The Birth of the Studebaker Lark
Prospects for Studebaker's survival looked bleak. But the birth of the Studebaker Lark turned things around.
Harold Churchill, president of the company since 1956, had put his staff to work on the development of a new model for 1959. He was determined to rescue Studebaker once again -- as it had been 20 years earlier -- with a small economy car.
Thus was born (or should we say "hatched"?) the Lark, introduced in the fall of 1958. Development time had been almost miraculously short, for Churchill had given the green light to the project as recently as mid-1957. And a clever job it was!
The central section of the 1958 body (which dated back to 1953) was retained while front and rear overhang were chopped, resulting in a 27.4-inch reduction in the overall length of the sedans. Wheelbase was likewise shortened, from 116.5 to 108.5 inches, and more than 200 pounds of excess weight melted away.
The result was an automobile that measured three inches shorter and an inch and a half narrower than the Rambler American, yet very nearly as roomy inside as the big Ford Galaxie.
Speed Age described the Lark as "the only small car from either side of the water to offer genuine, comfortable seating for six adults."
Chief stylist Duncan McRae, who headed the design team, was evidently responsible for suggesting the Hawk-inspired square grille that was a salient feature of the new Lark, but the basic shape of the new little Studebaker was largely the work of designer Bob Doehler. Remarkably, despite the use of six-year-old body components, the Lark's styling emerged fresh and clean -- if a bit stubby. One couldn't call it handsome, perhaps, yet the car was attractive. Perhaps the adjective "cute" described it best.
Meanwhile, the Hawk, Studebaker's handsome sport coupe, was retained, evidently at the insistence of dealers. It was the Lark, however, that accounted for 94.4 percent of Studebaker's 1959 total output of 138,866 units.
Chief engineer Gene Hardig also made maximum use of existing components, making improvements as he adapted them to the smaller car. The frame, eight inches shorter than that of the 1958 Champion, was stronger and more rigid than before. Spring rates were modified. Incredibly, the Lark held the road better than its heavier predecessors. And the braking area was exceptionally generous in relation to the weight of the car.
Both six- and eight-cylinder versions of the Lark were offered, the latter commanding a premium of $135. The smaller engine was the old familiar flathead, destroked to its pre-1955 displacement of 169.6 cubic inches and rated now at 90 horsepower. A new crankshaft, revised pistons, and a higher-compression head made this the most efficient edition to date of an engine whose pedigree dated back 20 years to the original Studebaker Champion.
The compact Lark was exactly the miracle Studebaker needed in 1959. But with the Big Three about to flood the market with a slew of brand-new compacts, the outlook for 1960 wasn't quite so bright. South Bend countered by making the Lark more glamorous and more practical.
The 1960 model year bought a restyled Studebaker Lark. Continue on to the next page to learn about the features of the 1960 Studebaker Lark.