Three Staudenbecker men left Germany in 1736 for a better life. Their descendants settled in South Bend, Indiana where, beginning in the 1850's, they built a prosperous wagon-making business. By 1904 the Studebakers were making cars, first electric cars, and then gas-powered vehicles a year later. Trucks and then buses, fire engines, and even small-rail locomotives followed. Over the next fifty years a well-respected reputation for quality was slowly built.
The Commander name graced a long succession of Studebakers built between 1927 and 1964. This car is an original 1953 Studebaker Commander convertible prototype. The factory built only one convertible and this is it. Originally designed as a 1953 Model with Tacoma Gray hue, it was updated for the 1954 model year and resprayed Sandusky Beige. Somewhere in the distant past it was painted yet again, in the red it currently wears.
It languished for many years in the garage area at the Studebaker proving grounds. The current owner's father worked there as an engineer and he took his son to the proving grounds many times, where he first saw this prototype. In fact, his dad can be seen driving the car in home movies that have survived from that time.
Studebaker didn't usually sell prototypes, but when the South Bend factory closed in 1964, they sold this car to an employee for $100. After his death years later the car changed hands several times until the current owner tracked it down and purchased it in 2015.
The Studebaker Commander was produced for several years, representing several bodystyle changes, and first appeared in the 1920s. The company would continue to use the name until their demise in 1966. There were only a few years where the Commander did not appear in Studebaker's line-up during that time; those were in 1936 and 1959-1963.
When the name first appeared in 1927, it was Studebaker's middle-series. As the years progress, it would move up and down market, often changing positions from year to year. The name would continue until it was dropped in 1935, only to reappear in 1937 where it served as the company's least expensive model, taking the place of the previous Studebaker Dictator. The company had decided to do away with the 'Dictator' name, due to the negative political connectors associated with the name. Mainly, Adolf Hitler in Germany had tainted the word 'dictator.'
The Commander moved up-market in 1939 when Studebaker introduced the Champion model. After the Second World War, Studebaker dropped its President moniker, and repositioned the Commander in its place. At the same time, Studebaker introduced an extended wheelbase model known as the Land Cruiser.
The President name reappeared in 1955; the President model became the premium model range and the Commander was demoted to the mid-range model. The name would continue until 1958 and reappear in 1963 for the 1964 model range. It was positioned next to the lowest-priced Lark model and above the entry-level Challenger model.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2008