Gear Head Tuesday – Studebaker Trucks

Gear Head

Readers' car series

Last Tuesday, we read about the Studebaker Marshal owned by “Michael C.”. Today, we see his Studebaker 3/4 ton truck.

applied group storeroom pu three

“Michael C.’s” Studebaker Transtar 3/4 ton truck

The former horse-drawn wagon builder Studebaker had produced trucks as well as its better-known cars from the early days of its history of building gas-powered vehicles. Most of its early truck production was for larger trucks, competing with (for example) Mack, Autocar and Diamond-T.

Readers in the Sacramento, CA area who shop the splendid Nugget Markets can see among their store’s graphics a photo of the company’s founding Stille brothers standing by their mid-1920s Studebaker medium duty truck used to haul produce to their original market in Woodland, CA.

Nugget Market-Studebaker

Woodland, CA, mid-to-late 1920s, Nugget Market’s founding Stille brothers and their medium duty Studebaker truck.

In the 1937 model year, perhaps taking a cue from the introduction in 1934 of Ford’s famous Ute in Australia, Studebaker introduced the Coupe-Express, a cross between their passenger cars and a pick-up truck. It offered passenger car comfort in front with the utility of a truck bed in the rear. The Coupe-Express was continued through the end of the 1939 model year. Studebaker’s Coupe-Express was a great idea that came to market about 20 years too soon in the U.S. market.

'37 Studebaker Coupe-Express

1937 Studebaker Coupe-Express

By the 1941 model year, Studebaker had largely walked away from the heavy-duty truck market, turning instead to a full-fledged effort at the light truck market with the introduction of its “M” series light trucks.

Skip Lackie, in his article about the “M” series trucks at the Studebaker Drivers Club website wrote:

“The company focused on producing a more complete line of light and medium duty trucks that were more likely to find customers through its large network of small, rural dealerships. Attractive and modern, the cab employed some body panels from the 1941 Champion passenger car, as well as the Champion’s basic dashboard. The hood, fenders (interchangeable front to rear on each side), and grille, however, were unique to the trucks. The M series consisted of the ½-ton M5, 1-ton M15, and 1½-ton M16. It is unclear why the 1½-ton M16 wasn’t designated as the M20 or M25, which would have been more in line with previous practice. Unused model number M10, which might have been a more logical choice for the 1-ton M15, was presumably being reserved for a ¾-ton model that was never produced.

The M5 and M15 were powered by the 170-ci, 80-hp, 6-cylinder engine that had been introduced in the all-new 1939 Champion passenger car. The M16 got the 226-ci Commander 6 that had been in use since 1938. 

The M5 came with a 113-inch wheelbase, and most came equipped with a 6 ½-foot pickup box. The M15 was available with wheelbases of 120, 128, and 152 inches, and the M16 could be had with 128, 152, and 195-inch wheelbases. The M15-20 (120-inch wheelbase) was available with an 8-foot pickup body.

M5 production began in November 1940. M15 and M16 production began in December 1940. Although the U.S. Government shut down passenger car production shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, trucks continued in production well into 1942. Many of these trucks were stockpiled and allocated to critical industries during the War. Pre-War M-series truck production was: 1940: 1085; 1941: 9215; 1942: 1515. The M-series trucks (especially the M15) are sometimes criticized for being underpowered, and that the lineup should have included a ¾-ton model. The latter charge may be valid, but as to the former, it must be remembered that both the M5 and the M15 were really intended for farm use. In rural areas of the U.S. in the 1940s, there were very few opportunities to go more than 30 mph – so 80 hp was enough power most of the time. And once gas rationing started, most M5 owners were probably thankful that their thrifty little Champion Six could go a whole week on the four gallons of gas that an A ration stamp provided.”

47 Studebaker M5 truck

The Studebaker M-Series trucks, introduced for the 1941 model year, continued post-war through the end of the 1948 model year.

Coming out of World War II, Studebaker was determined (as they touted in their advertising) to be “first by far with a post-war car”. Likewise, they were determined to grow their light truck business and were first out the gate with an all-new postwar pickup truck design.

Introduced in 1949, the new Studebaker light truck line was styled by the talented Robert Bourke of the Raymond Loewy team in South Bend.

The upright look of the Studebaker M5 was gone,

“replaced with a rounded, streamlined look. One of the truck’s most dramatic styling cues wasn’t added by designers but rather subtracted – there were no exterior running boards or steps on this truck, neither beneath the doors nor at the front of the bed. Further distinguishing the 2Rs, they shared no body panels with Studebaker cars, though bits and pieces were swiped from the parts bins: headlamp rims and a hood ornament from the Champion, as well as hubcaps from the Commander. Finally, to ensure that the bed’s streamlined look remained dent-free, the sides were double walled – a standard design in years to come, but unusual in the late 1940s. The 2R5 series 1/2-ton trucks were equipped with 6 1/2-foot boxes, the 3/4-ton 2R10 and 2R15 used 8-foot boxes, and all of the 2Rs could be purchased as a cab and chassis or with a stake bed.

Under the sheetmetal, the new 2R wasn’t a major departure from the M series trucks. The inline six-cylinder flathead “Econ-O-Miser” engine was carried over and was standard issue for all of Studebaker’s light trucks. The standard transmission was a column-shifted three-speed with optional overdrive connected to a stump-pulling 4.82:1 rear gear.”

The R-series trucks got a minor facelift for 1955 and Studebaker’s rugged V-8 engine was now available in the trucks. As Studebaker stumbled to its grave after the badly-botched introduction of its 1953 model passenger cars, there was no money to modernize – much less replace – Bourke’s 1949 truck design. The 1949 body continued in production in various guises through the end of production in South Bend.

Fast forward to today and “Michael C.’s” Studebaker Transtar 3/4 ton pickup. Prior to owning this truck, he had owned a very rare 1960 (built to 1959 specs) Studebaker truck built for the U.S. Navy and factory fitted with the NAPCO 4×4 kit, one of 65 so ordered by the Navy. Studebaker had bid on the trucks in 1959 and when the order came in 1960 from the Navy, it was for the 1959 specification trucks. Michael relates that it was a “beast to drive”. First gear tops out at 5 m.p.h. He sold this truck and acquired his current 3/4 ton Transtar.

NAPCO was an acronym for the Northwestern Auto Parts Company of Minnesota, which started out in the salvage auto parts business in 1918, but hit its stride during World War II, supplying parts and services for U.S. military vehicles. Its ingenious Powr-Pak 4×4 conversion allowed a mechanic to transform a two-wheel-drive truck into a four-wheel-drive in just a few hours, with no welding and minimal cutting needed. The front drive axle in the kit was fitted with tubes modified for constant velocity joints, thus allowing the wheels to steer. Because the transfer case was driven via a shaft off the transmission, it required no special adapters to mate with existing drivetrain parts.

The NAPCO option on Studebaker trucks was $1,000, a steep price at the time. In 1958, a Studebaker Scotsman pickup could be purchased for only $1,595 and the 1959 models were priced only slightly higher.

Of his current Studebaker truck, Michael writes

“… it “lives” in the former storeroom in Ravenswood, we bought it from a Studebaker Drivers Club member in Vermont, we were looking for a 3/4 ton that looks beefier, and it fits the bill. First shot is in the storeroom, second shot is truck coming back from the post office in the front of the old administration building, third photo is interesting, there is a lot of work being done in West Virginia on a natural gas line, the company putting it in is TransCanada (Keystone), they are welding pipe on the property parking lot, and have brought in hundreds of pipeline workers, mostly it seems from Texas and Oklahoma, and needless to say they are pick up people. The Transtar is a big favorite of theirs. They get a big kick out of the Transtar. Two or three times a week we send it to the Post Office, it’s always a big hit with our friends from Texas.

pipe line weldingmail run one

“The Transtar is 60 + years old and still working. Actually it looks right in place.”

A interesting side story: West Virginia is a funny place, sometimes if you get on the wrong road you can’t turn around. The standing joke around here is when I shipped the Studebakers down here from Michigan I was looking for a Studebaker Dealer for some “warranty ” work.

One day I was leaving the United Bank in Ripley and was on the phone, my route back to Ravenswood is State Route 33 West, somehow I got on Route 33 East.

I was looking for a place to turn around and I came upon this country store, a Studebaker Dealer no less, one lube bay, a few of old Studebaker parts and a ’49 or ’50 Studebaker tow truck.”

Studebaker dealer-WV

Transtar-Ram 2500

“Interesting shot, as to relative size, the Ram is a 2500, the Transtar is a 3/4 ton, really the same size as a Dodge Dakota.”

Loewy's Studebaker logo

The old gas station photos series as posted at Curbside Classic resumes: today we have an Humble (now known as Exxon) station in the ’60s. The cars are (left to right): ’57 Ford, ’62 Chevy wagon (in the background), a ’55 Buick and a ’62 Chevy Impala hardtop to the right. 



Add yours →

  1. Gordon Kertzel 20/06/2018 — 05:41

    FYI , Paul there is still a Studebaker Dealer in the Hershey area of PA. Also the dealer that my former lark regal came from is still selling used cars in Chambersburg Pa. To the bast of my knowledge it is still owned and operated by the same family

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent! I like to read about these “hold outs” that still carry the banner for Studebaker!
      In a similar vein, in San Leandro, CA, the Begier family was a Studebaker hold-out. When production ended in Canada, they started selling Buicks. They are still in business and still have a Studebaker tow truck.


  2. Enjoyed the article of course. But it took my mind back to a time we ‘kept’ mama. Since she was an amputee we could not take her from house to house in a car. Jim had a 60+ Stud and using a converted engine lift we put her in the back under a camper shell. We all laughed including mama about being the Beverly Hill Billies. I remember one tough truck.
    Of the pictures I remember the ’41 best, that was one tough set of 4 wheels!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary Lindstrom 20/06/2018 — 10:12

    Thanks for the nice Studebaker truck article. I knew that it would be good when you used material from Skip.
    I an not a Chevrolet expert, but on my computer screen the Chevrolet in the gas station scene appears to be a 1962 Impala, not a “1963”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gary!
      You are exactly right about the Chevys – and I’ll make the correction. I’ll blame the error on being under-caffeinated when I wrote ’63 instead of the correct ’62. 🙂
      I’ll correct the text.


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