The Studebaker Champion is an automobile which was produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, from the beginning of the 1939 model year until 1958.

It was a full-size car in its first three generations and a mid-size car in its fourth and fifth generation models, serving as the junior model to the Commander.

The success of the Champion in 1939 was imperative to Studebaker's survival following weak sales during the 1938 model year.

Unlike most other cars, the Champion was designed from a "clean sheet", and had no restrictions caused by necessarily utilizing older parts or requiring the subsequent use of its components in heavier vehicles. Market research guided the selection of features, but a key principle adhered to was the engineering watchword "weight is the enemy.

" For its size, it was one of the lightest cars of its era. Its compact straight-six engine outlasted the model itself and was produced to the end of the 1964 model year, with a change to an OHV design in 1961.

The Champion was one of Studebaker's best-selling models because of its low price (US $660 for the 2-door business coupe in 1939, equal to $12,279 today), durable engine, and styling. The car's ponton styling was authored by industrial designer Raymond Loewy who had been under contract with Studebaker for the design of their automobiles.

Champions won Mobilgas economy runs by posting the highest gas mileage tests. During World War II, Champions were coveted for their high mileage at a time when gas was rationed in the United States. From 1943–1945, the Champion engine was used as the powerplant for the Studebaker M29 Weasel personnel and cargo carrier, which also used four sets of the Champion's leaf springs arranged transversely for its bogie suspension.

The Champion was phased out in 1958 in preparation for the introduction of the 1959 Studebaker Lark. Prior to this, Studebaker had been placed under receivership, and the company was attempting to return to a profitable position.

In 1953, Studebaker was redesigned by Robert Bourke, from Raymond Loewy's design studio. ("the Loewy Coupe" or "Low Boy"). The 2-door coupe with a central pillar was called the Starlight while the more expensive hardtop coupe was called the Starliner. In addition to the Loewy Coupe, there was also a 2-door sedan based on a shortened 4-door sedan.

The 2-door sedan has a taller profile, and the back side windows in the 2-door sedans are noticeably bigger than the windows in the Loewy Coupe. The Loewy Coupe is substantially more collectible than the 2-door sedans.

Although similar, the body pieces on the 2 cars are not interchangeable. The front end of the new Champion was lower than contemporaries and shares an appearance with the Citroen DS.

No convertible was offered in 1953. However, in late 1952 Studebaker produced one prototype of a 1953 Commander convertible to determine if the model could be profitably mass-produced. The car was based on the 1953 2-door Starliner hardtop.

The car was later modified to 1954-model specifications and was occasionally driven around South Bend by engineers. Additional structural reinforcements were needed to reduce body flexure.

Even though the car was equipped with the 232 cu. in. V8, the added structural weight increased the car's 0-60 mph acceleration time to an unacceptable level. In addition, the company did not have the financial resources to add another body type to the model line.

The company's leadership mistakenly thought the 2-door sedans, 4-door sedans, and 1954 Conestoga wagon (described below) would sell better than the 2-door coupes, so the company's resources were focused on the production of the sedans and the wagon.

When the prototype convertible was no longer needed, engineer E.T. Reynolds ordered the car to be stripped and the body sent to the secret graveyard at the company's proving grounds west of South Bend.

A non-engineering employee requested permission to purchase the complete car, rather than see it rot away at the proving grounds with other, earlier prototypes of other cars and trucks. Chief engineer Gene Hardig discussed the request with E. T. Reynolds.

They agreed to let the employee purchase the car on the condition that the employee never sell it. In the 1970s, the car was rediscovered behind a South Bend gas station and no longer owned by the former employee. It has been through several owners and paint colors.

In 1954, a new 2-door station wagon called the Conestoga was added to the product line. Power of the L-head inline-six remained unchanged at 85 hp (63 kW), although in 1955 this was replaced by a larger version with 101 hp (75 kW).

Also for 1955 the Starlight/Starliner labels were dropped and a wraparound windshield was introduced.[6] The 1956 Champion sedans received very different bodywork, with pronounced "eyebrows" over the headlights and large tailfins. The coupes received the new Hawk-style bodywork with a centrally placed square grille reminiscent of a period Mercedes-Benz.

The streamlined shape of the Loewy coupes made them popular with land speed racing competitors, both in their stock configuration and modified with chopped tops and other modifications to make them even more streamlined.

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