For 1963, Studebaker offered a full line of Larks on wheelbases of 109 and 113 inches. The 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire was available only as a four-door model on the longer chassis.
The standard engine offerings included a pair of ohv powerplants, the 169.6-cid "Skybolt" six or the 259.7-cube V-8. The former produced 112 bhp; the latter was rated at 180 horsepower with the standard two-barrel carburetor or 195 with the optional four-barrel. The first step up for V-8 models was a 289-cid "Thunderbolt" engine that made 210 or 225 bhp, depending on carburetion.
For those who really wanted to get to the grocery store in a hurry, there was the 289 four-barrel "Jet Thrust" V-8 from the Avanti, making 240 bhp in normally aspirated R1 form or 289 bhp as the supercharged R2 mill.
The 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire offered the
widest range of options in the industry.
Studebaker gave the new wagon top billing in its advertising for 1963. Calling it "three cars in one," ads stressed the utilitarian virtues, as well as the "convertible" nature of the new body. Though it was essentially a six-passenger wagon, one could order it with an optional rear-facing hideaway third seat that could accommodate smaller children. When so equipped, special captive-air tires were provided since there was no room for a spare. (When the tailgate was lowered, an optional stirrup step could be pivoted down to ease passenger entry.)
Of course, when that roof was slid forward, "the sky was the limit" for carrying anything from refrigerators and Christmas trees to bales of hay and large crates.
The rear window on the Wagonaire retracted into the tailgate. For ease of operation, an optional power control was offered. Turning the key in the outside lock actuated it. During the model run, a safety switch was introduced that made the rear window inoperable when the tailgate was open. At about the same time, a mechanism was added to the sliding roof that allowed for positive locking of the roof in three positions.
As with all new models, there were some teething problems with the sliding roof. A few owners complained that, in heavy rains or when washing their cars, there were leaks toward the front of the opening area. The engineering department quickly solved this with a newly designed weather strip.
Though a general recall was avoided, the main office sent a six-page illustrated service letter to dealers outlining corrective measures. Despite the quick fix, the negative publicity so soon after introduction was a damper on early sales.
Perhaps as a result of the bad press from this episode, Studebaker decided in January 1963 to make available a wagon with a nonretractable roof. It was a "delete option," meaning it had to be specifically noted on all dealer orders. Ordering the fixed-roof version saved the purchaser $100.
The Wagonaire originally came in two trim levels for the domestic market. (A third line, the Custom, was available solely for overseas markets.) The Regal was the lower-line model and it started at $2,550 with the six or $2,685 with a V-8. The top-line Daytona was $150 more in each category. The Daytona was easily distinguishable from the Regal by its wider bodyside moldings and nameplate on the rear quarter panel.
In January 1963, a stripped-down version of the Wagonaire became available. Referred to as the "Standard," it lacked the bodyside moldings and the hood, tailgate, and grille ornaments of other models. This no-frills Wagonaire was aimed at fleet buyers and the economy minded. Available as a six and an eight, it listed for just $2,430 and $2,565, respectively.
No one in the industry offered a wider range of options on their wagons than did Studebaker. Among the most popular were the twin-traction differential, power disc brakes, four-speed transmissions, power steering, and air conditioning.
Of course the hill holder, pioneered by Studebaker in 1936, and the overdrive transmission were popular accessories on all the standard-shift models. Though base prices were quite reasonable by the standards of the time, a fully loaded Wagonaire could set one back close to $4,000.
Standard features included rustproofing, a 35-amp alternator, a dual master-cylinder braking system, and flat floors. The padded instrument panel deserves special mention for its simplicity and functionality. Instruments were clustered in three large round bezels directly in front of the driver. The one at left contained the oil-pressure, ammeter, fuel-level, and water-temperature gauges (i.e. no "idiot lights"). The speedometer/odometer was on the right. In the center, the buyer could opt for either a clock or a tachometer. Rather than a customary glovebox, Studebaker offered a women's vanity with a flip-up mirror.
In its June 1963 road test, Car Life declared the dashboard to be the interior's most impressive feature and stated "it is doubtful that there is a better one in the industry for sheer simplicity and functional design."
The Wagonaire offered buyers an exceptionally nice package, and many people thought them a good value for the dollar. Motor Trend did a drive report on a Daytona wagon and was generally positive about the car. The only significant negative comments involved its understeer and feeling of "too much weight on the front end." Of course, Motor Trend staff seldom drove a car the way the average consumer did, so their expectations were higher.
Many Wagonaires were sold to fleet buyers. Movietone News United Press International purchased a fleet of 30 and used them extensively. It even shot a newsreel showing numerous cars with the roof retracted and cameras mounted on tripods in the back. All were top-of-the-line Daytona models painted white with blue vinyl interiors.
The White House also ordered one, which remained in service for many years. It was a Daytona with an optional 289-cid four-barrel engine, disc brakes, and automatic transmission. It is unclear what function it served; perhaps it was used by the Secret Service. The car has survived and is now in the hands of a collector.
The 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire was not a runaway sales success, but did find 11,915 buyers. This amounted to 15 percent of the company's auto sales that year.
Unfortunately, it did not bring profitability to the ailing corporation. Studebaker began a diversification program in 1958, and by the end of 1963, it had 12 divisions and net sales of more than $400 million. The 11 non-automotive divisions showed profits in excess of $8 million, but the Automotive Division lost $25 million! It was obvious that the 1964 model year would be crucial to the automotive operation's survival.
The 1964 Studebaker station wagons differed from their predecessors only in frontal styling. Stevens abandoned the Mercedes-like grille in favor of a full-width ensemble that encompassed the headlight bezels. (Dual headlights were standard on series below the Daytona, but quad lamps were optionally available.)
The front edge of the fenders was squared off and a new hood ornament was added. Bumpers were slightly longer and wrapped around the lower edge of the fenders. Stevens produced an attractive package that looked all-new, yet cost Studebaker little for tooling.
Some series names were changed. The Challenger replaced the Standard as the low-cost offering. Also, Studebaker revived the Commander name (first used in 1927 and abandoned after 1958) in place of Regal. The Daytona remained the top of the line, and it was to go exclusively V-8. The Lark name was being phased out and, while still used in print, did not appear on any of the 1964 cars. There were no significant mechanical changes in the new cars.
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