Studebaker Starlight

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1947 Commander
5-passenger Coupe
renamed Starlight for 1949
1952 Champion
Starlight Coupe
1947 Commander
Business Coupe
1952 Commander
Starliner Hardtop

The Starlight coupe was a unique 2-door body style offered by Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana (United States) from 1947 to 1952 in its Champion and Commander model series. It was designed by Virgil Exner, formerly of Raymond Loewy Associates.[1]


The most striking feature was the extremely long (for a five-passenger car) hood-like cover over the luggage compartment of the sedan which was exaggerated on the Starlight. Critics of the radically styled models commented by asking the rhetorical question, "Which way is it going?"[2] (Comedian Fred Allen quipped: "Next year Studebaker is coming out with a model that you won't be able to tell if it is going sideways".) The viewer's astonishment was compounded by the great expanse of the wrap-around rear window. Previously cars had tended to shroud back-seat passengers.

Wrap-around rear window

Unlike other pillared two-door sedans that use two side windows separated from the rear window by roof supports, Loewy created a roof rounded at the rear with a wraparound window system that provided a panoramic effect, similar to a railroad observation car. The curved window was achieved with four fixed panels of glass. The roof was supported by two wide pillars (sometimes called "B" pillars) immediately behind the doors and in front of the wraparound back window. The body style was originally named, simply, "5-passenger coupe"; however, for the 1949 model year it was renamed Starlight Coupe.

The car's unique profile provided the Studebaker marque with an easily recognized body shape copied as soon as possible by the other US manufacturers in their 1949 models.


Engines Transmissions HP Wheelbase Length
169.9 CID 1-bbl. 6-cylinder/232 CID 2-bbl. V-8* 3-speed manual,[3] w\optional overdrive/Automatic.** 80/102[3] 119 in (3,023 mm) 204.4 in (5,192 mm)
  • V-8 introduced in 1951.
  • Automatic transmission introduced in 1950.
1951 Starlight coupe, with "bullet nose"−"spinner" front.


For 1950 and 1951, all Studebakers received a freshening of the 1947 design with the addition of the "bullet nose" (or "spinner") front sheet metal design. When combined with the Starlight body style, Studebakers looked comparatively futuristic at the time. This version of the Starlight body style continued until the end of the 1952 model year, when it was sold side by side with a hardtop "Starliner" version of the same model.

New body and a name-change[edit]

1954 Champion Starliner Hard-top
Hard-top for five passengers
1954 Champion Starlight Coupe
Coupe for five passengers

For 1953 designer Robert E Bourke,[4]:p.267 head of Raymond Loewy Associates Studebaker design operation, radically redesigned all Studebaker cars. Studebaker sedans rode on an 116 in (2,900 mm) wheelbase, although emphasis was placed on the sports car-like Raymond Loewy-designed 2-door coupes that rode on Studebaker's longer 120 in (3,000 mm) wheelbase.

Offered in both Champion and Commander model ranges, the coupes were available as pillared and hardtop body styles. Hardtop coupes were designated Starliners while the Starlight designation was applied to the five window pillared coupes. The styling on both these later (1953) cars influenced[citation needed] the Hillman Minx of the late 1950s and 1960s, which was also designed by Raymond Loewy.

For 1955 the pillared Starlight reverted to "5-passenger coupe", the pillarless "Starliner" became "5-passenger hardtop."

For 1956 these 5-passenger 2-door coupes with pillars were heavily modified and reissued as the Studebaker Hawk series.

In 1958, Studebaker again applied the Starlight name to a body style, this time on its first full-sized hardtop models since 1952. With lackluster sales and a switch to the compact Lark, the company no longer was in need of the Starlight moniker and it was permanently retired at the end of the model year.

Oldsmobile would attempt an effect similar to the Starlight in 1977 with its Toronado XS model. Unlike the Studebaker, however, advances in auto glass production allowed the Toronado wrap around window to be manufactured in one sheet of glass that was bent using "hot wire" technology.


  1. ^ Virgil M. Exner’s Striking Studebaker Starlight Coupe Design. The Old Motor, 26 September 2016. Accessed 19 November 2016
  2. ^ Langworth (below), pp. 22-40
  3. ^ a b Flory, Jr., J. "Kelly" (2008). American Cars, 1946-1959 Every Model Every Year. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-3229-5.
  4. ^ Bourke, Robert E. The Starlight and the Starliner: Some recollections of a designer. New Albany: Automobile Quarterly. pp. 266–273. Vol X, 3rd Q, 1972.


  • Maloney, James H. (1994). Studebaker Cars. Crestline Books. ISBN 0-87938-884-6.
  • Langworth, Richard (1979). Studebaker, the Postwar Years. Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-87938-058-6.
  • Gunnell, John, ed. (1987). The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975. Kraus Publications. ISBN 0-87341-096-3.