Car History Year 1947
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 23:46:54 UTC
The US auto industry lost two giants in
1947, William C. "Billy" Durant died on March 18 and Henry Ford on April 7. Both were founders of huge corporations, but only Ford and his family were to benefit. Durant wound up nearly broke and, in an attempt to spare the 4 million ex-servicemen returning to civilian life the same fate, the G. I. Bill was introduced.
"First by far with a postwar car" was Studebaker's proud boast when their 1947 models were introduced in April 1946. And there's no disputing the fact that the design, gj| generally credited to Raymond Loewy, represented a major leap forward in automobile styling with the front fenders flush with the body. In fact, Studebaker were beaten into announcing their radical new models by the fledgling Kaiser-Frazer company who also brought out a slab-sided car (designed by Howard "Dutch" Darrin) in January. However, the Kaiser-Frazer offering was plainer and lacked the creative innovation of the products from South Bend, Indiana. And, if Studebaker was miffed at being upstaged in this way, at least their new cars went into production in May and were available to the public in June, well before the first Kaiser-Frazer cars hit the road in October.
Studebaker achieved a two to three year styling lead over the "Big Three" - primarily because of their use of an outside design studio rather than having company stylists and draftsmen tied up with military work during the war. However, the story behind the new design is far from straightforward. Raymond Loewy Studios were the consultants, and establishing the advanced lines began in 1942 with the design team headed by Virgil Exner and Robert Bourke and assisted by clay modeler Frank Ahlroth. Loewy would make regular visits to the factory from New York to check on progress, but it seems his flamboyant personality upset some of the factory management - in particular Roy Cole, engineering vice president.
Virgil Exner also resented Loewy for taking the lion's share of the credit for design work he felt was his. So when he was approached by Cole early in 1944 to start a rival design project at home, in direct competition to his work for Loewy, Exner barely hesitated. To ensure that the Loewy design would fail to be accepted by
Studebaker management, Cole deliberately gave Bob Bourke false dimensions for the car, resulting in a full-size mock-up being prepared which was both shorter and narrower than required.
Consequently, when the Loewy proposal was rejected for looking out of proportion,
Cole was able to unveil Exner's effort for comparison and it easily won the approval of the Studebaker hierarchy. Despite a desperate attempt by Loewy's team to re-size their design in just seven days, Cole had already put the production tooling in hand for the Exner model. As can be imagined,
Raymond Loewy was outraged and immediately fired Exner, who was at once taken on by Cole to continue his design work for the company.
Therefore, it is not easy to attribute the design precisely. Although Exner is acknowledged as stipulating the flashier, more upright front end, it was very much a team effort. By the end of the war, there were 39 Loewy people working at the factory on styling and design, including noted designers: Gordon Buehrig, John
Reinhart, Bob Koto, John Cuccio, Ted
Brennan, Vince Gardner and Jack
Aldrich - all of whom made a contribution.
Exner and Cole may have gard- undermined Raymond Loewy's are personal influence at Studebaker, but the overall design had been developed by his group under his guidance for several years, and many of his team continued to work on the cars. For example, Vince Gardner was responsible for the new detailing the '47 front grille, and John Reinhart designed the dashboard.
The 1947 Studebaker's most obvious styling feature -the wrap-around rear window and steeply sloping trunk-is found in its most extreme form on the Starlight coupe, but is equally prominent on the sedan models. This gave rise to jokes about how difficult it was to tell which way the car was going but, for Studebaker, it was heading in the right direction and the company moved to eighth place in the sales charts for '47, overtaking Oldsmobiie for the seventh spot in '48.
Studebaker were not the first to use a one-piece, curved windshield, but the extensive glass certainly provided outstanding all-round visibility. "Wide Vision" was an apt name for the windshield and, combined with the split rear windows, it gave an unrivaled feel of light and space to the interiors. In fact, the insides of the '47 models were more spacious than their predecessors - up to 11 inches more hip room for example - although the overall height had dropped by four inches in line with the trend for longer and lower cars.
The dashboard looked ultra-modern with three round dials grouped together and framed by the steering wheel; most other manufacturers would continue to position the clock on the passenger side for some years in order to achieve a symmetrical layout. Another innovation was the use of back light illumination for the instruments to cut out glare; a method pioneered on aircraft during the war. Otherwise, the upholstery and trim was unremarkable and Loewy expressed his concern at the contrast between the new exterior styling and the old-fashioned interior. Studebaker would not budge, claiming that a lot of their customers were old retired people who wouldn't like bright-colored interiors.
While the Commander series of models at the top end of the Studebaker catalog rode on a 119 inch wheelbase (the Land Cruiser 4-door sedan was stretched a further four inches to give generous leg room to rear seat passengers), it was the smaller Champion series (112 inch wheelbase) that proved to be the most popular. Indeed, Raymond Loewy claimed he was the first man in the industry to use the term "compact car" when describing the Studebaker Champion.
Where the body shell and chassis engineering bristled with new ideas, the engine definitely did not. Although new powerplants had been researched and even a V12 considered, at the end of the day, a practical, cost-effective updated version of the flathead six cylinder from prewar models was settled upon. Champion models used a 169.6 cu.in. 80 horsepower version, while the larger Commanders had a 226.2 cu.in., 94hp engine. Transmission was a three-speed manual across the board, with a column gear shift, and an optional automatic overdrive. An interesting device was the Automatic Hill Holder (introduced on the 1936 Studebaker President) which operated the brakes when the clutch pedal was depressed and prevented the car from rolling backwards.
The new 1947 Studebakers received complimentary media reaction, Motor Manual stating: "This is indeed tomorrow's car today!" It might not have quite been tomorrow's car, but it was sufficiently advanced that the design remained virtually unchanged until 1950, when Loewy (getting his own back on Exner) won the redesign contest with his famous "bullet-nose" creation. It wasn't until the 1953 model that the final traces of the '47 design were eliminated and, even then, it didn't look that dated, proving just how futuristic the original concept had been. The New York Museum of Modern Art described the '47 as one of the ten most significant design concepts in the history of the automobile. Loewy produced his second masterpiece with the '35 Starliner but things were looking bleak for Studebaker. Outdated plant and poor labor relations were pulling the company down. James Nance took over from Harold Vance as president in 1955 and Loewy's long and fruitful association with Studebaker came to an end; he'd been with them for fifteen years. Loewy had acted a design consultant to the British Rootes Group, as well as to Austin, in the immediate post-war period and his company had numerous contacts in both Britain and in continental Europe as well as in the US.
He was responsible for a sumptuous, Derham-bodied version of the Lincoln Continental convertible in 1941 - featuring gold-plated bumpers. He also designed a stunning body for the Jaguar XK 140 sports in 1955. Designs for BMW, Cadillac and Lancia followed, Loewy becoming increasingly fascinated by the possibilities of aerodynamic detailing, taking many ideas from the race track and the wind tunnel, including the use of the aerofoil. Despite the influence of race cars on his bodywork designs, his interiors were always opulent in the extreme.
Virgil Exner created the Chrysler Advanced Styling Group in 1949 and went on to become Vice President of styling in 1957. His triumphs on behalf of the Chrysler Corporation include the '55 Firesweep and the 300C of 1957. It could be argued that. though Harley Earl created the tail-fin, Virgil Exner perfected it. The clean Sines of the 300 series Chryslers in the mid-fifties are testament to his restraint in an age of excess. Exner founded an independent company in 1961, in partnership with his son, Virgil jnr. Three years later they produced a series of designs for a proposed revival of the Duesenberg name, but, sadly, nothing came of the project.
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
139.6 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.0 x 4.0 ins.
DeLuxe Sedan & coupe; Regal Deluxe Sedan & coupe
No. of seats
2,600 Ibs. - 2,875 Ibs
Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line
320.2 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
4 Door Station Wagon
No. of seats
CADILLAC SERIES 62 CONVERTIBLE
Cast iron - V8
346 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
No. of seats
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