Studebaker's time had almost run out when a small hope for survival arrived in the form of the 1963 Studebaker Westinghouse pickup truck concept.
Studebaker abandoned more than two sporting automobiles when it fled to Canada in late 1963. It also gave up on trucks. That was sad, for Studebaker had often done well with commercial vehicles, which it began offering a few years after getting into horseless carriages with electric cars in 1902.
Though trucks were always a sideline to South Bend's car business, it might have been the other way around. As marque expert Fred K. Fox observed in Studebaker: The Complete Story, the company's "biggest mistake, as far as truck sales are concerned, was made in the 1910s, when they did not push boldly into the truck market before they quit the horsedrawn wagon business. Had they done this, they might have come out of the Depression as a major truck producer that built cars as a sideline."
As it was, Fox wrote, "the health of the truck division always depended on the health of Studebaker's car division."
And in 1963, Studebaker's car division was anything but healthy. The firm gushed some $17 million in red ink that year, its fourth biggest annual loss in the postwar period after disastrous 1954-1956.
The truck line reflected decades of corporate ups-and-downs by having seen little basic change since 1949, mainly because sales were seldom high enough to justify the costs.
Though Studebaker did manage the cute little Champ pickup in 1960, with cab styling borrowed from its year-old Lark compact car, this was just more old stuff in a new wrapper that couldn't hope to generate the needed sales or income. Overall, the company wrote its 1960 ledger in black, but the bottom line was a slim $709,000.
In 1961-1962, however, Studebaker rebounded to earn over $5 million, thanks to the energetic efforts of its new president, the hard-driving Sherwood Egbert.
Egbert came aboard in 1961 and immediately put the rush on facelifts for Studebaker's existing cars. The eminent designer Brooks Stevens came through beautifully for 1962 with a remodeled Lark and a more fully overhauled "family sports car," the retitled Gran Turismo Hawk.
Egbert also got fast results from the Raymond Loewy group on the sleek new high-performance, image-boosting car he wanted, and within months the world was applauding the singular Avanti.
These projects depleted funds that might have been used to rejuvenate the Studebaker trucks, but Egbert did what he could, adding a flush-fender "Spaceside" Champ and new diesel-powered light- and heavy-duty models in 1961-1962.
He also went after more military and government business, and even arranged to repurchase a Studebaker truck factory that had been sold to the Curtiss-Wright combine, which still nominally controlled South Bend's affairs.
Trouble was, that plant cost a hefty $7.5 million, yet the order for the half-tracks it was supposed to build was cut in half, and remaining production didn't begin to cover the purchase price. Egbert continued trying to push Studebaker as a "big truck" producer, but with little success.
The company was staring down a very dark tunnel by mid-1963, when a faint glimmer of light appeared. It came in the form of a $9 million contract to build some 4,200 small postal delivery vehicles.
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Unfortunately, Studebaker's role in the "Zip-Van" project involved mere assembly of a collection of its aging truck components within a tall, square body supplied by Met-Pro of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
Of course, this order was welcome -- any new business was by then -- but it was too modest to offset losses from withering sales of Studebaker's mainstay cars. By November, the clock on the South Bend wall read one minute to midnight.
One last proposal saved the day for Studebaker. Continue on to the next page to learn more about the 1963 Studebaker Westinghouse Pickup Truck Concept Car Project.