Although small by U.S. automotive standards, Studebaker had been in business for over 100 years. One of the main reasons was its innovative styling as shown by some of the stunning designs presented in the past. Many noted artisans worked for Studebaker such as Virgil M. Exner, who did their famous post war “you don't know whether it’s comin’ or goin” look.
In 1953, Raymond Loewy was chosen to design Studebaker’s new look. When he finished, his award winning Starlight Coupe was introduced, and the automobile world was mesmerized. Loewy and Studebaker were presented with the styling award of the year for his efforts. Although the company never tauted the car as a sports car, the design certainly carried that influence, and many other publications referred to it as one. Thanks to its sleek low profile, the handling of the car was comparable to any of the other production “American Sports Cars” of the 50’s era. What the car really lacked was power, exacerbated by an automatic transmission that started off in second gear. The bigger problem was sales, because Studebaker still built their cars in the old buggy factory which was so antiquated that they were simply unable to meet the initial demand.
Enthusiasm of the fickle 50’s car buying public soon waned because of the delayed delivery, so a good number of potential sales were lost. By 1956, the power problem was certainly addressed when the newly formed Studebaker Packard Corporation mated the sporty little body with a big Packard V-8. Handling suffered however, since the weight ratio was thrown off by using this mammoth engine. By 1962 they had most of the kinks ironed out when they introduced another update of the Loewy body and called it the GT Hawk. This car, equipped with their souped up R-2 engine and a 4 speed Borg Warner stick shift, was truly a great handling 4 passenger sportscar. Loewy’s creation was so popular that reconfigured forms of the same design, which originated in 1953, lasted until 1964 when the company left the United States for a last ditch effort at producing its compact Lark in Canada.
The exceptionally clean design of the original 1953-4 Starlight coupe will always be among those few cars that can stand the test of time as a true work of art.
FREDERICK J. ROTH
Copyright June 2003