie Member

    A mixed bag. Fit and finish were far better than Fords or Chevy’s of the time, but Chevy’s were going 100,000 miles and these were engine rebuilds at 40,000 to 60,000. My father’s had clouds of blue smoke at 40,000, rebuilt engine went in, no hole for a dipstick, just like my 2014 Audi, except the Audi was not a mistake. 2nd engine went in, and that was smoking at another 20,000. He became a Chevy guy after that. In ’56 I was terrified he would buy a ’56 Studebaker 4 Door, but he asked MY opinion, and I told him the Chevy was far better in the long run, he bought one and it lasted 14 years.

    Like 1
  17. G 1

    So classic. V8 came a year or to too late.

    Like 1
    • GOPAR

      The Studebaker overhead valve V8 was available in 1951 in the Commander series, which looked essentially like a Champion but with slightly longer front fenders and hood and also sported a higher level of trim. The V8 made 125 horsepower while the flat-head 6 made only 85. I own a ’51 Champion Starlite coupe (6-cyl) which, with the aid of overdrive, cruises comfortably @ 65-70 mph and, contrary to popular belief, does not smoke or burn oil.

  18. Leon

    We always said they had a “soft block” like the dodge and Plymouth. They were the “smokers” along with the Studie. I had a 49 and it ran sweet. the 6 cyl. with the O.D. was as smooth as a sewing machine. Great cars.

  19. Brady Neros

    I remember my dad’s ’52 starlight coupe. He loved that car! Some neighbor kids were lighting bottle rockets, and my dad happened to leave the window down…burned it all up!

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