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HomePick of the DayPick of the Day: '50 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, still a controversial design

Pick of the Day: ’50 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, still a controversial design

The Commander was a top-drawer model powered by the biggest 6-cylinder engine

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Studebaker’s signature bullet-nose styling, which appeared in 1950, was originally planned to be a third headlight that swiveled along with the steering. Great idea, but the company bean counters figured out it was too expensive a feature for the modestly priced cars, so it became a chrome embellishment instead that jutted out above the grille like the nosecone of a rocket.

The front end was controversial from the start, but even more so when combined with the wraparound rear window and long truck lid of the Studebaker Starlight Coupe, which had critics opining that you couldn’t tell whether it was coming or going.

Studebaker

Designed by the legendary Virgil Exner when he was with the Raymond Loewy team and before making his mark at Chrysler, the Studebaker coupe stands as a unique piece of industrial design, different from anything before or since.

The Pick of the Day is a 1950 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, the top-of-the-line model powered by its matching-numbers 245cid side-valve inline-6, which generates about 100 horsepower, linked with a manual transmission that’s equipped with overdrive for highway cruising.

studebaker, Pick of the Day: ’50 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, still a controversial design, ClassicCars.com Journal

“These Studebakers are well-regarded as one of the most strikingly futuristic cars of its time,” according to the Milford, Michigan, dealer advertising the coupe on ClassicCars.com.  “This Commander has been documented with a Studebaker National Museum production order record.

“It’s been refinished in its original color of Shenandoah Green. The interior has been refinished in beautiful tan houndstooth using NOS materials.”

Studebaker

These Starlight Coupes with their bullet noses are what’s most-often pictured whenever someone mentions Studebaker, but they were produced for just two model years, 1950-51, losing the nose for ’52 and with entirely new designs appearing in showrooms for 1953. 

This one looks like a strikingly nice example, in stock condition with no updates.  These cars have long been popular for collectors, as well as street rodders who are trying to make a statement.

Studebaker

Changing anything on this Studebaker would be a crime since its in such good stock condition.  The 5-digit odometer is pictured in the ad showing just 33,821 miles, although there is no mention in the ad whether that’s the original mileage or if it’s flipped or been changed.

The asking price for this unusual example of mid-century styling is $30,000.

To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day

Hagerty
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

18 COMMENTS

  1. My Dad bought one of these in 1960 on a Friday and on Monday gave it back to the dealer as it had so many problems. As a kid I liked the styling but, alas it went back.

  2. I always liked quarky looking cars, and this is my favorite car of the 50s in my favorite retro color. Man, If I could afford this, it would be in my garage!

    Just beautiful. Always liked these, Willy’s, Henry J’s, and anything from Nash.

  3. Always liked the looks of this car and the color is perfect for it. Glad they kept it factory stock. Wouldn’t mind having it in my garage!

  4. I remember when Studebakers were everywhere and only parents and older folks drove them. I grew up near
    SouthBend Indiana. When the Avanti was introduced I thought Studebaker would survive.

  5. In the early 50s my Great uncle had a Studebaker dealership in a small Midwest town.
    My Mother had this very car that we called he “Doodle Bug”
    My Father had the Champion with a V8. They would race the two up a big hill outside town. About a mile to the top. The little six would win.
    My Father lost both in card games.
    My Great Uncle lost the dealership and went to prison for tax evasion.
    Oh the good old days!

  6. As a ’60s teenager, a friend had a nice Studebaker in which a case of beer could be hidden in each of the backseat arm rests. The lids of the arm rests opened to a large storage area. Love ’em.

  7. These were ahead of their time in other ways also. The use of alloys and alluminum for weight and cost savings during the manufacturing process. I had a few starlight coupes in my collection and a business coupe, which did away with the wrap around rear glass and had an overly long trunk to put your pals in to sneak into the drive-in movie. I worked at GM and drove it regularly to work and was amazed on the fuel economy. Studebaker won several mileage challenges and I think they won Pikes Peak or some other similar event due to the gearing and traction. It was fun to drive and with the 6 volt system, always started, although with the slow turn-over speed, I never could get used to the lack of starter ‘spin’. I had the Champion and later purchased a Commander that had been turned into a sawmill, they cut off the top of the trunk, mounted a slide for the wood and bolted a giant sawblade on the differential. To operate, you would jack up one wheel and saw away till the cows came home. I sold it to a guy in Sweden where they are either cutting all the trees down or have restored it to original non-sawmill’ duty.

  8. My father worked for Studebaker in South Bend Indiana. He bought a Starlight Coup right off the line he worked on. It was a maroon in color! It was the first new car my parents bought I think they paid $1100 for it then!

  9. The 1951 had a piece of trim added to the front ‘point’ to try and downsize it. It is a good way to tell the difference in those 2 nearly identical models. Do no forget, they had “Hill-Hiolder” where you could stop on a hill and be able to take off without burning the clutch and utilizing the 3 footed clutch, gas, brake maneuver that we all know so well.

  10. The Studebaker is identical to one my parents had in El Paso Texas, I was 3 or 4 & hid several Easter eggs under the rear seat arm rests, which were not found for several weeks, but I understand the car smelled like it had a hidden dead body in it somewhere!
    As a kid I had forgotten them, but vividly remember them today!

  11. My father was John M. Studebaker’s chauffeur for 2 years in the 1930’s, driving Packards and Pierce Arrows. He and mom lived above the garages on the estate. I have his letter of recommendation for future jobs that Mr. S gave him when he left because Mrs. S wanted dad to become the butler.

  12. Bob, Regarding your recent ’50 Stude Starlight Coupe story of March 3rd: Respectfully, before you give design credit to Virgil Exner, one should consider Raymond Loewy fired him from the Loewy Studio 1944. Exner promptly walked across the street in South Bend to work for Studebaker Design. As Exner continued to clash with Loewy, he moved on to Chrysler in ’49.
    One should consider giving proper credit to Loewy’s head designer Bob Bourke, along with Raymond Loewy. As the independent designer/contractor to Stude for automotive sedans, Loewy led his design team, approved all work, and made the annual design presentations to Stude Management. Regarding the famous nose cone used by Ford & Stude, the Loewy Archives gives credit to gifted designer Tucker Madawick. Happy motoring, David Hagerman, Loewy Estate

  13. My first car in 1961at age 16 in San Francisco for $124 was a 1951 Stude, 4 door, light green, 3 on the column, 6 cylinder. My dear uncle Tony took me to shop for a car down south of San Fran. I assured him I well knew how to drive a standard and that I’d have no problem driving the city’s steep hills in order to get home on Haight St. in the near Golden Gate Park. However when I got to the incredibly 45 degree angle intersection of Fell and Fillmore streets, I knew I was in big trouble if I were to catch the red light. I was sweating bullets and wouldn’t you know it, I had to come to a stop. It was if I were sitting in cockpit of a rocket ship at the angle ready for launch. It was then when I came to learn that the car had a “hill holder” feature and allowed me to take my left foot off the brake and begin to slowly release the clutch and accelerate with my right without rolling backwards. Oh Lordy, Lordy. I got home safely and quickly changed my underwear. Anybody else had a similar experience?

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