Introduction to the 1959-1964 Studebaker Lark

The 'Different by Design' 1964 Studebaker Models

The 1964 Daytona was Studebaker's last ragtop -- only 703 were built.
The 1964 Daytona was Studebaker's last ragtop -- only 703 were built.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Studebaker billed its 1964 models as "Different by Design." Thanks to Stevens' genius, they received a disguise clever enough to make them look brand new. Front fenders, hood, deck lid, and sculptured roof panel sported new sheet metal, and the result was a handsome, crisply styled car, bearing little resemblance to the earlier models.

The Lark name did not appear on any of these cars, though in some of the promotional material the title was used in connection with the less expensive models.

The 1964s came in four series, excluding the sports-oriented Hawk and Avanti coupes. In ascending order of price, they were the Challenger, Commander, Daytona, and Cruiser -- a total of 21 models in all. Two-door cars continued on the 109-inch chassis, four-door models with the 113-inch stretch. Overall length of the sedans measured 194 inches, about the same as the contemporary Dodge Dart and 19 inches longer than the 1959 Lark.

Although quite attractive, the restyled Studebakers didn't sell. In part, no doubt, the problem had to do with the public's concern about the company's future -- nobody wanted to be stuck with an orphan. Resale values took a beating, which only exacerbated the problems of the sales force. By January 1965, a five-year-old Lark was worth 36 percent less than a comparable Chevrolet.

Another change of leadership occurred on November 11,1963. Sherwood Egbert, stricken with the cancer that would eventually claim his life, resigned. In his place, the board of directors appointed Packard veteran Byers Burlingame. Three days later, Burlingame called a temporary halt to production. On hand at that time was a three-month supply of 1964 Studebakers, together with some 3,000 unsold and seemingly unwanted 1963 Larks. Production resumed a week later, perhaps simply in order to use up supplies on hand. But the end, as least as far as the South Bend factory was concerned, was inevitable.

The story would have ended here, save for the Canadian postscript. Gordon Grundy, the enthusiastic president of Studebaker-Canada, felt confident that his plant -- far more modern and efficient than the outmoded Indiana facility -- could make money on an annual production of 20,000 cars. Granted permission to try, Grundy gave it his best shot.

As an economy measure, Grundy simplified the line. The Avanti, Hawk, and Challenger models were eliminated and the trucks discontinued -- none of them had been built in Canada anyway. Engines continued to come from South Bend for the time being, that part of the factory remaining in operation pending the end of its union contract.

With the announcement of the 1965 lineup, the Lark designation disappeared completely. So did the South Bend engines. The cars, nearly identical in appearance to their immediate predecessors, now utilized powerplants supplied by GM's McKinnon Industries plant in nearby St. Catharines.

Similar in design to the 194-cid six and the 283-cid V-8 used by the American Chevrolet, these engines boasted a number of components that were more stoutly built than their stateside counterparts. Unfortunately, they added $130 to the cost of producing each new Studebaker. General Motors clearly wasn't into charity!

Grundy advertised his Canadian Studebakers as "The Common-Sense Cars," (and north of the border as "Canada's Own Car") expressing the hope that annual model changes would be unnecessary. Competitive pressures forced some minor styling changes for 1966, mainly a distinctive new grille and minor exterior and interior trim changes. One new engineering innovation was "Refreshaire," Studebaker's last. It vented interior air through the trunk and outside via vents placed above the taillights.

The 1964 Studebakers came in four series -- the Challenger, Commander, Daytona, and Cruiser. The 1964 Studebakers came in four series -- the Challenger, Commander, Daytona, and Cruiser.
The 1964 Studebakers came in four series -- the Challenger, Commander, Daytona, and Cruiser.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But in the end, the Canadian effort came to naught. Sales failed to live up to Grundy's expectations, and on March 4, 1966, the word came down from the directors that production would be halted. The last cars to bear the Studebaker name rolled off the assembly line on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

The Lark had granted Studebaker a stay of execution. But with the closing of the Hamilton, Ontario, factory, another of the great names of the automotive world had passed into history.

As the French would say, "Quel dommage!" -- what a shame.

The high-performance Super Lark model was introduced next, and was often referred to as one of the first muscle cars. Continue on to the next page to learn more about the Super Lark.

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