1939 Mercury Town Sedan (top; image by the author); 1941 Studebaker Commander Sedan Coupe (bottom; image by Jim Donnelly).
Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a regular basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing, and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.
Featured in this edition of This or That are a pair of prewar, closed-cab cars: a 1939 Mercury Town Sedan and a 1941 Studebaker Commander. At first blush, you might think that Mercury and Studebaker were hardly market competitors. The former of the two slid nicely into the mid-priced market – its intended target audience – while tradition tells us that the products from South Bend were aimed at the more budget-conscious buyer. Lest we forget that, just a decade or so prior, Studebaker produced a line of elegant cars that today are recognized as Full Classics by the CCCA, and to further demonstrate the company’s ability to segue into a variety of market segments, the pictured Commander Sedan Coupe cost $990 when new, whereas the Mercury Town Sedan, just two years prior, started at $957 when introduced. By 1941, the same Town Car cost $1 more than the Commander Coupe. Here are a few more details concerning each (if you want to read more than we’ve provided, both cars were former subject material in our Hemmings Classic Car magazine–just click on the links provided).
For those completely new to automotive history, Mercury was introduced as a new division of Ford Motor Company for the 1939 model year, which finally allowed Ford (both the company and the man) the opportunity to bridge the expansive price gap between Ford and Lincoln. In it’s first year, the Mercury was offered as a single trim series in four body styles: a two-door Sedan, two-door Sedan-Coupe, Convertible, and the four-door Town Sedan pictured above. To help simplify design and reduce cost, all four styles shared an overall body length of 196 inches that was supported by a uniform 116–inch wheelbase chassis comprised of a X-braced frame and a leaf-spring suspension system, bolstered by hydraulic shocks. Aside from passenger comfort that paralleled other makes in the mid-price market, Mercury’s two big selling points were the inclusion of four-wheel hydraulic brakes as a standard feature, and a more powerful 239.4-cu.in. “flat-head” engine rated for 95 hp (10 more than the Ford line). Early reports (The Motor, March 1939) indicated that the engine could help the Mercury – in all likelihood, the 2,995-pound convertible – attain 90 mph, while going from 0 – 60 mph in 13.3 seconds. The Motor went on to say the Mercury’s, “lightning acceleration, combined with a high standard of comfort, good road handling and breaking, make it one of the best f400-worth of motoring that is now offered on the market.” combined with Ford’s own advertising campaign, Mercury attained 60,214 buyers in its first year, 39,847 of them opting to purchase the Town Sedan.
Unlike Mercury, at the dawn of the Forties Studebaker had already established itself as a venerable automaker both in the mid-price and luxury car markets for more than three decades (while making a few attempts to field and entry in the low-price market). In fact, the legendary firm had a long history of wheeled movement, going back nearly a century, by the time the 1941 models emerged from their South Bend facility. Among them was the Commander; a mid-price line that, until 1938, had existed as the Dictator (as one might think, the powder keg atmosphere that worsened abroad was the catalyst of the nomenclature change). For 1941, the Commander line was initially offered in three body styles – Custom Coupe, Club Sedan and Cruising Sedan – in two trim levels: the unnamed base package or in upscale Delux-Tone; the latter due to two-tone upholstery offered as standard equipment. The Sedan Coupe body style (pictured above) appeared mid-year. Each were built on a 119-inch wheelbase chassis that utilized leaf springs and hydraulic shocks, which were bolted to an X-braced frame. In addition, four-wheel hydraulic brakes were standard. Bolted to the front crossmember was the company’s well-engineered 226.2-cu.in. straight-six that touted a factory rating of 94 svelte horsepower. According to factory records, roughly 2,350 Model 11A Commander Club Coupes were produced from its mid-1941 unveiling until civilian production ended in early 1942, and – as of this writing – we’ve been unable to find any contemporary performance reports to compare it against that of the Mercury.
Given the opportunity, which of the two would you add to your stable and why?