The Studeblogger

Monday, September 11, 2006

Most Beautiful Stude Ever?

Get a bunch of Studebaker lovers together and ask them which was the prettiest ever, and you'll have as many opinions as you have people. Some might choose the '53 Starlight hardtop, or the '64 Daytona convertible, or the '62 Gran Turismo Hawk, or the beautiful '40 President two-door sedans. But there are a growing contingent who would finger the '58 President Starlight hardtop for the honor.

There's a lot to be said for the '58. In a year of wretched excess in the US automobile industry - a year that gave us the godawful chrome-laden Buick Century, the awful Oldsmobile 88, the aberrent non-sequitur Ford Fairlane and the hideously ugly Rambler Ambassador, the Studebaker President and Champion hardtops were clean, good-looking and positively restrained by comparison.

The '58 hardtop was conceived on the watch of Harold Churchill, the Studebaker prexy who came up with the Lark just a year later. He didn't necessarily want a showy hardtop in the non-Hawk line, but the dealers wanted a car they could use to compete with Big Three offerings. Duncan McRae (who had the unenviable task of attempting to make a 2nd-year design on a 5-year-old body shell look fresh in the facelift-every-year Fifties) designed the hardtop and grafted it onto the two-door sedan body. It was also used at the high end of the final Packard lineup, albeit with Packard cathedral taillights and a weird double-tailfin that kind of ruined the line of the rear end.

But the '58 President Starlight hardtop turned out to be one of the most striking Studes ever to hit the road. Viewed from the front, it has a massive grille that still manages to be tasteful compared to what was coming out of Detroit and Kenosha; from the side it was absolutely breathtaking, with the upkick of the tailfins beginning just below the quarter window, which fed into a svelte c-pillar and a graceful wraparound backglass.

Although they weren't hot sellers when new, these cars are finding a new following - here's a great article on them in the Chicago Sun-Times. Unfortunately, this lovely design was built for one year only, and deep-sixed when Churchill dumped the Presidents and Commanders the following year to mount a last-ditch company-saving effort with the Lark. Someone should start a registry...

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