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R&T MAGAZINE nailed it with this headline announcing its road test of the Studebaker Commander Coupe in the September 1953 issue. Early in the road test, they wrote, “Although not a sports car, it gives the American public a chance to prove whether they really want style and individuality.”
“Studebaker,” R&T noted, “has never accepted the bath tub school of design, and the ’53 model shows more Italian influence than a certain manufacturer’s cars who admits Italian design.”
I would conjecture that this unnamed automaker was Nash, what with its “Pinin Farina’s Latest Triumph” hype of the era: “See the matchless styling of the world’s foremost custom car designer—now featured in the 1953 Nash Rambler!”
Nash was on rather firmer ground with “The Top Talents of Three Nations” campaign for its Nash-Healey.
The Studebaker’s lines were strikingly more swoopy than those of any other domestic car of the era, with innovative packaging part of the execution. For example, as a tradeoff of the coupe’s low roof line, the rear seats’ permanent center rest concealed the driveshaft tunnel. Another tradeoff of swoopiness came in its trunk’s utility: The spare tire couldn’t fit vertically; it took up more area mounted horizontally.
On the Commander’s handling: “It has a moderate amount of understeer which is generally considered to be desirable in the interest of safety since an understeering vehicle requires a steady pull on the steering wheel to hold the car into a constant radius corner.” (By contrast, an oversteering car requires deft unwinding.)
“We particularly wanted to test the manually shifted model equipped with overdrive because, in most cases, performance of this combination is better than is the automatic drive model.”
In fact, R&T tested both: The manual-transmission car got to 60 mph in 14.9 seconds, compared with the automatic’s 16.5 seconds starting in Low and more than 18 seconds when left in Drive. This, noted R&T, “despite the claim of many salesmen that their automatic transmission models are equal or better in performance than manually shifted models.”
R&T also addressed “Hop Up” possibilities: “For the person who is content with good performance, the stock Studebaker V-8 is the answer. Those who think they need the ability to burn rubber will find that it doesn’t have quite the urge that will satisfy them.”
Several options are cited: “The hop up kits available from Stu V [a Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, speed shop] will add a respectable amount of energy to the car and still have it remain docile enough for traffic driving. Frick Motors on Long Island have available the Studebaker equipped with Cadillac engines.”
The Frick ‘Studillac” got to 60 in 8.7 seconds; its conversion price was $1500, in 1953 dollars, of course. Figure around $14,000 today.
Another option suggested by R&T: “An ‘all-out’ conversion, for those with the amount of money necessary, would be the Utzman double overhead cam heads as used on the Indianapolis car built for Agajanian.” Cost back then? “Well over $5000,” whereas the stock Commander Coupe R&T tested had a list price of $2379.
How fa$t do you want your Commander Coupe to go? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018