Studebaker Champion

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Studebaker Champion

1939 - 1958
300 @ 5000 rpm (approx)
4 spd. MT / 3 spd. AT
Top Speed:
118 mph
Number Built:
4 star
Studebaker Champion
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


The success of the Champion in 1939 was imperative to Studebaker's survival following weak sales during the 1938 model year. Unlike most other cars, the Champion was designed from a "clean sheet", and had no restrictions caused by necessarily utilizing older parts or requiring the subsequent use of its components in heavier vehicles. Market research guided the selection of features, but a key principle adhered to was the engineering watchword "weight is the enemy."

For its size, it was one of the lightest cars of its era. Its compact straight-6 engine outlasted the model itself and was produced to the end of the 1964 model year, with a change to an OHV design in 1961. The Champion was one of Studebaker's best-selling models because of its low price (US$660 for the two-door business coupe in 1939), durable engine, and styling.

The car's ponton styling was authored by industrial designer Raymond Loewy who had been under contract with Studebaker for the design of their automobiles. Champions won Mobilgas economy runs by posting the highest gas mileage tests. During World War 2 Champions were coveted for their high mileage at a time when gas was rationed in the United States. From 1943-1945, the Champion engine was used as the powerplant for the Studebaker M29 Weasel personnel and cargo carrier, which also used four sets of the Champion's leaf springs arranged transversely for its bogie suspension.

The Champion was phased out in 1958 in preparation for the introduction of the 1959 Studebaker Lark. Prior to this, Studebaker had been placed under receivership, and the company was attempting to return to a profitable position.

First Generation 1939 - 1941

The Champion came out in 1939. Deluxe models came with arm rests and dual wipers. The 164.3 cu in (2.7 L) I6 engine produced 78 horsepower (58 kW; 79 PS). In 1940, Studebaker claimed 27.25 mpg-US (8.63 L/100 km; 32.73 mpg-imp) In 1941, the bodies were given a more streamlined look.

Second Generation 1942 - 1946

In 1946, Studebaker built a limited number of cars based on their 1942 body shell in preparation for its new body and design roll out in 1947. All Studebakers built in 1946 were designated Skyway Champion models. Only the Champion series was produced, it being the most popular before the war.

Third Generation 1947 - 1952

When the Studebaker Corporation, one of America's pioneer manufacturers, decided to introduce a new model in 1946, they called on Raymond Loewy, ace industrial designer, to produce something really outstanding. He did, and we all know the result. The post-war Studebakers, with their all-round glass and balanced front and rear ends quickly became one of the world's most popular motor cars, and Studebaker managed to do it again for the 1950 models.

First revealed in 1949, the 1950 model Studebakers were a radical departure from conventional body design as were the cars produced in 1946. Their front ends had reversed the square front theory in favour of the bullet nose seen on Willys cars of 1937 vintage. The Studebaker front end looked similar to the front end of a jet aircraft. Commenting on the design Raymond Loewy said: "We aimed for the light, fast impression of an aeroplane. We wanted to break up the box-like appearance that has been common on most post-war cars. If we can give our cars a feeling of motion and speed we'd have succeeded in going directly against the current trend. What better way was there to do it than to peel the car away from the front of the hood. The car now cuts its way through the air like an aeroplane."

There was also the consideration of sales. The Studebaker Corp. was still selling cars that it had not produced in what, generally, could be called a buyer's market, and they wanted something outstanding to attract the buyer who was slow in making up their mind. Actually, not much else was done to the 1950 series, apart from the front end, until you came to the suspension. The front fenders were streamlined and extended forward of the point reached in the previous model Studebakers, and minor modifications were made to the rear fenders. Bodies remained practically unchanged. The all-round glass, possibly the greatest aesthetic appeal of the post-war Studebaker, remained the same.

Engines, with their high economy and transmissions, which by 1950 did not include fluid drive, remained the same as 1949. However, compression ratios were stepped up to 7.0 to 1. Slight modifications only were made to the instrument panel. Probably the most important item in the new cars was the suspension. For the first time coil springs replaced the transverse spring at the front. Studebaker engineers attacked the problem of suspension from an entirely new angle, with the consequence that the new Studebakers were both unusually comfortable and stable.

Utilizing the coil and wishbone type of suspension at the front, assisted by cylindrical hydraulic shock absorbers, the 1950 models corrected what was possibly one of Studebaker's few faults. Rubber insulators, mounted at each end of the coils, gave an added cushioning effect. Long semi-elliptic leaf springs were still used at the rear. Paul G. Hoffman, the man who laid down the post-war plans of the Studebaker organisation, was no longer with the firm - switching jobs to become the Administrator of the United States European Recovery Organisation - the Marshal Plan, but his enthusiasm still infused Studebaker Corporation.

Paul Hoffman, after pulling Studebaker out of the rut in 1936, had established a reputation for the Company that has made them the traditional style-leaders of the automotive industry. Unfortunately, apart from a few cars that may be imported by Consular employees, Australians did not get to see the 1950 Studebakers as they came under the heading of limited dollar imports. In the USA the Champion made up 65.08% of the total sales for the automaker. The 169.9 cu in (2.8 litre) L6 engine produced 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) in 1947. In 1950, output was increased to 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS). One of the new styling features on the cars was the wraparound, "green-house" rear window that was on two-door cars from 1947-1951, at first just an option, in 1950 it was given its own trim line, the Starlight coupe. The "spinner" grill was introduced in 1950, similar to that of a Ford Deluxe, but was dropped again for the 1952 model year.

Fourth Generation 1953 - 1956

In 1953, Studebaker was redesigned by Robert Bourke, from Raymond Loewy's design studio. The two-door coupe was called the "Starlight." while the more expensive hardtop coupe was called the "Starliner." The front end of the new Studebaker was lower than contemporaries. No convertible was offered in 1953. In 1954, a new two-door station wagon called the "Conestoga" was added to the Champion line. Power of the L-head inline-six remained unchanged at 85 hp (63 kW), although in 1955 this was replaced by a larger version with 101 hp (75 kW). Also for 1955 the Starlight/Starliner labels were dropped and a wraparound windshield was introduced. The 1956 Champion sedans received very different bodywork, with pronounced "eyebrows" over the headlights and large tailfins. The coupes received the new Hawk style bodywork with a centrally placed square grille reminiscent of a period Mercedes-Benz.

Fifth Generation 1957 - 1958

In 1957, the Champion Scotsman, a stripped down Champion, was introduced by Studebaker in an attempt to compete with the "Big Three" (i.e. General Motors, Ford, and Chrylser) and Nash in the low-price field. Shortly after its introduction, the model was renamed to Studebaker Scotsman. Two engines were available, a 185 cu in (3.0 litre) 101 hp (75 kW; 102 PS) "Sweepstakes" L-head I6, or a 289 cu in (4.7 litre)210 hp (157 kW; 213 PS) "Sweepstakes" OHV V8.

Studebaker Generation 3 Specifications:

  • Engine:
    • Six cylinder L head. Bore 76.2 m.m. x 101.6 m.m. Capacity 2,780 c.c. Compression ratio, 7.1. 21.6 h.p. developing 80 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m.
  • Transmission:
    • Three speed synchromesh gearbox with remote control lever on steering column. Automatic overdrive.
  • Suspension:
    • Independent coil spring type front suspension and long semi-elliptic springs at rear.
  • Brakes:
    • Hydraulic self-adjusting, self-centreing brakes.
  • Steering:
    • Shockless direct action steering. Cam and twin lever. Variable ratio.
  • Wheels:
    • Five steel disc wheels with 5.50 x 15 tyres.
  • Dimensions:
    • Wheelbase, 112 in. Overall length, 190-5/8 in. Overall width, 69-3/4 in. Height, 60-3/4 in. Front track, 56-1/4 in. Rear track, 54 in. Weight, 2,720 lb.
1942 Studebaker Champion
1942 Studebaker Champion Coupe
1951 Studebaker Champion Custom
Studebaker Champion
1952 Studebaker Champion

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