Historic Truck Brands


Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the company was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners and the military, and became a significant manufacturer of motor vehicles for about 60 years.  

During the 1940s and 1950s, it was also a major manufacturer of light- and medium-duty trucks in North America.  

Studebaker entered the automotive business in 1902 with electric vehicles and in 1904 with gasoline vehicles, sold under the name ‘Studebaker Automobile Company’. Until 1911, its automotive division operated in partnership with the E-M-F Company (Everitt-Metzger-Flanders) and the Garford Company. The first gasoline cars to be fully manufactured by Studebaker were marketed in August 1912.

Studebaker’s first gasoline-powered commercial vehicle was a delivery car built on the Flanders 20 chassis.  During the period 1914-15, the company produced a series of panel and open express trucks and buses based on its then-current passenger car models.  

Larger one-ton models appeared in 1916 and were available as express trucks, stake trucks and 16-passenger buses.  Studebaker dropped its commercial-vehicle models after 1917 and did not re-enter the truck market for a decade.

Studebaker had a reputation for building high-quality commercial – albeit horse-drawn – vehicles for many years and, as a result, had long-standing relationships with businesses and farmers: exactly the people who were buying their first trucks in the 1918-1925 period.

Studebaker historian Fred Fox stated that: “Studebaker lost one of its greatest opportunities when it did not jump into the commercial vehicle field right after World War One”.

From 1926, the company began to offer long-wheelbase versions of its passenger car chassis for use as buses and fire trucks built by outside firms. In 1927, Studebaker began production of light delivery cars, ambulances, hearses and buses based on passenger cars, but did not offer any heavier-duty vehicles.

Studebaker purchased a controlling interest in the Pierce-Arrow Company in 1928.  Pierce-Arrow was best known as a manufacturer of luxury automobiles, but also produced small numbers of relatively expensive trucks.

That takeover led to the 1929 introduction of Studebaker GN trucks, powered by the 68hp Dictator six-cylinder engine. They ranged in capacity from ¾-ton to 2 tons and in wheelbase from 115 to 146 inches.

In late 1930, Studebaker announced production of the first ‘real-Studebaker’ trucks: the 1931 S-series, with capacities of 1½ to 3 tons and a Dictator passenger-car-based, ½-ton model S-1.  The larger trucks were powered by a 205-cubic-inch 70hp Studebaker Six engine and wheelbases ranged from 130 to 160 inches.  

A new subsidiary, the SPA (Studebaker Pierce-Arrow) Truck Corporation was established to consolidate all truck production under one unit.

By 1932, The Depression was severe and Studebaker was in financial trouble. It eventually was forced into receivership in 1933.  White Motor Company took over Pierce-Arrow’s truck division and Pierce-Arrow itself went out of business in 1938.  

New Studebaker trucks were introduced in 1934 with the slogan: “Stamina for Profit, Style for Prestige”.  Each had skirted front fenders and a sloping grille covering the radiator. The square 1932-34 cab was still available as the Conventional Cab as a lower-cost option.  Nominal tonnages ranged from 1½ to 4 tons.

The new T2, T4, T6 and T8 models used the 230-cubic-inch, 75hp Studebaker Six, but the three-ton model W8 used a Waukesha six-cylinder, F-head, 358-cubic-inch engine, rated at 110hp.  Wheelbases ranged from 130 to 183 inches.  

The T and W series was succeeded by the somewhat more limited 1T and 1W series in March 1935.  The slow-selling T4 and T8 were dropped, but a new Waukesha-powered 1W7 was added to the lineup.  The 1935 1T and 1W series trucks were given model names:  Ace, Boss, Mogul and Chief (later Big Chief).

The 1936 Studebaker trucks got a new bumper, more rounded grille and different hood louvres.  The company offered both conventional and Cab-Forward models.  The latter had wood-framed cabs and were designated 2M-Series. In the midst of The Depression, however, there wasn’t much of a demand for new trucks, so sales were slow.  

All 1937 Studebaker trucks were designated J-Series.  The Standard Series trucks got a new, more streamlined cab based on the 1937 Studebaker passenger cars, but the Cab-Forward trucks continued to use the 1936 cab. Eight models were offered: J15 and J15M (1½-ton), J20 and J20M (2-ton), J25 and J25M (2½-ton), and J30 and J30M (3-ton).  The 217-cubic-inch Studebaker 6, now rated at 85hp, was used in the two smallest trucks, but the others all received new six-cylinder power from Hercules, with 79hp up to 98hp.  Wheelbases ranged from 101 to 184 inches and a 187-inch bus chassis was also available.

Also new for 1937 was the J5 Coupe-Express: a ½-ton pickup truck based on the 1937 Dictator passenger car and featured a double-walled pickup box, overdrive transmission, and Hill Holder – items that were well ahead of their time.

In July 1937, Studebaker added the J20D to its model lineup.  The J20D was powered by a 260-cubic-inch, overhead-valve, six-cylinder Hercules Model DJXB diesel engine that produced around 75hp and the truck had heavy-duty features – five-speed transmission, two-speed rear axle and 24-volt electrical system – as standard equipment.  They were comparatively expensive and very few were sold.

1938 Studebaker trucks were designated K-Series.  The K5 Coupe-Express was restyled along with the 1938 passenger cars, but the rest of the truck line remained essentially unchanged except for a different grille and some other minor changes.  A new model, the K10 Fast-Transport, was a one-ton truck with a wide, steel-floored, flat-sided pickup body.

K-Series production continued throughout all of 1939 and 1940, but in 1941, Studebaker stopped competing with Mack-, Diamond-T- and Autocar-brand heavy-duty trucks and   focused on light- and medium-duty trucks that were more likely to find customers through its large network of small, rural dealerships.

The M-Series consisted of the ½-ton M5, 1-ton M15, and 1½-ton M16. The M5 and M15 were powered by a new 170-cubic-inch, 80hp, six-cylinder engine. The M5 came with a 113-inch wheelbase and 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.  

Although the US Government shut down passenger car production shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, trucks continued in production well into 1942 and many were stockpiled and allocated to critical industries during the War. The attack on Pearl Harbor may have been a surprise, but the US had been preparing for possible entry into World War Two long before December 7, 1941.  

Studebaker began producing military vehicles in 1941 and its two best known machines were the Weasel tracked vehicle and the US6-model 2½-ton military truck. The US6 was built in 6×6 and 6×4 forms on 148-inch and 162-inch wheelbases and shared some components with the similar GMC CCKW 2½-ton, 6×6 military trucks.  

In order to get the trucks in production as soon as possible, Studebaker used the M-Series truck cab, but modified it for swing-open windscreens, with above-screen wipers. It was powered by the same Hercules JXD L-head, six-cylinder petrol engine that had been used in the 1937-1940 J25 and K25 trucks. Squared-off front fenders are easy identification features of Studebaker-built 2½-ton military trucks.

Studebaker also developed an open-cab version of the US6 in 1942 and built 10,006 of them during 1942-43.  

Under the Lend-Lease program the US Government supplied Allied nations with military hardware and the Studebaker US6 was the chosen military truck. More than 100,000 of these trucks were provided to the Soviet Union, alone. According to historian Thomas E Bonsall: “Joseph Stalin was so appreciative of the effectiveness of his Studebaker trucks that he sent the company a letter of thanks”. 

Studebaker built a total of 197,678 US6 military trucks between June 1941 and August 1945 and Reo built another 22,000 US6 trucks using the Studebaker design.

In 1945, Studebaker resumed production of M15 one-ton trucks: an M15-20 pickup with a 120-inch wheelbase, and a M15-28 truck with dual rear wheels and 128-inch wheelbase.  Because the US6 was still in production, these 1945 M15s were built with the military truck’s model “C9” cab with swing-out windshield, metal interior panels and painted bumpers.

Full production of 1946 M-series trucks began with the same model line-up as in 1941, plus an M17 two-ton export model.  All M5s now had body-coloured fenders, while larger models had black fenders.  Total 1940-48 M-series truck production was around 145,000 –  more than three times as many civilian trucks as Studebaker had produced in the previous three decades of truck production.  

Studebaker’s success with the 1941-48 M-Series trucks set the stage for its most successful trucks: the 1949-53 2R-Series that was the first American truck without exposed running boards and with a smooth, double-sided pickup bed. The range consisted of : ½-ton 2R5, ¾-ton 2R10, one-ton 2R15, 1½-ton 2R16, and two-ton 2R17. The first three were powered by the 85hp, 170-cubic-inch Champion 6 engine and the latter two had the 94-hp, 226-cubic-inch Commander 6, called the “Power-Plus”.  The 1949 2R5 came with a 112-inch wheelbase, the 2R10 came with a 122-inch wheelbase, the 2R15 was available with wheelbases of 121 and 131 inches, and the 2R16 and 2R17 could be had with 131, 155, 171, and 195-inch wheelbases. They were an immediate sales success.  

However, Studebaker made a critical judgment, to cut back on investment in commercial vehicles. In the last chapter of Thomas Bonsall’s history of Studebaker he concludes:

“Yet, after the highly successful effort made with the 1949 trucks the company seems more or less to have forgotten about them.  

“Thus starved for the investment needed to remain competitive, sales went into a precipitous decline, beginning in 1953.  

“The figures are stark: Studebaker sold 58,985 trucks in 1952 for a 7.2 percent market share;  this collapsed to 10,817 trucks in 1955 for a pathetic 1.1 percent share – a drop of 81 percent in volume and nearly 85 percent in market share in three years.”

An example of this decline was the 2R28 right-hand-drive 1½-ton truck powered by the new-for-1951 Studebaker 120hp, 232-cubic-inch V8 engine.  This was an export-only model and there were no V8-powered trucks in Studebaker’s US-domestic catalog in 1951. Had the company launched a domestic V8 truck it would have been years ahead of its competitors.

Studebaker continued to build 2R-series trucks for a full five years with many minor updates and running engineering changes, but no significant styling changes.  The US Government did provide some additional work, when the Korean War triggered a requirement for new trucks for the Army and Marine Corps. Reo won the tender, but it couldn’t meet the production targets and sub-contracted Studebaker to build trucks to Reo’s design.  

Studebaker did a minor facelift of the original 1948-49 2R truck design, in 1954. Called the 3R series, it had a new full-width grille, a one-piece curved windshield, an all-new instrument cluster and a few trim changes. Two new models, the 1½-ton 3R28 and the two-ton 3R38 were powered by the Studebaker V8 engine, now rated at 127hp.

The Packard Motor Car Company bought the business and assets of the ailing Studebaker Corporation on October 1, 1954, but the change did little for Studebaker’s trucks. The transitional 3R series was replaced by another face-lifted design, designated E series.

The only news was the availability of the new-for-1955, 140hp, 224-cubic-inch, Studebaker V8 in the three lower tonnage ranges.  The new models were designated as the ½-ton E7, the ¾-ton E12, and the 1-ton E13.  Automatic transmission was optionally available on the E7 and E12. The E28 and E38 continued, but got the larger 156hp, 259-cubic-inch V8 used in the President passenger cars.  The old Champion six-cylinder engine was stroked to produce 92 hp.

The 1956 Studebaker trucks were designated as the 2E series and displayed a few updates in a line-up that was branded ‘Transtar’.  The electrical system was now 12 volts, and a new Twin Traction limited-slip differential was available in ½-ton models.  

Studebaker was haemorrhaging money on its car and truck lines, and chose to spend what little restyling dollars it had on its cars.  Truck re-styling for the 1957 3E series was limited to a full-width fibreglass grille. The dashboard was redesigned and dictated a radio that had to be hung, aftermarket-like, under the dashboard.  

The 259-cubic-inch Power Star V8, now with 170hp, was the standard engine on all V8-powered models except the 3E40, which came with the heavy-duty truck version of the 182-hp, 289-cubic-inch Torque Star V8.  

With little to no money available for facelifts, the 3E Transtars were continued into model year 1958 with no styling changes at all, but there was a Napco-made, four-wheel drive option on all V8 and Commander 6-powered ½-ton, ¾-ton, and one-ton models.  

All of Studebaker’s limited restyling money went into the new 1959 Lark passenger cars, so there was again no money to update the truck line.  The 1959 models were designated 4E Series and the Transtar name was dropped. The Champion engine was de-stroked back to 90hp for 1959 and the standard V8 engine for Scotsman 4E2 was the 180hp 259.

Buoyed by the extraordinary popularity of the 1959 Larks, Studebaker tooled up a restyled line of light-duty trucks for 1960 – its first major change since mid-1948.  The 1959 Lark front end sheet metal and the front half of the four-door sedan body were grafted onto slightly modified ½-ton and ¾-ton truck chassis and beds to form the basis of a new line of trucks, given the name Champ.  

The Transtar name returned on the one-ton and larger Studebaker models that continued to use the aged C cab and 1957 fibreglass grille.  Four-wheel-drive was not available in the Champs, so the only 4WD models were the one-ton 5E13 and 5E14. Inside the cab, the 3E-4E instrument cluster was dropped, and the 1954-56 cluster, with full instrumentation, returned.  

In 1961, Studebaker was one of the last American auto manufacturers still offering L-head engines, so enough money was found to convert the 1939 Champion 170-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine to overhead valves, increasing output to 110hp. The Champion 6-powered ¾-ton model returned as a Champ model 6E10 and there was optional availability of Space-side P2 pickup boxes.

A repowered range of 1962-model 7E diesel trucks featured the 130hp, four-cylinder Detroit Diesel 4-53 engine and a 96-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab (BBC) option was introduced in April 1962.  The reduced length cab was achieved by shortening the frame, removing the fibreglass grille, and installing a flat front grille panel, shortened bonnet and flush-mounted bumper.  Full air brakes and a new 143-inch wheelbase were available on the 7E40 and 7E45 models, but diesel sales were a disappointment.

There were a few changes and improvements in the 8E-series trucks for 1963-64.  All V8-powered trucks got a new engine block with a full-flow oil filter and Studebaker introduced a new line of diesel-powered one-ton (8E15) and 1½-ton (8E25) trucks.  They were powered by the three-cylinder, 97hp, Detroit Diesel model 3-53 engine.  

As was typical of Studebaker in the past, this diesel pickup decision preceded eventual market demand by about 20 years.

The appearance of 8E Champs remained the same, but they were equipped with suspended brake and clutch pedals, greatly improved brakes, new steering and front suspension.  

As sales continued to decline and the banks pushed for better corporate financial performance, the 8E-series trucks were continued into the 1964 model year with no significant changes.  Only timely military and US Post Office contracts kept truck production viable.

On December 7, 1963, the Studebaker Board decided to close the South Bend plant and build Lark passenger cars in the Hamilton plant.  That meant the end of Studebaker truck production and the abandonment of plans for a new line of trucks.  The last civilian truck was built on December 27, 1963 — an 8E28AX Mobile Home Transporter, with serial number E28-9150.  Zip Van production continued into early 1964, until the Post Office contract was fulfilled.  


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