Back in 1952 Studebaker was a contender in the highly competitive truck market.
Studebaker had built its first electric commercial vehicles before switching to gas in 1913, but soon after abandoned the truck market altogether.
Then, in 1927, new buses and 1 to 3-ton (907-2,722 kg) trucks were gradually introduced and evolved. In the last half of the 1930s some very stylish “Coupe Express” pickup trucks were marketed.
During the war Studebaker built 6×4 and 6×6 Hercules-powered 2-1/2-ton military trucks.
The pre-war M-Types continued in production for 1946 and were joined by the Studebaker 102 hp, L-head, 6-cylinder, gas-powered 2R line in 1949. A total of 67,000 Studebaker trucks were delivered in the last three years of the decade.
Following the Second World War and throughout the 1950s Studebaker continued to focus on 2-ton (1,814 kg) and less trucks, but also built larger units such as the 2R16 rated up to 3-1/2-ton (3,176 kg).
Yet, Studebaker was also one of the few independents that went head-to-head with the “Big Three” when it came to marketing a ½-ton pickup.
By now famous for its radically styled, new post-war car designs, Studebaker would also be seen as a ground-breaker when it came to the fresh, modern-looking truck that came out of its new factory in South Bend, Indiana. The Chippewa Avenue plant had been previously used by Studebaker during the war, but had been owned by the War Assets Administration. As well, the new pickup truck would be built in Studebaker’s Canadian plant in Hamilton, Ontario.
Styling Chief Bob Bourke of the Loewy Studio was responsible for the fashionable and advanced design of the new 1949 trucks. (Bourke would continue working with Studebaker and be credited for the sensational Starliner and Starlight designs that appeared in 1953.)
Studebaker’s use of the longstanding “Coupe Express” designation for its ½-ton was dropped due to being outdated by 1949, with the almost universal adoption by the industry of the term “pick-up” or “pickup” truck.
The new 112-inch wheelbase ½-ton pickup truck was designated the 2R5 and the styling was unique compared to Studebaker’s car line-up with only the hubcaps, instrument cluster, steering wheel, some trim parts and headlamp trim rings being borrowed. (Later the Champion model hood ornament would be added to the truck.)
Industry leading features included a unique, double-lined box, which protected the exterior side panels from load dents and gave the cab and pickup bed a more congruent appearance. A two-tone painted grille kept the costs down by avoiding chrome pieces.
The absence of considered outdated runningboards, a lower ride and loading level, also added to the 2R5’s tasteful appearance. (The 2R5 had a height of 69.75-inches compared to the previous Studebaker M5-Series 77-inches and the height of the 1949 Ford F1 pickup at 76.64-inches.)
The 2R5, with its 6-1/2-foot box, had an overall length of 185.6-inches. It could be ordered with or without a box; alternatively fitted with a stake bed; or in a variety of chassis only, cab and partial cab, configurations.
There were few mechanical updates from the previous M-Series, but one notable change was the moving of the non-synchromesh first gear, standard 3-speed shifter, from the floor to the steering column. The traditional floor mounted four-speed was optional.
The 2R5 was fitted with the Champion’s 80 hp, 169.6ci, L-head six cylinder engine that was a complete carryover from the M-Series. Chassis features included an I-beam front axle, a floating rear axle, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, slotted steel wheels and initially lever-arm shocks. The 2R5 dash instruments, lights, etc. were easily accessible from inside the engine compartment via the firewall. There were numerous access hatches in the cab floor for repairs and replacement of the master cylinder, etc.
The 2R5 boasted of such unusual standard equipment as a passenger sunvisor, door armrests, steel interior door panels, panel board kick panels and headliner, rearview and driver’s side mirrors, and chrome hubcaps. All these features, plus excellent visibility and better than average ventilation made the 2R5 an attractive alternative to the comparable Ford or Chevrolet. As well, these pickups would often be pictured in street settings, rather than in traditional work locations. Thus, Studebaker was one of the first manufacturers pushing a pickup truck as an acceptable second, or even the only family vehicle for urban living, but still pushed its reliable, any size required, farm usage.
Other new Studebaker trucks included the addition of a similar looking 2R10 ¾-ton pickup truck with its 8-foot box, uprated rear axle and suspension, and the latest 1-ton 2R15 version. There was also a 1-1/2-ton 2R16 and a 2-ton 2R17. Not surprisingly 1949 would be a record-breaking year for the sale of Studebaker trucks that would never to be equalled again as truck production reached 67,982 units.
Minimal trim and running gear changes were made in 1950 and other than the additional exterior colours offered, the pickups were virtually identical in appearance. Although, there were some powerplant changes in 1950 with the standard six cylinder receiving a 5 hp boost and later in production, a larger engine could be special ordered. Now optional in a 2R6 version of the ½-ton pickup truck was the 102 hp, 245.6ci “Power Plus” six cylinder engine. Although few were delivered in 1950, the six did find buyers and would be offered through to 1960.
Studebaker, as did the rest of the truck industry, saw production levels slip in 1950 as demand in the civilian truck market softened.
Once again in 1951 there were few changes made to the 2R5 and 2R6 pickup trucks. An additional 2R6 model was offered called the “Trailblazer.” Although it wasn’t 4-wheel-drive, it was fitted with smaller, but beefier 900×13 low-pressure tires designed for driving through sand or snow. And, although Studebaker introduced a V8 engine in 1951 for its car line-up, this engine was not used in any of its trucks. Yet, the 2R6 with its “Power Plus” six still had the highest torque compared to all its competitors and was only around fifty dollars more than the 2R5.
Civilian truck production decreased once more due to less demand and higher prices as a result of the Korean Conflict. Studebaker received a government contract for building 4,000 6×6, 2-1/2 ton military trucks and as a result this too, cut into its civilian truck production.
For 1952 there were even fewer changes made to the ½-ton pickup truck range with only the interior accent and trim colours changing.
For 1952 Studebaker offered a choice of its, “. . . a size just right,” pickup trucks in ½-ton, ¾-ton and 1-ton configurations and stake trucks in 1-1/2-ton and 2-ton models.
Studebaker pointed out its pickup trucks offered foot-controlled ventilation to allow the driver to keep the air fresh in the cab and provide cool air on hot days. Other interior niceties found in a Studebaker pickup truck’s cab included an adjustable seat with an Adjusto-Air cushion, and a more convenient and modern 3-speed column shift. Other attributes of a Studebaker cab included a fully enclosed step that was protected, “. . . from mud and muck,” wide doors with “hold-open” stops, vent windows, a “big visibility” rear window, a low floor, and tight gripping rotary door latches.
Studebaker was also keen to emphasize its easy loading and unloading pickup truck was also tough and durable. The tailgate was hinged at each end and the centre, as well as being supplemented by chains, to take hefty loads. As well, “The double-walled box of heavy-gauge metal is just the right height.”
In 1953 Studebaker mildly updated its styling, but at long last the V8 engine was offered in its trucks. An all-new design was in the works, but wouldn’t appear until 1955.