This is a 1950 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe. Now, we’ve had a Studebakers on Forgotten Metal before, and we’ve even had a Champion before, but this one has got to be my favorite yet, so here we are. Where’s here, exactly? New York City’s Caliente Cab Co., a Mexican eatery in the West Village. I hear (mostly from NYU students) the food is really average.
First things first, this is not a real cab. I know it looks like a cab, but it’s not a cab. It doesn’t pick anyone up and then drop them off somewhere else with significantly lighter wallets. It never has. It’s a promotional vehicle: an old or otherwise unique-looking prop designed to draw in onlookers and tourists. And, it must be said, it’s good at its job. I walked by this car twice, on two completely different days, at two completely different times of day, and in both instances people were stopping on the curb, taking pictures, and peeking in the windows. The reason for all this attention is the same reason the Champion from this era has always gotten attention: the way it looks.
Quick recap from the last time we had a Champion. After the second World War, Studebaker was one of the first companies to get back to the business of making cars, and in 1947 the Champion is what they came up with. In 1950, at the behest of a designer named Robert E. Bourke, the line was radically restyled. The engine wasn’t very powerful-only 85 horsepower- but the 2.8 liter inline six was capable of gas mileage in the high twenties, which is pretty good in today’s world and downright awesome in the early fifties.
But no one really cares about any of that. It’s the design of the car that drew many to the Champion, specifically the Starlight coupe. The coupe, more so than the sedan, brings out the off-but-somehow-perfect proportions of the Champion. The iconic “spinner” grille up front evokes images of old warplanes. As a matter of fact, the whole front end is nothing less than a sculpture. Federal mandates, uh, mandated that the car needed to have a front bumper, a feature which is a fly in an otherwise very pleasant ointment. Bourke, the designer from earlier, just hung it on there too, right under the grille, with seemingly no regard for the piece’s cohesion. You could tell he resented the limitation that the bumper put on him, especially when you look at these cars when they’ve had them removed.
Something that set the coupe apart from its sedan counterpart was that wraparound rear window, which was another radical departure from the decidedly drab prewar cars that came before it. It really does make the whole package look like a spaceship. Not one of those grey, serious, X-Men spaceships either. No, this car looks like a spaceship that would be more at home with the Jetsons. It’s futurism from a time when things were more optimistic, more colorful. I like that. If my strange attraction to the Saab Sonnet is any indication, I like weirdly disproportionate cars. And frankly, if a car’s going to try and look like a plane, it should have a sense of silliness about it. The Studebaker does, thankfully, in spades.
- The Starlight Coupe has a pretty prolific hot rod following. Some guy even tried to turn it into a P-38.
- That’s it from New York! Yes, it’s back to Bucks County for a little while for Forgotten Metal and after that, who knows? Hope you enjoyed the cars from the City That Hates Cars, and- as always- thanks for reading.