1964 Studebaker 'Super Lark:' First of the Muscle Cars?

Although the Studebaker's Super Lark, known as possibly the first muscle car, was an impressive, high-performance automobile, it was produced a little too late to save the company.

Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert was having trouble getting his stunning new Avanti into full-scale production. So in order to capitalize on the high-performance components that had been developed for the Avanti under the supervision of Andy Granatelli, Egbert decided in early 1963 that some of this equipment should be made available to buyers of both the Gran Turismo Hawk and the Lark.

There were two new engines, initially, both derived from Studebaker's respected 289-cubic inch V-8. Known as the R-l and R-2, both powerplants were fitted with special camshafts and extra stout bearings. (Later on, two more variants were developed, the 304.5-cubic-inch R-3 and R-4, but neither was produced in significant numbers.)

The R-1, fed by a four-barrel carburetor and boasting a compression ratio of 10.25:1, was rated at 240 horsepower, a very healthy figure indeed. But it was the R-2 that had been designed to blow the competition into the next county. In this application, the compression ratio settled in at a more modest 9.0:1, but the engine boasted a Paxton centrifugal supercharger supplying between five-and-a-half and six pounds of pressure. Horsepower reached the magic one-for-one formula: 289 horsepower from 289 cubic inches.

Other options of interest to the performance-minded buyer included a Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission (or, alternatively, a heavy-duty Borg-Warner three-speed automatic), heavy-duty suspension, rear stabilizer bar, limited-slip differential, and caliper-type front disc brakes. All of these goodies became available at mid-year in the "Super Lark" package, which was priced at $766.70.

The result was an automobile unlike any previous Studebaker. Car Life, driving a Super Lark equipped with automatic, clocked the 0-60-mph run in just 7.8 seconds. And Motor Trend, testing a 1964 R-2 with a four-speed gearbox, shaved half a second off that figure. The standing quarter mile came up in just 15.8 seconds, with a trap speed of 90 miles per hour. Top speed was clocked at 123 mph.

At that, the editors noted that with taller gearing than the standard 3.54:1 cogs, the car would easily have been capable of even greater speeds. And it was; Andy Granatelli had already driven an R-2 with more favorable gearing to 132.04 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Motor Trend also found there was plenty of braking power to cope with all that speed, for repeated hard stops from 123 mph failed to produce any appreciable fade.

The Super Lark may have been too little. Certainly it was too late, at least to help save Studebaker. But it was nonetheless an impressive performer and a stellar value for the type of no-holds-barred, high-performance machine that would later come to be known as the "muscle car."

For more information on cars, see: