1955 Studebaker Commander Sedan - $24,900
     
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With solid engineering, often dramatic styling, and plenty of performance, you might be surprised by how much car you can get for your money when you buy a Studebaker.

Everyone seems to recognize the name “Studebaker” but not as many folks know the cars behind the name. With solid engineering, often dramatic styling, and plenty of performance, you might be surprised by how much car you can get for your money when you buy a Studebaker. That isn’t an ad slogan from the ‘50s, it’s true! If you haven’t looked into a Studebaker, you’re missing one of the great American marques, a car that’s unusual as well as practical, fun to drive yet easy to maintain, and bulletproof reliable. For enthusiasts who are tired of the same-old Fords and Chevys, perhaps something like this 1955 Studebaker Commander would be a smart alternative. It’s fast, it’s got a perfect ‘50s look, and someone spent a pile of money restoring it that’s all out of proportion to its value. Today, as in 1955, it’s time to take another look at Studebaker.

The restoration is about 15 years old, but it was extremely well done by a lifelong Studebaker enthusiast who purchased it more than 25 years ago as a running, driving, complete car. He enjoyed it for a few years, then embarked on a rather comprehensive restoration that is beyond what most orphan sedans see these days. Wearing bright Saginaw Green paint with a Shasta White top, this cool Stude is pure 1950s fun. The Commander was Studebaker’s mid-range car, below the President and Speedster, but every bit as big as an Oldsmobile, so it has a big car look. Styling is an evolution of the design introduced in 1953, but with the addition of a lot of chrome to make it look upscale. The unique canted roof gives the Studebaker an unmistakable look and the wide chrome grille/bumper assembly up front is more distinctive than anything else on the road in 1955. The paint is in good shape, about what you’d expect from a car that has been enjoyed properly since the restoration was finished—a few minor nicks and some touch-up to the right front fender—but the overall look is still quite nice. All four doors close with authority and the car feels substantial and well-built going down the road.

And with all that chrome, you know it wasn’t inexpensive to restore. The front grille and bumper alone were probably the better part of $5000, even back in the early 2000s. The spear of trim along the flanks is polished stainless, so it’ll look good practically forever, and the lovely ornaments atop the front fenders include little Plexiglas inserts just for style. Accessories like the Speedster-style fog lights and fender skirts help with the sleek look and the taillights certainly remind us of big brother Packard. It’s distinctive, yes, but not unattractive.

The spacious, bright interior also received a fairly extensive makeover that includes fresh seat covers in an attractive gray/green fabric that’s very period-appropriate. It’s possible that the door panels are original and there are fresh green carpets on the floor with matching mats. The subtle two-tone of the dashboard ties it all together neatly and provides a rather modern-looking frame for the twin gauge pods full of big, handsome gauges (they’re all functional, by the way). Secondary controls for lights, wipers, and defrost are arranged to either side of the gauges, and pull-levers underneath manage the heater and overdrive. You’ll note three pedals on the floor, which means 3-on-the-tree shifting, which, when combined with the torquey V8 up front, makes this 4-door a very entertaining car to drive. Add in the overdrive and it was quite likely one of the fastest sedans you could buy in 1955, up to and including Chevy’s all-new V8-powered cars. The radio in the center of the dash powers up but doesn’t seem to tune any stations, even with the cool crank-up antenna fully extended, but that might be our shop’s metal roof, which sometimes makes reception a problem. Seat belts were added for safety at some point and there’s a lot of space in the back seat. The headliner is definitely original and very nicely preserved, and the ultra-clean trunk features a full-sized spare and correct jack assembly.

The sticker on the valve cover says ‘289’ but the stamping number proves this is likely the car’s original 259 cubic inch “Bearcat” V8. With a 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, it puts out 182 horsepower and almost 300 pounds of torque, so performance is extremely entertaining. For those of you not familiar with Studebaker, it’s a lightly held secret that the Studebaker V8 was probably the most durable V8 engine ever designed in the post-war era. It was intended to use high-octane fuels and high compression ratios, and as a result, it’s just ridiculously over-built with 25% more main bearing area than Cadillac or Oldsmobile, the crank is forged (not cast), and forged connecting rods. There are 18 (yes 18!) bolts holding each cylinder head in place, meaning that cylinder head issues are totally non-existent. There’s a solid lifter cam that uses forged shaft-mounted rocker arms that are easily adjusted, not cheap stamped pedestal rockers. Finally, the cam is gear-driven, so timing and stretched timing chains are a non-issue. Only Chrysler’s Hemi made more power per cubic inch. So you can see why this might be a more exciting car than you thought.

The engine was rebuilt when the car was restored and it runs superbly. It starts easily and idles well with a nice V8 burble from the twin tailpipes out back. The mechanical valvetrain is quiet and you’ll never know there aren’t hydraulic lifters in there, and a big whack of torque is available at any speed. A correct air cleaner and accessory air filter dominate the top of the engine, and it is correctly detailed with a blue engine block and gold valve covers. You’ll note there’s a new wiring herness, a rebuilt Carter 4-barrel carburetor, and a correct generator making the juice. It runs cool, makes good oil pressure, and offers no faults other than a minor exhaust leak that we’re going to remedy before the car ships to its new owner.

Underneath, it’s clean if not detailed, with no signs of rust or rot and no hacky patching in the floors, The massive frame is grossly over-built for the size of the car and the intendent front suspension has a center-link steering setup that’s a bit more precise than most of the era. The aforementioned 3-speed manual transmission is backed up by a Borg-Warner overdrive, which works automatically above 30 MPH, and we’ve found that 2nd gear with overdrive is a great gear for around town. With 3.54 gears out back, this is also a spectacular highway cruiser, just loafing along at 75 MPH in overdrive with the V8 purring almost inaudibly. The exhaust system is recent, the brakes are reasonably powerful, and it sits on correct G78-15 whitewalls, which, aptly enough, are the Commander brand.

This Stude includes a lot of documentation, including some period advertising mounted on show boards, some old issues of the Studebaker Club magazine, “Turning Wheels,” and some other papers.

Until this Commander arrived, we’ll admit that Studebaker wasn’t on our radar. But after seeing the cool look, the great interior, and discovering that it’s one of the best ‘50s road cars we’ve experienced, we’re Studebaker converts. This is a whole heck of a lot of car for not a lot of cash, and it’s ideal if you like practicality that stands out in a big way. Call today!

Vehicle: 1955 Studebaker Commander Sedan
Price: $24,900
Stock Number: 115039
Mileage: 66,070
VIN: 16G8W46469
Engine: 259 cubic inch V8
Transmission: 3-speed manual with overdrive
Gear Ratio: 3.54
Wheelbase: 116.6 inches
Wheels: 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps
Tires: G78-15 Commander whitewall
Exterior Color: Shasta White over Saginaw Green
Interior Color: Gray cloth
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