Simanaitis Says

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ROAD AND TRACK’S FOURTH road test in its coded series was A-1-51, its first American car of 1951, the Studebaker Land Cruiser V-8. The magazine continued with its separately stated opinions of individual staff members, this time, with anonymous Messrs. C, B, and X. Here are tidbits gleaned from this May 1951 road test. 

Mr. C Reported. “The Studebaker is a ‘typical American car’…. with all the qualities that are implied in that phrase. Good points are: Plenty of power, silent, smooth ride, low price, and effortless driving. Not so good: ‘Women’s steering ratio’ (6 turns, lock to lock), considerable roll while cornering, and easily faded brakes.” 

This and following images from Road and Track, May 1951.

A New Tranny. Mr. C said, “The new Borg-Warner torque converter automatic transmission was very interesting to sample, as it is reputed to be relatively easy to build and service. In drive position, the acceleration from a standstill is more than adequate, and on a slightly damp or loose surface, will spin the rear wheels. On low ratio starts, wheelspin is the rule rather than the exception. No clutch pedal is fitted, yet shifts between low and high range are smooth and instant.”

To put the Borg-Warner automatic in perspective, according to Wikipedia, GM’s Hydra-Matic (1940 Model Year) was the first mass-produced automatic. The first with torque converter was the 1948 Buick Dynaflow.

Mr. X’s Opinion of the Borg-Warner: “Having driven the automatic transmission Studebaker Land Cruiser, I now know how an ex-steam locomotive engineer feels the first time he takes over a diesel. You release the brakes, select the wizz-o-matic position, advance the throttle and after a very slight lurch, you are moving!”

“It is easy to understand,” continued Mr. X, “why people who find no enjoyment in shifting are so happy with automatic transmissions. To me, it is like the promise of replacing food with vita-energy pills—it may be more scientific and require less effort, but the pleasure is gone.” 

Road and Track’s Test Hill. The magazine had a secret test hill with a 32-percent grade. (I know its location, but there’s omertà and all.…) 

“The Studebaker climbed the 32% hill at 12 mph in Low range, failed half-way up in Drive,” the magazine noted. “However, as with more modern cars, it was unable to back up the hill, not due to lack of power but because the shift of predominant weight to the front wheels.”

This brought back memories of my first appearance in R&T, my Moke article in August 1972. The Moke, being fwd, preferred backing up really steep St. Thomas driveways. 

 Illustration by Jon Dahlstrom, R&T, August 1972. 

A Quick Stude. “The performance test,” Mr. C wrote, “verified the belief that the ‘Stude’ was one of America’s faster cars.” In the magazine’s test location “above 3000 feet elevation,” the car averaged a top speed of 92.83 mph, reached 60 in 15.4 seconds and passed the quarter-mile point in 21.1 seconds. 

Accommodations. “The instrument panel,” Mr. C reported, “is recessed far below the windshield and well forward, which is excellent for reducing glare, but reaching the various knobs, particularly the radio, while in motion is difficult without removing one’s eyes from the road.” 

What’s more (and dated to an extreme!!), Mr. X wrote, “The interior should please those with large families, as the recessed position of the dash leaves standing room for kids—me, I get agoraphobia.” But, apparently, nary a concern for those standing kiddies. Agg!

Ride and Handling. Mr. B wrote, “At Road and Track’s secluded test area, some extremely rough and winding desert trails are available for bringing out the best (or worst) of cars’ suspension qualities, and the Studebaker earned plaudits for its smooth ride.” 

“ ‘Mr. B’ takes a sharp turn on sandy desert trail while testing Studebaker Land Cruiser,” the magazine’s caption read

Mr. B concluded, “For the typical American buyer, the Studebaker can be considered an excellent value. Such details as center arm-rest, ‘black-light’ instrument panel, interior finish in good taste, and Nylon cord upholstery should prove powerful selling points for the American woman, who, after all, usually has the final say.” 

I’m placing no money on the identity of Mr. B. The May 1951 masthead listed four of them: Editor Billingsley, Technical Editor Bond, Production Editor Brehaut, and Photographic Editor Barleben. And recall omertà. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. Michael Rubin
    August 3, 2022

    I had a 1952 Studebaker Land Cruiser in college and it was the size of a limo. It easily carried six people when I drove to school as part of our carpool. The back seat was large enough for a small family (or an intimate party) and the upholstery was classy wool. Wonderful car that gave great memories, which omertà covers.

  2. Mike B
    August 3, 2022

    My Dad bought a Studebaker (not a V8) in the early 1950s for a family car, replacing a barely postwar Plymouth. I don’t remember the Plymouth. I vaguely remember the Studie, especially the reason it was disposed of in ’57 in favor of a Chevy wagon. That Borg-Warner automatic, always somewhat problematic in San Francisco, finally burned itself out on a trip back to SF from the Santa Cruz area. He got tired of fixing it and did a trade. The Chevy, with no options other than a Powerglide, lasted over 10 years, gaining some significant patches of rust, until being replaced by a Dodge Coronet (3-seat, this time) wagon.

  3. -Nate
    August 4, 2022

    Wow ~ I remember the ‘bullet nose’ Studebakers well, I don’t think I ever saw one with a V8 .

    Is that steep hill “Baxter Street” in Los Angeles ? I know it well and used to use it for testing and scaring the crap out of innocent passengers .


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