Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki

The Starliner was a car made by Studebaker to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The Starliner was built in 1952 to celebrate Studebakers centinary. The Korean War kept them busy with building military vehicles and when the Starliner went on sale it was actually a sixth generation facelift of the 1947 model year Studebaker.

Studebaker's three-speed automatic drive had been introduced in mid-1950 as a $201 option, a co-operative development of South Bend and the Detroit Gear Division of Borg-Warner. It combined a cork friction clutch with a conventional hydraulic torque converter and planetary transmission, which may sound complicated, but in practice one of the best automatic gearboxes ever developed.

In Drive, the gearbox provided two automatically shifted forward gears, starting in Second and then up-shifting into Third. Downshifting from Third to Second was possible at speeds lower than 50 mph by flooring the accelerator. Low gear, primarily for fast take-offs or engine braking, had to be selected manually.

Two important features unique to this transmission were independent air cooling (eliminating dependence on the engine's cooling system) and its anti-creep "Hill Holder" device. The latter used an electric solenoid valve that retained pressure in the rear brake lines after they had been applied, with the engine idling and the transmission in gear. Returning one's foot to the accelerator pedal released the solenoid, and thus the brakes. The feature had also been available on manual-shift cars since the 1930s (standard on 1952 Commanders), with the release switch linked to the clutch pedal.

Performance of the Commander V-8 varied from road test to road test. Motor Trend recorded a 0-60 time of 17.16 seconds in a four-door with overdrive, while veteran Tom McCahill got to 60 mph in just 12.7 seconds in a similar car (he had done it in 12.8 seconds for Mechanix Illustrated with a 1951 overdrive Commander).

With Automatic Drive, McCahill's 1951 Commander was slower: 16.2 seconds. Top speed came in at just under 100 mph for both Motor Trend and McCahill. By comparison, two 1951 Champion six convertibles that McCahill tested were much slower: 0-60 in 23.1 seconds with Automatic Drive, 17.6 with stick shift, and a top speed of 82-85 mph.

Gas mileage, as might be expected, was above average. In fact, in the 1951 Mobilgas Economy Run from Los Angeles to Grand Canyon, a Studebaker Champion, Commander V-8, and Land Cruiser V-8 -- all with overdrive -- finished first, second, and third in actual gas mileage to lead a field of 26 cars entered in "standard classifications."

In 1952, the Economy Run traveled from Los Angeles to Sun Valley, Idaho. A Champion beat out all regular-sized cars, averaging 27.82 mpg, while a Commander V-8 came in second with 25.60 mpg.

Whatever criticisms could be leveled at the 1952 Studebakers related to congenital weaknesses that had been part of the design since 1947 and the car is was based on. It was said to have hazardous rear-hinged rear doors on sedans, a long-reach dashboard, a dash-mounted rear-view mirror that was dysfunctional with three passengers in the front seat, and brakes that were deficient when teamed with the V-8 (although they were self-adjusting).

But any summation of the 1952 Studebaker has to be a positive one. You could still buy a V-8 Commander for little more than $2,000: The old company, as Clem Studebaker had admonished it in 1852, was still delivering a little more than it promised.