Studebaker coupe a certified work of art

The 1953 Studebaker has been described as a work of art.

Although Studebakers were all new for 1953, it was the Starliner (pillarless) and Starlight coupes that attracted all the attention. 

The company’s design consultant, Raymond Loewy, took all the credit for the svelte two doors cars — but it was really Bob Bourke who designed the cars. 

Blending European and American themes, Bourke created one of the most admired automobiles of the 1950s. 

The Museum of Modern Art called it “a work of art.” 

The coupes established the market for the affordable sporty/luxury “personal” car in the USA, two years ahead of the famous Ford Thunderbird.

The slinky shape influenced many cars over the next three decades. 

The 1955 Sunbeam Rapier was styled by Loewy’s team and is a smaller version of the Studebaker coupe. 

The 1964 Plymouth Barracuda and second-generation Camaro/Firebird also paid homage to Bourke’s masterpiece.

Holden design director Phillip Zmood took inspiration from Bourke’s coupe for the HQ Monaro’s big rear window. 

The split grille is also said to have influenced Pontiac’s designer when they were looking for ideas to showcase their 1959 model. 

The split grille became a defining styling theme for Pontiac until its demise in 2010.

1953 Studebaker coupe 1


The irony is that the coupes were never meant to be a production car.

Their original design was to appear on a concept car that Studebaker had planned to show in 1953.

When the top executives saw what was being proposed, they immediately gave the green-light to add it to the Studebaker range for 1953.

As stylish as the Coupes were, their sales were crimped by quality control issues and poor product planning.

Studebaker’s factory in South Bend Indian was aging.

The company did not have the financial resources to invest in the most modern of production lines and build quality suffered as a result.

The reputation of Studebakers in general started to decline, leading to a slowing of sales.

Product planners also underestimated the popularity of the coupe and for many months after its release stock was not available.

Willing buyers simply went elsewhere.

Intense price competition in the early 1950s from GM, Ford and Chrysler just added to the company’s financial woes and slowly eroding market share and sales.

Interestingly, Studebaker’s coupes have one degree of separation from the Australian automotive industry. 

Bob Bourke’s brother, Bill, was managing director of Ford Australia in the mid-1960s. 

Holden’s retired design director Leo Pruneau sold the coupes in his family’s Studebaker dealership in St Genevieve, Missouri, prior to his design career.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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