Stored 33 Years: 1954 Studebaker Commander

Having first appeared in the 1920s, Studebaker’s Commander line of cars lasted up until the very end of US production, in 1966. It’s a crisp and clean design that would look perfect in the driveway of your Palm Springs mid-century-modern winter home… This 1954 Studebaker Commander Starliner hardtop coupe is listed here on eBay in Fullerton, California. The seller has a buy-it-now price of $5,995 listed or you can probably make an offer even though they don’t have that feature activated on the listing.

Fun fact: Fullerton is considered by many to be the birthplace of the electric guitar because of Leo Fender’s ties to Fullerton. Enough of guitars, back to this Studebaker. I’m not quite sure what the timeline is on this car, the seller says this Studebaker Commander “has been hidden from view since 1987, when it arrived in sunny Southern California. It was hidden away by a collector for decades, and just now sees the light of day on the very nice concrete floor barn that kept the elements away.”

Whatever period of time it has been in storage, it seems to have preserved it for the most part. Although, parts of it still show some primer. It is from the early-1950s so for a car this old to be in this condition is still impressive. The seller has looked it over and they don’t see any signs of paintwork other than the primer areas shown. There is some rust and there are some dents in the fenders as shown in the photos. The seller has it priced a bit more than the halfway point between Hagerty’s #3 good condition and #4 fair condition. With it not being a running car and given the work that’s needed, I’m not sure if they’ll get that asking price. Thoughts?

The interior is a little different in that it was originally a three-speed manual with a column shifter but at some point, it was converted to have an automatic transmission with a column selector. The clutch pedal is still there so the next owner will have to decide what to do there. I know what I’d do, switch back to a manual. The back seat armrest is about as cool as it gets.

The engine is Studebaker’s 232 cubic-inch V8 with 120 horsepower, which at the time was thought to have unacceptable acceleration given the car’s weight. The seller hasn’t tried to start it which always seems unusual to me. I don’t know if I could not at least try to start an engine, could you? This looks like a very solid project car and it would look great when it’s done. Would you go back to a manual transmission or keep the automatic and lose the clutch pedal?

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Our ’53 came with the manual 3 speed. Stuffed a big Olds with hydromatic 4 speed in it and found there wasn’t a lot of room for the automatic. Unless you find a small automatic somewhere I’d put a good 4 speed manual behind this engine. The engines respond well to being tweaked for more power if you are inclined to do so.

    Like 3
  2. Bultaco

    This body style was so far ahead of its time! The Exner “Forward Look” Cars were still four years away when this came out in ‘53. Is love to see this with a modern drivetrain and brakes, but otherwise completely stock looking (ie, no tacky steering wheel or horrible Foose wheels, etc.). That way, it would keep its original beauty, but be every day usable.

    Like 13
  3. W E Coyle

    So, in my small rural home town there was an officer in the navy who occasionally made it home to see his folks. He drove a ‘54 coupe with
    Chrysler chrome wires, a Hemi engine, very tasteful hood scoop, and a cherry red paint job. Growing up those of us who admired such things would comment, the Study was rack in town for a visit.

    Like 4
  4. Dual Jetfire

    Note the Nash reverse c pillar styling.

    I like Studes, but they have an odd quirk. The dash seems too far away, buth from the back of the steering wheel and the seats, even when the seats are fully forward.

    Also, even in the high status cars, the interiors seem lower status than the rest of the car.

    Like 1
    • Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

      I’m not sure, but didn’t Kaiser initiate that reverse C in the 1951s? That same style has been more recently seen in the late 90s Chryslers and Impalas, as well as more recently in many of the high end sedans (BMW, MB, Lexus, etc.).

      Like 2
  5. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    This is the desirable hardtop, aka Sunliner. I believe that they had 3 2dr models: the hardtop, the 2dr Coupe, and the 2dr Sedan. I had a 54 2dr Coupe with a 62 Hawk 289 in it. Great engine. I’m not sure but the 232 evolved to become the 289…I think. One problem with the design of the 289 was the tiny oil drain holes in the heads that could leave up to a quart of oil in each valve cover. Some folks resorted to an external drain in the covers down to the sump. This tended to cause stem seal deterioration. I did the heads on mine to replace the seals among other things. Never did add the external drains. 3 speed with OD and a hill-holder. Unfortunately a lot of rust and had to sell after getting married and moving to a property with less land. Still miss that car. And yes, the rear seat arm rest was way cool.

  6. DON SICURA

    If it wasn’t so far away from me, it would be mine.

  7. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    Some really nice metal in that garage. I think I see a 56 Desoto, perhaps a 55 or 56 300 letter car, and 2 56 Imperials and perhaps a 40s Cadillac. Not a bad collection and they look cursorily to be in good shape.

    • Bill McCoskey

      Eric,

      I see 4 1956 Imperials and a 1948 Lincoln Continental.

  8. Maestro1

    One of my all time favorite cars. If I had the room and not some projects already underway I’d jump on it. It doesn’t matter how much it takes to save it. I’d own it forever.

    Like 1
  9. Vince H

    the 54 had higher compression and was rated at 127hp.54 also had a 2door wagon. The wagon would have looked much better on the 120 wheelbase. Mt first car was a 53 coupe.

  10. Bimmerbill

    Studebaker designed their OHV V8 from the ’49 Olds and Caddy engines which I read an article way back then about an interview with an ex Studebaker engineer. Others here have mentioned different engine conversions but I do not think I saw Cadillac. There was a company that was installing Cadillac engines and called them Studellacs. I believe that company was in Detroit, just not sure. I only saw one back then and it was at the Studebaker dealership.
    Raymond Lowey designed this body style and personally I think he did a better job than he did with the Avanti.

    Like 3
    • Vince H

      Bill Frick was building them. He was on Long Island NY.

  11. CHARLES

    had mine in anchorage when they became a state,,,,few little problems,,but overall was a nice car,,,,drove it back to the states an traded for 58 chev,,,,,

  12. gaspumpchas

    Love these, stock or souped up. I think Bones Balough raced one of these but I dont remember any particulars about it. Good stuff. Stay safe and good luck.
    Cheers
    GPC

  13. Poppy

    This was a never a 3-speed car. The “clutch pedal” visible is just the second of two brake pedal linkages hooked to a VERY WIDE brake pedal pad that is missing. I have an automatic ’55 Commander parts car that has the same setup.

    Like 3
    • Bill-W

      The extra-wide clutch pedal was adopted when Studebaker’s Automatic transmission was introduced for 1951.

      The 5 passenger coupe was called Starllight and the hardtop was Starliner. The Sunliner was a Ford convertible.

      The 1953 Studebaker hardtop blew my doors off when I saw the introductory ads in January, 1953. Can still remember the gorgeous yellow car spread across two pages. One design that has held up over the years.

      Like 1
      • Poppy

        I have copy of that advertisement framed. It was from a Life magazine, so it’s huge.

        Like 1
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks for that indispensable wide brake pedal information, Poppy and Bill-W. I did not know that but that’s as interesting as it gets. Thanks!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks for that indispensable wide-brake-pedal information, Poppy and Bill-W. I did not know that but that’s as interesting as it gets. Thanks!

  14. Poppy

    Like Vince mentioned, the higher compression in ’54 bumped power a bit over the 120hp for ’53. With a 3-speed and OD these came standard with 4.27:1 gearing (vs 3.54:1 for the auto IIRC). These cars were not really all that heavy and gave respectable acceleration for their time with the manual transmission setup. ’55 and up heads, 4-bbl intake and WCFB plus dual exhausts supposedly really woke this engine up. These are still popular bolt-on modifications for those wishing to retain the original 232 V8.

    Like 1
    • Poppy

      Oh, and ’55 and up exhaust manifolds were also a needed part of that setup. The original 232 exhaust manifolds and pipes are laughably restrictive.

      Like 2
  15. Gerard Frederick

    Lester Pollfuss, better known as Les Paul invented the electric guitar. He was a true master of the instrument but had no connection to Fullerton as far as I know. Fullerton City College had one of the very best music departments in the US back in the 1970´s. I have a 33 rpm record of their Jazz Big Band — an absolute gas! As far as the Stude goes, in my world any Studebaker of the 50´s is desirable – too bad I live in Chile, or I´d be heading to Fullerton.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Gerard, I’m a Gibson guy down to my soul and you’re correct that Les Paul did indeed come up with one of the first solid-body electric guitars, but neither he nor Leo Fender were the “inventor” of the electric guitar or were even close to being the first person to make the first electric guitar.

      I only mentioned that the city of Fullerton, CA is “considered by many to be the birthplace of the electric guitar” because of Leo Fender’s early work on the instrument there. Fender was mass-producing solid-body electric guitars several years before the Gibson Les Paul was being produced, even though Les Paul’s prototype came out earlier. Bigsby beat both of them to the punch but Fenders were in production before the Les Paul was. Confusing! I have never owned a Fender guitar, for the record, only Gibsons.

  16. Steve Clinton

    Raymond Loewy was way ahead of his time with this car. It proves that simple clean looking designs never look out of date.

  17. Poppy

    On one of the Craigslist photos you’ll see the “secret” VIN stamp on the rear frame cross member. Usually those have been obliterated by corrosion over the previous 60+ years. Amazing to see it so visible in the photos.

    Like 2
  18. Phlathead Phil

    Sha-weeeeeeeet! Love it!

    And the ask is Correct!!

  19. Robt

    for my money a Bonneville inspired street rod would make a nice daily driver. Have always liked this body for a streamlined hot rod.

  20. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this one ended with no sale.

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