The success of the Champion in 1939 was imperative to Studebaker’s survival following weak sales during the 1938 model year. Unlike most other cars, the Champion was designed from a "clean sheet", that is, having no restrictions caused by necessarily utilizing older parts or requiring the subsequent use of its components in heavier vehicles. Careful market research guided the selection of features, but a key principle adhered to was the engineering watchword "Weight is the enemy." For its size, it was one of the lightest cars of its era; its main competitor in this respect, the Willys Americar, did not go through as thorough a design process. Its compact straight-6 engine outlasted the model itself and was produced to the end of the 1964 model year, with a change to an OHV design in 1961.
The Champion was one of Studebaker's best-selling models by virtue of its low price (US$660 for the two-door business coupe in 1939), durable engine and styling. The car's ponton styling was authored by industrial designer Raymond Loewy who had been under contract with Studebaker for the design of their automobiles. Champions won Mobilgas economy runs by posting the highest gas mileage tests. During World War II, Champions were coveted for their high mileage at a time when gas was rationed in the United States. From 1943-1945, the Champion motor was used as the powerplant for the unique Studebaker M29 Weasel personnel and cargo carrier, which also used four sets of the Champion's leaf springs arranged transversely for its bogie suspension.
The Champion was phased out in 1958 in preparation for the introduction of the 1959 Studebaker Lark. Prior to this, Studebaker had been placed under receivership, and the company was attempting to return to a profitable position.
The Champion came out in 1939. Deluxe models came with arm rests and dual wipers. In 1940, Studebaker claimed 27.25mpg. In 1941, the bodies were given a more streamlined look.
In 1946, Studebaker built a limited number of cars based on their 1942 body shell in preparation for its new body and design roll out in 1947. All Studebakers built in 1946 were designated Skyway Champion models. Only the Champion series was produced, it being the most popular before the war.
In 1947, Studebaker completely redesigned the Champion and the Commander, making them the first new cars after WWII. The Champion made up 65.08% of total sales for Studebaker in 1947. One of the new styling features on the cars was the wraparound, "green-house" rear window that was on two-door cars from 1947–1951, at first just an option, in 1950 it was given its own trim line, the Starlight Coupe.The "spinner" grill was introduced in 1950, similar to that of a Ford Deluxe.
In 1953, Studebaker was redesigned by Robert Bourke, from Raymond Loewy's design studio. The front end was lower than contemporaries. No convertible was offered in 1953. In 1954, a new 2-door station wagon was added to the Champion line.
In 1957, the Champion Scotsman, a stripped down Champion, was introduced by Studebaker in an attempt to compete with the “Big Three” (i.e. General Motors, Ford & Chrylser) and Nash in the low price field. Shortly after its introduction, the model was renamed to Studebaker Scotsman.