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THE SURPRISING SPEEDSTER
John Bentley
January 31, 1955
Studebaker's latest looks like a family coupe, but it's as hot a sporting car as anything Detroit has yet turned out
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January 31, 1955

The Surprising Speedster

Studebaker's latest looks like a family coupe, but it's as hot a sporting car as anything Detroit has yet turned out

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SPECIFICATIONS

engine and chassis

No. of cylinders

V8

Bore

3.56 in.

Stroke

3.25 in.

Displacement

259.2 cu. in.

Compression ratio

7.5:1

Maximum output 185 bhp @ 4,500 rpm Bore/stroke ratio

1:.91

Bhp per cu. in.

.71

Valves

Overhead pushrod

Carburetor Carter, Type

WCFB 2214-S four-barrel downdraft

Transmission

Studebaker- Borg-Warner automatic

Overall ratios

Drive: 3.54
Int.: 5.06
Low: 8.14

Rear axle ratio

3.54

Piston speed @ 4,500 rpm

2,437 fpm

Maximum torque@2,800rpm 258 lbs./ft. Mph per 1,000 rpm (Drive)

24.53

Weight (car tested, with 6 U.S. gallons)

3,520 lbs.

Power/weight ratio

19.02 lbs./bhp

Turning diameter

40 ft. (left)
41 ft. (right)

Steering wheel turns (lock to lock)

4�

Tire size

7.10 x 15

Brake lining area

195.25 sq. in.

Gas tank capacity ( U.S. gallons)

18

measurements

Wheelbase

120� in.

Tread (front)
(rear)

56[11/16] in.
55[11/16] in.

Overall length
width
height

204[7/16] in.
70[7/16] in.
57[5/16] in.

Minimum ground clearance

6[15/32] in.

Rear window area

910 sq. in.

Maximum interior width

59 in.

The gleaming car above, nonchalantly going into a controlled slide, is no ordinary family coupe but the most interesting postwar automobile built by Studebaker. I will go further and say it is the most interesting product of one of the most progressive American manufacturers in terms of true design, as opposed to styling. It has the lowest center of gravity and roll center of any domestic hard-top, and although the suspension, relatively soft in sports car terms, is obeying centrifugal force through a marked lean, I was almost unaware of this condition. In fact, anything that today's new sporting Detroit roadsters can do by way of cornering, acceleration, braking and speed, the Studebaker President Speedster will do just as well. Given a 10-inch-shorter wheelbase, it would do them even better. Certainly it deserves to be classed with this new breed.

The President is a revival of a model name that brought Studebaker outstanding kudos, even during the depression years. Then a 336-cubic-inch straight eight, it took 115 stock car records in 1928 by covering 30,000 miles in 26,326 minutes on the boards at Atlantic Speedway. In 1932 a President-powered Special driven by Cliff Bergere finished third at Indianapolis; a year later Studebakers placed seventh, ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th. With this backlog it was not surprising that two years ago this veteran firm got the jump on the industry with a beautiful, low-slung new car styled by Raymond Loewy. A rising nationwide sports car consciousness should have boosted sales to new records. It didn't, because womenfolk directly influence seven automobile sales out of 10, and wives thought the new car, among other things, insufficiently bright in the chrome department. Also, Studebaker's low, sleek, Italian-type hoodline necessitated moving the engine well back. This improved weight distribution, but it also stinted rear leg room, despite a longer wheelbase. The ladies didn't like that either.

A DAZZLING BULWARK

The new President, built on the same chassis (but with a 27-cubic-inch-larger engine than the 1953 Commander), suffers from the same drawback; but the feminine element is taking more kindly to the dazzling front bulwark of chrome. That's the authentic sales story I got from Mr. John Schroepfer, sales manager of Manor Motors Inc., the Great Neck ( Long Island), N.Y. Studebaker dealer who lent me the Speedster. Mr. Schroepfer has been selling Studebakers for 25 years.

The Speedster's "Passmaster" engine is identical with that of the President but with a pertinent addition: a dual exhaust system. In conjunction with an optional 8:1 compression ratio (also available in the President) this results in 10 more horsepower. At 185 hp the Speedster's engine is unstressed, yet in power-weight ratio the car ranks with the top six automobiles in the industry, regardless of power. With basic modifications, 230 hp should be obtainable, giving a power-weight ratio of about 15 pounds per hp—far superior to that of most production sports cars and better, even, than that of the new 275-hp Packard which now appears to top the domestic list.

Getting a Speedster to test wasn't easy. Not even Studebaker's New York office had one. The car was introduced last fall as the result of dealer demand for a customized sporting version of the President. Studebaker built 850 of these cars and all were snapped up. Now another batch is scheduled for February production.

The test car showed only 28 miles on the odometer, but the factory assured me that, provided there was normal (not break-in) oil in the engine, I could open it up momentarily without harm. So I did. Despite an obvious stiffness, the Speedster quickly jumped to an indicated 90 mph (it will cruise all day at 70 mph, which is only about 2,850 rpm). It rides very comfortably to the accompaniment of a pleasantly muted exhaust burble, while even tight bends can be in high-speed sports car style with perfect safety. Heavier shock absorbers to counter that "lazy lean" when cornering are easily available (I installed them with very good results on my Studebaker), but it might be a good idea for the factory to list them as optional, thus catering directly to the enthusiast.

POWER BRAKES AND STEERING

The Speedster is equipped with the usual supermarket shopping aids—power brakes and steering and automatic transmission. The power brakes are totally unnecessary. They are even dangerous, boosting by 40% the application of already excellent brakes which are self-energizing and self-centering. The first time I trod the brake pedal, using normal foot pressure, there was a dreadful shriek of tortured tires, followed by a cloud of pungent rubber smoke. Only the steering wheel prevented me from bumping my head on the windshield. As for power steering, that is for those who like it. Last year I owned a Commander with normal steering and a special Pitman arm which raised the ratio, yet the wheel still turned easily and lightly because engine weight is not squarely on the front wheels.

The Borg-Warner automatic shift is just as good in the Studebaker as in any other car, with the usual "park," "neutral," "drive," "low" and "reverse" positions. If you tromp the throttle in "low," the car spins its wheels on dry concrete, then takes off with a head-snapping jolt that is joy to the enthusiast. In the normal "drive" position, there is still an exhilarating "dig-out" sensation as you step on the gas. With this kind of kick-down getaway, the transmission upshifts out of low at about 37 mph and out of intermediate gear at some 70 mph. To get full benefit of a downshift into intermediate, it is inadvisable to floor the gas pedal much above 50 mph. You then have plenty of reserve acceleration for emergency passing.

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