If one car finally restored Studebaker s fortunes after the disastrous bankruptcy of 1933 it was the sensational Champion, introduced just as one decade was coming to its end and providing solid foundations for the next.
This cleanly styled and well-engineered vehicle was offered as an economy business coupe, club sedan and four-door cruising saloon, immediately capturing the car-buying public’s imagination.
Pan of the Champion’s appeal lay in the fact that it was an entirely new project (engineered by Roy Cole and Eugene Hardig) that allowed blue-sky thinking untrammeled by the need to use existing design features or components. The inspired result was achieved by putting particular emphasis on trimming down weight. This meant that a very economical small engine could deliver performance comparable with the larger Studebaker Commanders and Presidents, but at a bargain price. There had been a nationwide slump in 1938, leading to significant losses at Studebaker, but the Champ’s buoyant reception the following year soon repaired the damage, with 34,000 units sold.
The next year small cosmetic changes were made, like Custom DeLuxe trim options and sealed-beam headlights, and a second coupe with rear ‘opera seat’ was introduced. Sales nearly doubled, to over 66,000, and further success followed a revamp by someone who had become very important to Studebaker – external industrial design consultant Raymond Loewy.
The Champ certainly lived up to its name, attracting 85,000 buyers in 1941 to become Studebaker’s best-seller ever. Thanks to their outstanding fuel economy, Champions swiftly vanished from showrooms after all car production was suspended for the duration of World War II in February 1942, whilst used examples were like gold dust when gas rationing started to bite. Just as soon as hostilities ended, the Studebaker Champion was back – in the form of an all-new bullet-nosed beauty.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1939 (until 1958)
2.7 l (165 cid) Straight Six
Early models were capable of 78 mph (125 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
So good was the straight six engine first used in 1939 Champions that it was fitted to the wartime Studebaker M29 Weasel cargo/personnel carrier and was still in use for the 1964 model year (after an OHV makeover in 1961).