Raymond Loewy & Bourke Classic Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, 1954, USA

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An all original condition 'Loewy Coupe' Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe V8 from 1954

Robert Bourke, a designer in Studebaker's own studios, had the greatest role in penning this all-time gorgeous automobile
Raymond Loewy who often gets credited for designing this coupe was at that time head of the design department of Studebaker and although not the designer of this car he played an important role to get this classic American car on the road

This car was advertised as ''The American car with the European look''

This Studebaker comes from a collector who had this car for 15 years

- original 1954 manual
- extra bodywork parts (hood and rear fender)
- extra steering column
- many smaller original parts


Credits: This well described history on Studebaker was written by Aaron Severson and taken from the website ateupwithmotor

Studebaker had been in reasonably good financial shape in the late 1940s, but by early 1951, dark clouds were gathering. As had been the company’s wont since the 1920s, much of its profit was paid out in dividends, which was popular with stockholders, but did little to improve Studebaker’s aging facilities. The South Bend factory was antiquated compared to the latest Big Three plants, with adverse effects on both productivity and production cost. The outbreak of the Korean War made things worse, bringing with it new production restrictions and shortages of steel and other materials. Although Studebaker’s production volume rose dramatically in 1950 and 1951, its profit margins were already slipping.

Compounding those problems, Studebaker was also struggling to correct the flaws of its brand-new V8 engine, launched for the 1951 model year. Early engines suffered serious valve-gear problems that resulted in many warranty repairs and hasty design changes. To its credit, Studebaker dealt with the problem in a thorough and conscientious fashion, but it cost them more than $4 million, reducing their 1951 profits by almost 25% and taking a serious toll on public confidence.

In that climate, Bourke hadn’t expected the board would go for his show car plan, but to his surprise, they said yes. Whether Harold Vance saw the show car as a promotion for the company’s centennial or just a convenient way to generate some positive publicity, he told Loewy to go ahead.

Bourke decided to develop a sleek, low-slung coupe, influenced by the latest European styling trends. He and his team began by creating a series of quarter-scale models, from which Loewy chose two: one by Bourke, the other by Holden (Bob) Koto. The RLA team then created a full-size clay, one side of which was based on Bourke’s design, the other on Koto’s. Since the team still had a lot of work to do on Studebaker’s production cars and trucks, the show car became an after-hours project, done over the course of many unpaid evenings and weekends. Loewy was in Europe during most of this time and had little involvement with the design of the clay model.

Although Bourke conceived the coupe as a one-off, Harold Vance came by the studio one evening and asked him to keep a close eye on its production costs — something that mattered very little for a pure show piece. It was Bourke’s first clue that the design might become more than a concept car. When Loewy returned from Europe, Bourke told him about Vance’s visit and they worked yet more overtime to ensure that the coupe would be suitable for mass production.

Loewy and Bourke showed the finished model to the board a few weeks later, along with their models for the 1953 sedans. Vance, Hoffman, and the other board members walked around the coupe without commenting, but Vance called Bourke the following morning and told him they had decided to build it as a regular 1953 model.

The coupe was an expensive investment for Studebaker. It used the long-wheelbase chassis of the big Land Cruiser sedan, but its body was unique. Although it shared some styling cues with the sedans, also all new for 1953, they had no common stampings or sheet metal. The coupes also required some minor chassis modifications to ensure sufficient headroom beneath the low roofline, which was 5.5 inches (140 mm) lower than the sedan’s. The coupe was one of the lowest cars in the industry at that time, giving it a rather rakish air.

The public was quite taken with what Studebaker advertising called the coupe’s “European look.” In fact, many buyers preferred it to the comparatively dumpy-looking sedans, which debuted several weeks before the coupe. Studebaker had not anticipated that — at the time, coupes seldom accounted for more than 15-20% of sales — and had not allotted enough production capacity to meet the demand for the coupes. Many frustrated customers simply walked away rather than accept a sedan.

Those customers who did get their hands on the new coupe were not necessarily impressed. The big Land Cruiser frame lacked sufficient rigidity, resulting in a disconcerting amount of chassis flex over large bumps. (This weakness was partially addressed in 1954, but not enough; Bob Bourke recalled that he beefed up the frame his personal car even further before it felt adequately solid.) Assembly quality was not the best, either, and squeaks and rattles were common. Both the body and the frame also proved to be very vulnerable to rust.

The coupes — inevitably christened the “Loewy coupes,” although they were primarily Bourke’s work — eventually accounted for nearly half of all 1953 Studebaker passenger car sales. However, that total was only 166,364, down more than 100,000 units from 1951. The main reason was a fierce price war between Ford and Chevrolet (and, to a lesser extent, competition between Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) that forced Big Three dealers to cut prices to the bone. Studebaker, with its high production costs, simply could not afford to respond. Bob Bourke said they did a cost analysis on a Commander sedan and found that it cost Studebaker at least $350 more to build than GM would have spent for an identical car. The coupes, with their unique body shells, were even more expensive. Although the Loewy coupe was an aesthetic triumph, it was not a financial success.


  • Date of Manufacture
  • Period
  • Materials and Techniques
  • Condition
    Good. This car is in good all original vintage condition and well maintained by previous collector. Normal aging to chrome and plastic parts consistent with age and use. Full condition report upon request..
  • Wear
    Wear consistent with age and use. Minor losses.
  • Dealer Location
    bergen op zoom, Netherlands
  • Number of Items
  • Reference Number
About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2012

Typical response time: 4 hours

Located in bergen op zoom, NL

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