Model Review: Danbury Mint 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner

Reviewed and Photographed by Peter Brown

As a pure styling exercise this car is beyond reproach, especially when one considers how advanced the design was for its day. In 1951 Raymond Loewy's studio submitted the design to Studebaker chief Harold Vance, and for 1953 and '54 the Champion and Commander series each had a Starliner coupe, the latter having been so realistically modeled below. Early production problems and Studebaker's shaky financial position caused this car to stumble going out of the gate, and by the time they had it all ironed out the public had lost interest. As a result, you rarely see one of these beauties anymore.

It's an all-new tool, and a commendable choice of subject. Though it's kissing cousins with the Hawk, don't be fooled. The new tool adds invisible door hinges, photo-etch scripts and separately cast emblems, and the myriad working features described below. Materials are first-rate, finish is excellent, and the gaps and fit are good. Before I even saw it I was disinclined to like the red and white color combination, but the Bombay red (a tomato-ey looking shade offered as a Spring color), and the almost beige Salem white, make a very fitting and attractive presentation on this model.

Then as now, a V8 was a big deal, and this car was not shy about showing off its credentials. Emblazoned on the front and rear of the car and on each side, is a V8 symbol impossible to miss on those smooth, clean flanks. DM has done these beautifully as separately cast pieces plated in chrome and gold, and P-E (photo etch) for the "8" on each side. Other than that, the car wears very little chrome for its vintage. It was also a lot lower and sleeker than most of its contemporaries. I love the way the accent line runs as smoothly and casually as a brushstroke, from just behind the headlight bezel until it curves downward at the back end of the door in a boomerang-shaped curve, echoing the slope of the roof and rear quarter window ever so subtly. As with other new tools there's no working suspension on this model. That's fine with me so long as they get the stance right, and to me it looks dead-on.

Look at that silhouette—it could have been penned by Ghia or Pininfarina. The more I thought about it, the more I had to have this in my collection. It was truly a landmark design.

Here's a nice detail view of the roof, showing the tiny Studebaker script in gold covering the separation between paint colors, just like the 1:1 and truly remarkable for 1:24. ...and yes, it's definitely been clear-coated. Below there's the cast chrome "V" and P-E numeral 8, the inside and outside door locks and handle. Just look at the detail in all those complex chrome window and door moldings—fantastic.

The interior is up to DM's usual high standards, which is to say it is excellent. Realistic carpeting and floor mats, pedals, levers, buttons, gauges, you name it—it's all there. Door panels are nicely finished, and benefit from hidden hinges. Instrumentation and radio dial look readable, but you'd need a magnifying glass. The 60/40 folding bench seats look great, and quite realistic in solid red pleats. For some reason, in these magnified images they might look a little plastic-y, but take my word for it in person they're really well done.

Both front seat backs tilt forward, and little details abound, like the chrome rear ashtray, the simulated black rubber gaskets in the door jambs and where the door glass meets the roof, and in the vent windows. Seemingly no detail has been overlooked.

In this view the separately molded wiper arms and fixed, half-height antenna look great. My setup doesn't allow for outdoor shots, but I tried using a room with a western exposure, in the afternoon when it's sunny, to take some photos with natural light like the one above. Suddenly, long shadows appeared more crisp and delineated against the background, and on the car's interior. The sun's intensity created reflections off the wheel covers, bumpers, and other lower body areas. The paint color came out a bit more vivid, though in truth the light-tent (not sunlit) shots were a bit underexposed. It's a less controlled environment, but I think the natural light does have some advantages, like slightly enhanced realism.

I'm no motor-head, but I know when something looks real, and looking under the hood of this model you won't be disappointed. The range of materials and textures is terrific, with cables, wires, hoses, labels, and clamps all picked out in beautiful detail. A working prop-rod and realistic scissor-type hinges complete the effect.

Inset in the grill are two tiny, clear parking lights, faithfully executed in scale, but what's truly remarkable is the raised script lettering on top of the horizontal grill bars. Facing the car, the left side spells out "Studebaker" and the right spells out "Commander." This detail is so fine that it's difficult to see without magnification. Nice work, DM.

The rear three-quarter views are particularly flattering to this car. I'd never guess it was a small model from this photo.

With the aid of magnification we can see the detail achieved with the trunk latch, the Studebaker emblem, and even the tiny license plate lights on the inside edges of the integrated center bumper guards. Even the bolts securing the bumper have been replicated.

Danbury does its typical fine work under the boot lid as well, with an accurately patterned liner, spare tire, lug wrench, and jack; and check out the tiny inside latch. The spare has a trick up its sleeve too, as you discover that it is held in place by a magnet under the trunk floor, allowing it to be removable yet still stay put when in the trunk. Very clever. Here we also get a good look at the opening gas filler door. The tolerances are so tight on this one I had trouble opening it, but I don't really care about that so much as I do about realism, and the separately cast parts do make a difference. Likewise, the air vents on the front fenders just ahead of the doors open and close with watch-like precision.

I almost passed on this model, partly because I hadn't taken a good, close look at its design and overall style, and partly because I thought the red and white paint scheme would be too ordinary. I have to admit, though, that I've gotten attached to it rather quickly, mainly because of the car's clean lines and ahead-of-its-time styling. The Tomato and Beige kind of grows on you too, and it really does look right on this car. Danbury got the shape and stance right, and attended to all the details to make this one correct. I believe it's a must-have for collectors of the classics. Thanks Moe, you've done it again.