I’m on a bit of a Studebaker jag, thanks to Cohort John Lloyd’s large collection. And this is something special, the 1952 Starliner hardtop. It was a one-year wonder, as 1952 would be the last year of this body style. Studebaker apparently felt that the hardtop coupe (or “hardtop convertible”) pioneered by GM in 1950 was a niche they couldn’t afford to miss out on. So they gave what was essentially the convertible body a hardtop that looked like a dead-ringer for the GM version.
That’s where the term “hardtop convertible” comes from, as that’s what they rather were, since the convertible had the frameless door glass and other elements suitable for the job. Plunking on a hardtop roof wasn’t really all that hard or expensive.
And it wouldn’t be the last time Studebaker did this.
But before we do that, let’s savor this gem first. Although I’m still mad about the Starlight coupe with its wild wrap-around rear window, I have to say this works very nicely, and rather changes the whole feel of this vintage Studebaker. There are some who also like this new 1952 front end too, more than the bullet-nose ’50 – ’51. I used to feel strongly otherwise, but I’m warming up to this much more conventional style.
Initially I couldn’t figure out whether this was a six cylinder Champion or V8 Commander, but the different badge on the prow of its nose gives it away.
It makes the otherwise unusual Studebaker tail of this vintage look downright normal.
The arrival of the Starliner didn’t mean the Starlight coupe went away, as this fine ’52 Commander shows.
Its tail comes off less orthodox than the Starliner, longer and pointier.
And there’s no denying that its rear seat had a highly unique aspect.
Here’s the driver’s compartment, from this Starlight, not the hardtop.
And the second time around? In 1958, when Studebaker decided it needed a “conventional” hardtop coupe. Very odd, as they did have the hardtop Golden Hawk. But that was based on the old low-slung coupe. This new Starliner hardtop was based on the sedan body. And since there had been no convertible, it involved a lot more engineering and tooling. Presumably they started with the two-door sedan, and hacked away. And how many did they sell? A few hundred?
Studebaker worked in mysterious ways, which makes them so endlessly compelling.
If the ’52 top is a GM clone, the ’58 looks very Chrysler-like. Was Virgil Exner Jr at Studebaker at that point?
After doing a bit of research, I don’t think that’s a Starliner. I think it’s a Studebaker President (although I guess it’s technically a top-line Starliner).
Regardless, if someone wanted a 7/8s-scale Forward Look car in 1958, the President might have sufficed. It sheds a whole different light on the goofy, tacked-on headlight pods and tailfins.
@Dan Cluley – Yes! Exner, Jr. was very much involved in the design of the ’58 Starlight hardtop.
I agree, I once saw one of these at a car show and I couldn’t process what I was looking at. “They downsized the big Dodge and Plymouth in ‘62, not 58!”
I’ve always been more impressed by the ’47-’52 than the ’53. The ’53 was sheer perfection, but it wasn’t as radical as the ’47. By ’53, Packard and Ford had already defined the lean straight-through look. The ’47 laid down a whole new set of sharp proportions and a new way of using triangles and trapezoids, at a time when everyone else was blobbing up into eggs and bars of soap.
Also the ’47-’52 inspired the classic British Rover P4 – just not the front end though!
One of my oldest memories is sitting in the backseat of the Studebaker with the wrap around rear window. The car belonged to one of my mother’s best friends, and we were on our way from Sheboygan, WI to Elkhart Lake, WI to go swimming in the early 50s. I could hardly believe the magnificent view I had in that Studebakers rear seat. Never before had the WORLD seemed so open and close from inside a car!!! Even my dad’s 48-49 2 door Willy’s Jeep with all of its large windows did not provide such a view….WOW!! 🙂
That was the second car that made a lasting impression on me from that time period. The other was a Frazier with the split hatchback rear. Both were different from mainstream cars of the time, at least to my @ 6 (?) year old eyes; therefore they were memorable! DFO
Must have been hot and stuffy back there on a summer day with no AC and no flow through ventilation. On regular two door Studebakers of those years the rear windows rolled down about 2/3rds of the way – enough for me to puke out of on the way home from an amusement park. Good thing Cheapskate Fifties Dad didn’t spend more for the spiffy windows model.
Never noticed before, but the ’52 has an odd double-shutline for front wing and door.I don’t see the sense in that.
I do find the Starliner more attractive than the Starlight, if not as distinctive.
I think that cowl panel that separated the front door from the fender/wing is a holdover from prewar body design, where that sort of thing had been quite common. Studebaker being the very first out of the gate with an all new design, I think they can be forgiven for not seeing that change coming.
Also the bolted on rear fenders with some kind of bead along the seam with the body. And on four doors, a strip of body between the doors from top to bottom, so the car appeared to be assembled from a lot of separate pieces, although the part of the rear fender shape on the rear doors was blended in without the seam. The 1949 Ford got rid of all of those, plus not even having a suggestion of separate front or rear fenders, with the top of the body running right along the beltline. Chevy among others continued the fender look through 1954, although without the seam.
The 52 hardtop is a favorite of mine. Of the standard line cars (not a C/K body Starliner/Hawk) it may be the most conventionally attractive Studebaker of the entire postwar period. Almost all of the slightly awkward lines of that body go away on the hardtop, and almost every standard model after came with serious styling compromises caused by tight budgets.
As for the front, I like this far better than the 50-51 bullets, but not as much as the 47-49, especially in Commander form. If the new 53 was not available for the 100th year celebration, this was a nice consolation prize.
This car was a hardtop plopped on a convertible while the 60 Lark was a convertible made out of a hardtop. Both turned out pretty nicely.
That is a very nice car.
1952 is the end of an innocent era where you could choose from 20 different US car brands. The US market was never so diverse with domestic brands again.
The Starlight wrap-around rear window always reminds me of the Modern Diner, an iconic building located in Pawtucket, RI (and made nationally famous by Zippy).
On a real rolling train.
Your comment made me think of a limerick that I’d not thought of in years:
“There was an old man of Nantucket, who kept his cash in a bucket. But his daughter named Nan, ran away with a man; and as for the bucket, Nantucket!
Now this old man of Nantucket, chased after her and the bucket; he caught up with Nan, soundly thrashed the man, and as for the bucket, Pawtucket!” 🙂
That’s actually pretty witty but I think that being from New England is a big help in “getting it”.
Ah, memories! My Uncle Albert, who was really my maternal aunt aunt’s husbands sister’s spouse, bought a 1952 Studebaker Hardtop. I always liked the car. At night, the instrumentation was illuminated by – get this – radium! ZAAAPPP! At the time, Uncle Albert and his wife and my aunt and her husband and my cousins lived on Staten Island, the Borough of Richmond of New York City. One day Uncle Albert took me to his friend’s home. These two men were survivors of The Armenian Genocide. Now, thirty-seven years later they were living in private homes in what was once a quiet borough of NYC. How peaceful it was to see these old friends comfortable in life after the horrors they endured. They never spoke of them. We learned later on. So, the 1952 Studebaker brings memories to my heart. And it is a nicely styled automobile from hardtop to new front end.
The 52 may look like it was cribbed from the GM design book, but the 58 is an ersatz Chrysler.
To think that this immediately preceded the ’53 Champion and Starliner models is remarkable. Has any other car company transformed their design philosophy while simultaneously leapfrogging the competition in design leadership to such a degree? I’m tempted to suggest VW with the first Passats, but they were really variants of existing Audi forms. They also muted the impact of the Scirocco and Golf that followed. The 1953 Loewy model line was far less precedented, as far as I know.
In both cases, the 1952 Starliner and 1958 non-Hawk hardtops were more of Studebaker playing catch up to the rest of the industry because of patchwork, haphazard product planning as result of dithering management.
For 1952, there was to be an all-new N-Series body in celebration of the centennial of the company. 1950 had produced their highest sales year, 1951 somewhat off but still excellent with the new V8. But, restrictions began because of the Korean conflict and only Harold Vance remained after Paul Hoffman been tapped for the AEC. While dithering away the N-Series, they knew they had to respond to the immediate popularity of the ‘hardtop convertible’. That’s why they finally planted a GM-style hardtop roof and wrapped rear window on the existing convertible body. At 26,667, they returned 15.9% of the total 1952 volume.
Fast forward to the distressed 1956-’57 years, hardtops of all configurations had grabbed the public imagination, Studebaker neglected to include a hardtop in the sedan series from the start but now had to play catch up again. Styling mocked up both two and four door hardtops on ’56-’57 shells, Churchill somehow scratched up the funds to tool the ’58’s. This time, at only 3,846 hardtops and 8.6%, it was something that maybe attracted showroom traffic but if it recouped its tooling expense, it would be a surprise. For domestic sales: Commander: 2,555; President: 1,171. And for export sales, 120 Champion hardtops! Find one of the latter! A real CC plum!
“but if it recouped its tooling expense, it would be a surprise.”
Absolutely true for the 58 model, but all of the engineering and tooling paid dividends for the 59 Lark hardtop and the 60 convertible. And because the Lark hardtop C pillar was all new, that was one model that did not look like a carryover compared to the 58 hardtop.
Good point about it being re-used for the Lark hardtop and convertible. if there hadn’t been that ’58 hardtop, I seriously doubt that the Lark hardtop and convertible would ever have existed.