March '21

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8 THE SHOP MARCH 2021 THE STUDEBAKER STORY PART II Also, the sedans, which ran on a shorter 116.5-inch wheelbase and were to be the bread-and-butter moneymakers, were not pleasing to the eye, having an awkward look to them. New for 1954 was a two-door wagon called the Conestoga (a throwback to the original covered wagons that the Stude- baker brothers became famous for), but sales were disastrous. (In 1950, the com- pany experienced a high-water mark of selling 318,468 vehicles. In 1954, however, just 100,604 rolled off the assembly line.) For 1955, the front ends were restyled in heavy gobs of chrome (part of the overall scene in the chrome-crazy era of the mid- 1950s). One bright spot was the release of a new luxury version of the hardtop, called the President Speedster model. The sporty Stude featured a new engine turned instrument panel, 8,000-rpm tachometer and 160-mph speedometer. Two-tone paint was standard (many Speedsters came with flamboyant colors) and interiors featured quilted, custom-stitched leather upholstery. The '55 Speedster was the forerunner to the upcoming line of Hawks that were to first appear the following model year. ON THE ROPES Due to a lack of market penetration, the contract with Raymond Loewy was not renewed upon its expiration date, which was prior to the design decisions for the 1956 models (if there was to actually be a 1956 Studebaker). Because the company was losing money faster than it could possibly make it, Stude- baker found itself on the ropes, and eventu- ally joined forces with carmaker Packard. The partnership was a win for Studebaker and a loss for Packard, as its sales plum- meted from 55,247 units in 1955 to just 2,622 vehicles sold in '58. The last Packard was built on July 13, 1958. Separate from the Packard takeover was the much-needed redesign of the regular line of Studebakers. Prior to the release of the '56 cars, Studebaker-Packard President James Nance was on record as saying that, in his opinion, the slump in sales occurred because of the vehicles' controversial (Euro- pean) styling. So, for 1956, corrective mea- sures were taken in the form of a more upright, boxy shape that was more in-tune with typical American tastes. Meanwhile, financial assistance came from Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, who didn't want a major American corpora- tion going bankrupt on his watch, along with aircraft maker Curtiss-Wright. This was the second time in just two years that, if loads of money hadn't come in from out- side sources, Studebaker would never have survived. More funds came in from Mercedes-Benz AG through an agreement for Studebaker to distribute cars. However, the indicators were there—Studebaker was not a viable automaker, yet somehow it kept chugging along. MORE CHANGES The '57 Studebaker full-sized cars were basically carry-overs from the '56 models, except for some garish trim and a wrap- around front grille design. Meanwhile, a new, low-cost, no-frills Scotsman model sold some 30,000 units. Designer Duncan McRae was chosen to take on the job of changing things up for the 1958 model year. A hardtop was finally available for the big Studes, and to keep up with industry trends, quad headlights and tailfins were added. 8 THE SHOP MARCH 2021 The creativity was flowing when the decision was made to release this Speedster version of the 120.5-inch wheelbase hardtop, complete with special trim, simulated wire wheel covers, special black-on-white speedometer and tachometer and more. The 1956 restyling of the full-sized Studebakers (done on a shoestring budget by Vince Gard- ner) was aimed to be more "American" in appearance.

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