Sunday Studebaker: July, 2019

Even though I worked in major league baseball for 20+ years and was a pioneer in sports analytics (a father of Moneyball) I don’t follow it at all, anymore. Therefore, I didn’t know about the death of Tyler Skaggs until the day after his team played its first home game after his passing. His mother threw out the first pitch at that game and two members of his team combined to pitch a no-hitter, which was the first combined no-hitter for that team since July 13, 1991, which was the day Tyler Skaggs was born.

Until 56packardman let me know, I didn’t know that Jim Bouton had died. Bouton pitched in the majors, primarily for the New York Yankees in the 1960s, and had an excellent 1963 season finishing with a 21-7 W-L record and a 2.53 ERA. He, of course, became really famous for writing Ball Four. The book is a diary of Bouton’s 1969 season, spent with the Seattle Pilots (who became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970) and then the Houston Astros following a late-season trade. In it Bouton also recounts much of his baseball career. I read the book once a long time ago and while I appreciated its candor I thought Bouton was mean-spirited more than necessary.

My condolences to the Skaggs and Bouton families.

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I don’t know if I am going to write about a defunct American auto company every Sunday or one Sunday a month or whenever the hell I feel like it. As I have written so many times regular readers are no doubt sick of reading it, I have an obsession with defunct American makes. Why? I really don’t know; I guess that’s the definition of the “C” in OCD, compulsion.

Studebaker was the first established US auto maker to introduce a completely new car after the end of World War II. The other car companies offered warmed-over versions of their pre-war cars until 1948 or 1949. The 1947 model year Studebakers were actually introduced in late spring, 1946, mere months after the end of World War II. From Thomas E. Bonsall’s excellent history of Studebaker, More Than They Promised:

 

“The big news, however,…was an entirely new line of products that would prove to be the major news story of the year in the industry. Historians have been debating how and why for decades. How did Studebaker move so quickly? Why were [Paul] Hoffman and [Harold] Vance so determined to do so?”

 

Studebaker’s relative ease in converting from war production to bring out a new car so quickly owed much to the fact that their principal war production did not use passenger car production equipment except in the machine shop. Also, Studebaker’s “friendly” relationship with the local UAW, which would hurt them shortly, helped them in the immediate post-war period as they did not suffer any strikes such as the one that shut down GM for months in 1945-46.

 

See the source image

 

From flickr.com a picture of a 1947 Studebaker Champion coupe. (I had originally called this a Starlight coupe because that’s what the photo title read. I thank reader Gary Lindstrom for the correction.) The wrap-around rear windows of these coupes were (and are) the subject of controversy. They were quickly named the “which way” cars because some claimed it was impossible to tell if they were coming or going. Controversy or not, Studebaker’s production jumped to over 160,000 cars, two-thirds of which were Champion coupes or sedans, and its market share increased to more than 4%—a very good showing for the company—and stayed at that level for almost five years.

Of course, 20 years later Studebaker would no longer be manufacturing automobiles. Why makes like this have such a hold on me (and others) is inexplicable, perhaps, but the hold is very real.

 

#TylerSkaggs

#JimBouton

#1947StudebakerChampion

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Studebaker: July, 2019

  1. … as you well know, I’m right there with you in celebrating the orphans of the auto industry.

    It is interesting to observe that
    1) GM was the principal force in organizing the market to drive the independents out. (After all is said and done, the fact that customers didn’t buy enough Packards, Studebakers, Nashes, Hudsons, Kaisers, etc. concedes that it was market forces rather than GM directly that drove the independent makers from the US market. But, GM did much to shape the decisions customers made.)
    2) The market cleared of the independents, and GM being run then by the financial staff instead of by the “Car Guys” started building cookie-cutter cars that only a bean counter could love; cars that differed only in trim at the front and rear and name. Build quality and innovation went right straight down the toilet.
    3) This opened the door for the European and Asian manufacturers who deftly exploited GM’s arrogance toward US customers. To lesser degrees both Ford and Chrysler mimicked what GM was doing. For example beginning with the ’61 models, Mercury was nothing but a badge engineered Ford. There was no longer anything distinctive about Mercury to justify its existence aside from a brief respite from the badge engineering in the ’65-’68 models. The Sable offered nothing distinctive at all to justify its existence alongside the Taurus.
    4) GM is paying dearly for its hubris. Many of its US divisions are gone. It has all but abandoned Europe, has pulled out of South Africa, shrunk in South America and is no longer manufacturing in Australia.

    Here’s why we celebrate the independents such as Studebaker: as long as they were around, they helped keep The General honest.

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    1. It’s probably impossible for many younger car enthusiasts to understand that GM lived in fear of being broken up by the US DOJ when its share exceeded 50% of the US market. As is often the case the decline of a colossus comes from within first.

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  2. A 1947 five passenger coupe was not a Starlight. That name was applied to them starting with the 1949 model, but is now commonly used for the 1947-1948 five passenger coupes.

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    1. I agree with the premise of the article; in fact, I believe I have written about that in the blog. People are lulled into a false sense of security by “safety” innovations and, paradoxically, become less safe drivers.

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