Today’s vintage image is not only extraordinary for having a Studebaker Commander Starliner taking part in a trick riding show, but also for it being a convertible; a version the factory never offered to the public. It’s quite a sight, if I may say so.
Studebaker’s ill-fated 1953 Starliner is a well-documented chapter in the company’s history and has already been covered by CC. To briefly recap, the Loewy-designed vehicles created much havoc during production as result of a hurried development, budget constraints, and more. Yet, amidst all that, Studebaker somehow found the time to play with a possible convertible version. One prototype was built, but the idea was quickly put to rest.
Originally painted in Tacoma Gray, the one-off convertible acquired a Sandusky Beige respray in 1954. Could it be that prototype in this pic? Car companies are known to be ruthless with their concept vehicles. Some are abandoned, others are cut up, and a few meet rather fantastic ends. According to lore, VW’s EA266 prototypes -the intended Beetle replacement- were blown up in military exercises. Such stories are usually anecdotal, and I have difficulty believing most.
That said, had you told me of a Commander Starliner Convertible one-off playing part of a trick jump with 4 horses, I would have rolled my eyes in disbelief. And yet, here we are.
It seems ‘convertible jumps’ were somewhat common with trick riders at one point. Here’s Rodeo Hall of Famer Dick Griffith doing his stuff with a Buick convertible, and it’s pretty impressive. Not that I know much about the subject, since rodeos and horseriding are none of my expertise. After all, this is not Curbside Equines.
Regardless of production issues, the Starliner is one neat car and private shops have offered what the factory couldn’t. Custom-built convertibles appear from time to time, and one such case has been covered at CC previously.
The original factory-built prototype withered in Studebaker’s proving grounds for a number of years. When the South Bend factory closed in 1964, it was sold to an employee for $100 (the kind of closeout deal we car lovers dream of). Restored since then, the model now makes appearances in the car show circuit, as seen above. No idea if any trick riders still solicit its services.