The 1966 Studebaker Cruiser was part of the last model year for the South Bend automaker.

1964, 1965, 1966 Studebakers

Among the last South Bend Studebakers were the first '64 Larks, with crisply square new outer body panels, again courtesy of designer Brooks Stevens. Overall length grew six inches; the grille became more horizontal, with an eggcrate center and integral headlights; and a pointy new rear end carried high-set tail/backup lamps.

The stripped Standard was retagged Lark Challenger and priced from as low as $1943. The hallowed Commander name returned to oust Custom/Regal, a four-door Daytona sedan arrived, and newly optional Avanti R3 power reduced a Super Lark's 0-60 to 7.3 seconds (though very few such cars were built). The R3 was also ­listed (and as rarely ordered) for the GT Hawk, which bowed out with "landau" roof styling and optional rear vinyl half-top, plus a smoother rear deck and matte-black dash appliqué. But Studebaker sales kept sliding, to fewer than 20,000 for calendar '64, and to about 44,400 for the model year.

For 1965, the Lark name was dropped as a liability and the line pared to just ten "Common-Sense" models: six and V-8 Cruisers, two- and four-door Commander sedans, and solid-top Commander wagon, plus V-8 Daytona Wagonaire (with and without sliding roof) and a new pillared Daytona sport coupe.

Styling was virtually unchanged. Because the closure of South Bend ended production of Studebaker engines, management settled for Chevy substitutes: the 120-bhp 194 six from the compact Chevy II and the legendary 283 small-block V-8 in 195-bhp tune.

Hamilton almost managed 20,000 cars for '65, but without facilities for developing replacement models, Studebaker had no real future as an automaker. Besides, financing was all but gone. The 1966 models thus ended the marque. These were basically '65s warmed over with dual-beam headlamps (replacing quads), a new four-slot grille, and air-extractor vents in place of the upper taillight units. Studebaker built only 8947 of these cars before calling it quits. In retrospect, Studebaker's death was a classic case of the deadly downward spiral that claimed so many makes in the Depression: insufficient sales to cover development costs for new models to replace increasingly unpopular old ones, thus further depressing sales and spurring talk of a possible demise that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So although losing Studebaker was a greater shame, it was, perhaps, inevitable.

For more on defunct American cars, see: