Studebaker was born in 1852 when brothers Henry and Clem built three covered wagons in South Bend, Indiana. Actually there were five Studebaker brothers, all of whom participated in company affairs over the years. By 1872, Studebaker was the largest horse-drawn vehicle manufacturer in the world.
J.M. "Wheelbarrow Johnny" was president in 1902 when Studebaker began building automobiles. The first were electrics, soon joined (and later replaced) by gas-powered models. Albert Russell Erskine, a one-time company accountant, ran the company from 1915 to 1933.
Erskine liked to say "I eat obstacles for breakfast." His energy, optimism, and efficiency multiplied Studebaker's sales and profits. The company was quite successful in the medium-price field, but Erskine wanted to expand both down- and upmarket. In 1927, a light six (dubbed Erskine) gave Studebaker a presence in low-priced field. Pierce-Arrow was acquired in '28 and gave Studebaker a strong entry in the luxury market.
Studebaker fared poorly after the 1929 stock market crash. Albert Erskine's optimism worked against him during the Depression. Instead of conserving cash reserves, he paid large dividends to Studebaker shareholders, expecting the economy to recover soon. The Depression only deepened and Erskine's policies put the company in a precarious position.
The Erskine car was a weak performer and sold poorly. It became the Studebaker Model 53 Six during 1930. Having failed with his namesake car, A.R. Erskine tried again with another low-priced "companion," the Rockne, named for then-famous Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.
This car didn't last as long as the Erskine, with just over 36,000 built in 1932-33. At $585-$735, the Rockne should have sold well in those deep Depression years, but a lack of power was a handicap, compounded by iffy workmanship. Yet another Erskine error was selling a Studebaker called Dictator. The name seemed downright unpatriotic as real-life dictators Hitler and Mussolini consolidated their power, yet it persisted through 1937.
Excluding the Erskine, Studebaker's 1930 line encompassed no fewer than six engines and seven series. A six and eight, both 221-cubic-inch inline units of similar power, featured in that year's 115-inch-wheelbase Dictator and 120-inch Commander series. Low-priced 114-inch-wheelbase Standard Sixes anchored the line.
At the top were magnificent President Eights, offered on both a 125-inch-wheelbase chassis and a special 135-inch platform. These were the finest automobiles South Bend built in this decade -- perhaps the best ever.
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1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Studebakers
For 1931, Studebaker dropped the Dictator Six, but retained the Dictator Eight. Wheelbases stretched to 124 inches on Commanders and to 130/136 on Presidents. At midyear, the 221 Dictator eight was booted from 70 to 81 bhp, and the long-stroke 250.4-cid Commander unit was pushed to 101. Prices were adjusted to cover a slightly broader range of $795-$2550, versus 1930's $895-$2595.
This same lineup returned for 1932, when either a small 205-cid six or smaller 190-cid six powered the Rockne. The senior-line six, a stroked 230 with 80 bhp, went into a new 117-inch-wheelbase Standard chassis that also served Dictator Eights. The Commander's wheelbase increased an inch. All Presidents had a 135-inch wheelbase.
For 1933, Commanders rode a 117-inch wheelbase with a smaller 235-cid straight eight, but at 100 bhp, it had almost the same power. The President retained its 135-inch chassis and the smooth 337-cid 135-bhp eight. The 125-inch-wheelbase President returned -- this time with a smaller 250-cid eight rated at 125 horsepower. The Dictator name was wisely dropped for that year.
Curiously, the Dictator name returned for '34. Comprising Standard, Special, and Deluxe models, Dictators had a 113-inch-wheelbase and were powered by a 205 six with 88 bhp. That year's Commanders rode a 119-inch wheelbase and carried a revived 221 eight, albeit with 103 bhp. Presidents were downgraded to a 110-bhp, 250-cid eight and now rode a 123-inch chassis.
Sales dwindled from over 123,000 for 1930 to under 26,000 for '32, dropping the make from fourth to 11th. Studebaker finished 14th for 1933, when it went into receivership after a hoped-for merger with White Motors fell through. With that, company head Albert Russell Erskine resigned, then committed suicide soon afterward.
Stepping into this managerial breach were production vice-president Harold S. Vance and sales VP Paul G. Hoffman, who would jointly guide Studebaker through 1949. They quickly got rid of Pierce-Arrow (the luxury market had evaporated), then took steps to get idle production lines moving again.
As a result, Studebaker made a small profit in 1934, enough to secure a line of credit and get out of receivership. Production promptly moved up to near 60,000 from 1933's paltry 12,500, lifting the make to eighth in the industry. Output slipped below 44,000 for '35, but recovered to near 56,000 and some 98,000 for 1936-37, respectively, when Studebaker finished 11th and tenth.
Part of this success reflected a reversal of Erskine's "full-line" market approach. Studebaker's 1934-35 line comprised just three series: Dictator Six, Commander Eight, and President Eight. Commanders then took a two-year vacation.
For 1934, Studebaker introduced streamlined "Year Ahead" models with pontoon fenders and rounded grilles. Rumble-seat body types departed the following year. For more on defunct American cars, see:
1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940 Studebakers
"Potato" shapes were evident for 1936-37, as most everywhere else, yet Studebaker managed a handsome, individual appearance. Offerings in both those years comprised 116-inch-wheelbase Dictators and Presidents that rode 125-inch chassis.
For 1938 styling, Studebaker executive Paul G. Hoffmann hired Raymond Loewy, the brilliant industrial designer who'd created the 1932-34 "Aerodynamic" Hupmobiles. This first of many Loewy projects at South Bend produced a prominent prow-type radiator with pod headlights snugged in between it and the fenders, plus GM-style "catwalk" trim on some models.
Those offerings involved a revived Commander Six with five body styles, a replacement for the departed Dictator on a slightly longer 116.5-inch chassis. The same platform supported four State Commander Eights, while a newly abbreviated 122-inch chassis appeared under four State Presidents. The 1939 models had headlamps moved out into the fenders and more horizontal grillework to match.
Though Studebaker earned a respectable $2 million for 1936, profits slimmed to just $812,000 for '37, followed by a deficit of $1.76-million in recession-plagued 1938. But things improved markedly in '39, when model-year car production jumped nearly 50 percent to almost 86,000. From there, it went nowhere but up until the war.
The big reason for this roaring success was the cleanly styled Champion, available as a new economy coupe, club sedan, and four-door Cruising Sedan on a 110-inch wheelbase. Pitched in the $660-$800 range, it cost only $25-$40 more than the "Low-Priced Three."
Though carefully weight-engineered by engineering VP Roy Cole and project chief Eugene Hardig, the Champ was no less substantial than a Commander or President. Its new 164.3-cid L-head six was smaller than rival engines and made less power -- 78 bhp initially -- but the Champ delivered comparable performance because it weighed an average 500-600 pounds less.
Though no match for a V-8/85 Ford, it would run up to 78 mph -- equal to or better than Chevy, Plymouth, and the Ford V-8/60. Mileage and durability were fantastic.
With all this, the Champ scored nearly 34,000 model-year sales despite its midseason debut, lofting Studebaker back up to seventh in the industry with total 1939 car production just short of 86,000. Coupled with the much-reduced break-even point of 75,000 cars wrought by Hoffman and Vance, South Bend earned $2.9 million.
You don't mess with a savior, so Champ changes for 1940 were limited to finer grille bars, sealed-beam headlamps per industry practice, new Custom DeLuxe trim, and a second coupe with rear "opera seat." Series production nearly doubled for the model year, hitting 66,264.
Commanders and Presidents returned with wheelbases and engines unchanged in 1938-39, but lost their convertible sedans, leaving each with a coupe, Cruising Sedan, and two-door club sedan; Commander still listed a business coupe as well. Front ends were more Lincoln-like than Champion's, with sharper prows and a split, roughly heart-shaped vertical-bar grille. Presidents sold for about $125 more than comparable Commanders, which ranged upward of $200 above the Champs.
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1941, 1942 Studebakers
Studebaker designer Raymond Loewy reworked the entire line for 1941, giving the cars slightly sharper noses and lower, wider vertical-bar grilles. The engines were reworked, too. Champ's was stroked to 169.6 cid and 80 bhp, while more-subtle changes lifted Commander's six to 94 bhp and the President's silky nine-main straight-eight to 117.
1941 was another excellent Studebaker sales year, though the make slipped from eighth to ninth in the model-year production race. Still, Champ attracted nearly 85,000 buyers to become the single best-selling line in Studebaker history, and Commander rose from just under 35,000 to nearly 42,000. President maintained its low-volume tradition with just under 7000 model-year sales, up only 500 from 1940.
A wider, heavier-looking, and rather Chevy-like "face" arrived for war-shortened '42, when DeLux-tone models were renamed "Deluxstyle." Studebaker touted a "new, perfected Turbo-matic Drive" as a Commander/President option. This was much like Chrysler's semiautomatic Fluid Drive, a manual transmission with a fluid coupling allowing clutchless changes within two gear ranges.
Studebaker returned to eighth for the model year by building some 50,000 cars before February 1942, when the government ended consumer production for the duration of World War II.
Studebaker's military output was numerous and varied, chiefly trucks (where the firm had an equally long and successful record) but also airplane engines and "Weasel" personnel carriers. Thanks largely to the success of the '39 Champion, Studebaker had turned over its styling chores to Loewy Associates, an outside firm not entirely occupied with defense contracts. As a result, Studebaker was able to introduce all-new postwar cars in the spring of 1946 -- well ahead of everyone else except industry newcomer Kaiser-Frazer. Earlier that year, Studebaker returned to civilian car sales with Skyway Champions, slightly altered versions of the 1942 Champ three- and five-passenger coupe and two- and four-door sedan. Changes were few and modest: an upper-grille molding that extended beneath the headlamps, optional lamps atop the fenders, and the elimination of hoodside moldings. Only 19,275 were built before South Bend changed over to the all-new '47s. For more on defunct American cars, see:
1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 Studebakers
Costing some $11 million to develop, the appealing 1947 Studebakers -- the first new models since 1942, because of World War II -- had evolved from sketches done as early as 1940 by young Robert E. Bourke. It was that work that prompted Bourke's hiring at design firm Loewy Associates by Virgil M. Exner, the group's chief stylist.
Exner had joined Loewy before the war after a career at Pontiac. Though Exner began the '47 Studebaker program, he left Loewy before the design was finalized, so the end product was a blend of Exner and Bourke ideas.
Postwar Presidents were still some years off in 1947, but Commanders returned along with Champions. The latter, no longer called Skyway, were little changed mechanically, but rode a two-inch-longer wheelbase. A special 123-inch chassis was reserved for a lush new Commander Land Cruiser priced at $2043.
Other Commanders retained the prewar 119-inch wheelbase. Both series listed two- and four-door sedans (the latter now with "suicide" back doors), long-deck three-seater coupe, and a new five-passenger "Starlight" coupe with radical three-element wraparound rear window. All were available with base DeLuxe trim or, for about $120 more, in new Regal DeLuxe form.
Also new were a pair of Regal convertibles, a $1902 Champ and $2236 Commander. Studebaker returned to profitability in 1947, earning more than $9 million on 58.5-percent higher calendar-year car/truck sales.
The upward trend continued in 1948, with $19 million in earnings on calendar-year output of over a quarter-million cars and trucks -- both Studebaker records. Predictably, South Bend's cars changed little for '48, though a winged hood medallion provided instant identification.
Another, more significant linewide change was a price hike averaging $200, bringing stickers to $1535-$2430 in reflection of strong postwar inflation. South Bend moved up a notch on the industry roster, finishing seventh for the model year with nearly 185,000 cars.
Though brand-new styling was planned for 1949 to one-up the competition again, lack of time precluded it, so Studebaker settled for refinements. Champs sported a new grille composed of horizontal and vertical louvers forming three rows of rectangular openings, and the Commander six was stroked to 245.6 cid, good for an even 100 bhp. Despite the lack of change, profits soared to $27.5 million. Studebaker was 98 years young in 1950, which would be its best-ever car year. Model-year production totaled 343,166. Grand preparations were underway for the firm's "second century," about which there were many equally grand predictions. But, of course, that second 100 years would be cut far short -- to exactly 14. Seeking to look fresh against newer-design rivals for 1950, Studebaker gave its basic '47 bodies a dramatic cowl-forward facelift that was controversial at the time. According to designer Bob Bourke, the new "bullet nose" front was ordered by the French-accented Loewy with the words, "Now Bob, eet has to look like zee aeroplane." It did, and had the most-bizarre face of any American car since Graham's abortive 1939-40 "Sharknose."
The new front increased wheelbase a nominal one inch for all 1950 Studebakers, bringing Champs up to 113 inches and Commanders to 120. Engines were unchanged. So was the line-up, except for a quartet of price-leading Champ Customs in the low $1400s. That year's Land Cruiser was tagged at $2187.
The year's big technical news was "Automatic Drive" as an across-the-board option. Studebaker had designed this excellent new fully self-shifting transmission in cooperation with the Detroit Gear Division of Borg-Warner -- the only postwar automatic developed by an independent other than Packard's Ultramatic.
Wheelbases were rearranged again for 1951, thanks to an improved chassis with better brakes, easier "center-point" steering, and a 115-inch wheelbase for all models (up two on Champions, down five on Commanders) except the Land Cruiser, which got a 119-inch spread.
Champ power was unchanged, but there was big news in Studebaker's first V-8, a new standard for Commanders. Sized at 232.6 cid, it pumped out 120 bhp by conventional means, although overhead cams and hemispherical combustion chambers had been considered.
Rising production costs forced Studebaker to raise prices a bit for 1951, and again at midyear for a range running $1560-$2380. But buyers seemed happy to pay for South Bend's lively new V-8, which boosted Commander sales no less than 70 percent.
Appearance changes for '51 were slight. The bullet nose was toned down by painting its chrome outer ring, the prominent air vents above the sub-grilles were erased, and model names were spelled out on hood leading edges. However you think it looks now, the 1950-51 bullet nose was quite salable. Though Korean War restrictions held 1951 car production to 268,566, Studebaker actually increased its market share from 4.02 to 4.17 percent.
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1952, 1953, 1954 Studebakers
An all-new Studebaker was planned for centennial 1952, with unit construction and evolutionary bullet-nose styling. But though this "N-Series" progressed to a running prototype, it was abandoned due to continuing government restraints on civilian goods and a big upturn in Studebaker's military business.
Accordingly, the '47 platform was facelifted one last time for '52, gaining a low and toothy full-width grille dubbed "the clam digger" by Loewy Associates stylists. Offerings stood pat with the exception of the belated addition of new Starliner hardtop coupes. As in '51, trim levels comprised Custom, DeLuxe, and Regal for Champion; Regal and State for Commander. Starliners were top-liners.
To no one's surprise, Studebaker paced the 1952 Indy 500, and a Champ and Commander scored class wins in that year's Mobilgas Economy Run. But Studey's centennial saw production of just 186,239 units.
Studebaker updated its look in literal high style for the first model year of its second century. Headlining the all-new '53 line were the now-legendary "Loewy coupes." These were sleek, low, and clean -- triumphs of good taste.
There were six in all: pillarless Regal Starliner and pillared Deluxe and Regal Starlights, Commander, and Champion. Despite the "Loewy" nickname, the basic design was actually the work of Bob Bourke. It was first intended only for a show car, but Loewy himself convinced Studebaker management that it should be put into production.
Perfect from every angle, the Loewy coupe mounted a new 120.5-inch Land Cruiser chassis rather than the 116.5-inch platform used for other models. Advertised as the "new European look," it's still widely regarded as America's best automotive design of the decade. Studebaker's 1953 two- and four-door sedans were almost as pretty, bearing coupe lines but necessarily stubbier and more upright on the shorter wheelbase.
Ominously, tooling the '53 line delayed its production, which ended at a disappointing 169,899. Worse, when things finally did get rolling, demand for coupes was four times that for sedans. Management had expected just the reverse, and both time and sales were lost in switching around.
On top of that coupe frames were too light and the flexing resulted in squeaks and rattles. Still, Studebaker managed a slim $2.69 million profit for the fiscal year.
Eggcrate grille inserts identified the predictably little-changed '54 models, which again included the "Loewys," a pair of cheap Champ Custom sedans, and Deluxe and Regal sedans in each line. A belated newcomer was the two-door all-steel Conestoga, Studebaker's first station wagon. Named for the famous "prairie schooners" of the firm's infancy, it came as Deluxe and Regal Champs and Commanders.
Also new for '54 were seven extra horses for Commanders and larger brakes across the board. More importantly, the coupe's frame was beefed-up, but Studebaker's reputation had already been hurt by the poor quality of the '53s.
But Studebaker's weaknesses were now painfully apparent. On "pricing out" a Commander Starliner using the General Motors cost structure, Bourke found that Chevrolet could have sold it for $1900; Studebaker charged $2500.
Meanwhile, the "Ford Blitz" was on, as Dearborn waged a no-holds-barred price war with GM. Though neither giant damaged the other, they wreaked havoc on independents like Studebaker, whose model-year volume plunged to 81,930.
But just as things looked blackest, Nash president George Mason persuaded Packard president James J. Nance to purchase Studebaker as a prelude to combining with Nash and Hudson to form Mason's hoped-for American Motors.
The Packard takeover was duly accomplished in October 1954, ushering in the able Nance to preside over a new Studebaker-Packard Corporation. But when Mason died suddenly that same month, so did his dream of a "Big Four."
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1955, 1956, 1957 Studebakers
Even while being purchased by Packard, Studebaker hitched hopes for higher sales to a group of facelifted '55s laden with chrome. Among them were the first postwar President models: top-line Deluxe and State four-door sedans (replacing Land Cruiser) and pillared and pillarless State coupes.
More power was the order of the day. The Champ six was stroked to 185.6 cid and 101 bhp. Commander's V-8 was pumped up to 140 bhp despite a downsizing to 224.3 cid. Presidents arrived with a 232 bored out to 259 cid, good for 175 bhp. Seeking to hold production costs, Studebaker discarded Automatic Drive for Borg-Warner's cheaper "Flight-O-Matic."
But sales still lagged, so a raft of changes were made in January '55. Commander was promoted to a 162-bhp "Bearcat" 259 (an optional "High Power Kit" added 20 bhp more), and Presidents graduated to a 185-bhp "Passmaster" version.
At the same time, noncoupe Presidents and Commanders gained trendy "Ultra Vista" wrapped windshields, and a jazzy President Speedster hardtop bowed with "quilted" leather interior, full instrumentation in a tooled-metal dash, and wild two-tone paint schemes like pink and black and "lemon and lime."
But because it listed at a pricey $3253, the Speedster was not a big seller (just 2215 built). Neither were its linemates. In a year when most makes set new sales records, Studebaker managed only 133,826 cars. At this point, South Bend needed about 250,000 annual car sales just to break even.
A game reskin for '56 achieved a squarer look announced by large mesh-filled grilles. Commander and Champion gained inexpensive two-door "sedanets" priced under $2000, a spiffy long-chassis Classic sedan joined the President range at $2489, and wagons got new names: Pelham (Champion), Parkview (Commander), and Pinehurst (President). Coupes were dubbed the Hawk line of "family sports cars." The last '50s Studebakers styled by the Loewy team, they featured an admirably restrained facelift of the original 1953 coupe, with modest tailfins and a large square grille riding high on an elevated hood. Deluxe interiors featured tooled-metal dash trim, as on the '55 Speedster. There were four versions, pillared Flight Hawk and Power Hawk, and hardtop Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk. All were good-looking, competent through curves, and impressive on straights. Topping Studebaker's '56 engine chart was a 275-bhp 352 V-8 from new partner Packard as exclusive power for the Golden Hawk. Champs, Flight Hawk, and the Pelham wagon carried an unchanged six, while 259 V-8s now delivered 170/185 bhp in Commander/Power Hawk/Parkview. A new long-stroke 289 version offered 195/210/225 bhp in Presidents/Sky Hawk/Pinehurst. The Flight Hawk listed below $2000 and the Golden Hawk at $3061, so Studebaker's "family sports cars" were good buys in 1956. Trouble was, they were peripheral sellers appealing mainly to enthusiasts, while the bread-and-butter models appealed to few mainstream buyers. Studebaker thus managed just 85,462 of its '56 cars, including 19,165 Hawks. But the worst was yet to come: In 1957-58, Studebaker and Packard combined couldn't sell more than 80,000 cars a year. In May 1956, Packard president James J. Nance arranged with Curtiss-Wright Corporation, through its president, Roy Hurley, for "advisory management services" -- in other words, a cash bailout. With that, plans for an expansive new 1957 S-P line were abruptly canceled and Nance resigned along with Studebaker chairman Paul Hoffman and president Harold Vance. This left Hurley to preside over a group of 1957-58 Studebakers restyled in the only possible way -- on the cheap.
Duncan McRae did the deed, giving standard '57s a full-width grille and grossly distended rear fenders suggesting fins. Hawks gained prominent fins that didn't seriously detract from overall appearance. Models were cut to Deluxe and Custom Champ and Commander sedans, Pelham and Parkview wagons, three President sedans, Golden Hawk, and a new pillared Silver Hawk available with six or 289 V-8.
Somehow, Studebaker also managed four-door wagons, offered as Commander Provincial and President Broadmoor. Higher compression lifted the 259-cid V-8 to 180/195 bhp, and the Golden Hawk exchanged its Packard engine for a Paxton-supercharged Studebaker 289 delivering the same 275 bhp.
Another attempt to spark sales produced the midyear Scotsman, a miserly wagon and two sedans offering six-cylinder power -- and very little else -- for well under $2000. Some 9300 were sold, but overall '57 sales did not spark, and model-year car production ended at only 74,738.
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1958, 1959, 1960 Studebakers
The '58s continued a downward spiral for struggling Studebaker of ugly cars designed on the cheap, with hastily contrived four-headlamp fronts and even-more-garish trim. Commander and President models introduced new Starlight hardtop coupes on the 116.5-inch chassis, but the overall lineup was thinner.
The Scotsmans did well in that recession year with nearly 21,000 sales. A good thing, too, for total volume dropped again, this time to 62,114.
Studebaker might have died right there had it not been for the sudden success of the compact Lark. Replacing all the old standard models for 1959, this retained the basic sedan/wagon inner structure used since '53, but shorn of all the extra sheetmetal hung on it in the intervening years, good for a loss of up to 200 pounds in curb weight.
In its place, designer Duncan McRae applied simple, clean, well-formed styling announced by a Hawk-like grille and a return to dual headlamps. The 169.6-cid six also returned, making 90 bhp in "Lark VI" Deluxe and Regal two- and four-door sedans, two-door wagons, and Regal hardtop coupe.
A Regal four-door, hardtop, and wagon comprised the "Lark VIII" series with standard two-barrel 180-bhp 259 V-8; optional "Power Pack" four-barrel carb and dual exhaust added 15 horses. Wagons rode the familiar 113-inch wheelbase, but other Larks sat on a trim new 108.5-inch span.
With all this, the Lark was lively (0-60 in under 10 seconds with 180-bhp V-8) yet economical (over 22 mpg easy) and surprisingly roomy. Aided by starting prices below $2000, it was a smash hit, garnering 131,078 sales. Studebaker didn't give up on "family sports cars" for '59, but the only one it offered was a pillared Silver Hawk. Available with six or either Lark V-8, it added only 7788 units to total model-year production. Still, Studebaker found its way out of the financial woods, earning its first profit in six years on a startling sales gain of over 250 percent from abysmal 1958.
Lark was predictably little changed for 1960. Minor trim was shuffled, and the grille went from horizontal bars to mesh. Four-door wagons returned for the first time since 1958, and that year's Lark VIII line offered Studebaker's first convertible in eight years, a $2756 Regal. Prices were bumped up slightly across the line, and this together with new Big Three competition cost some sales.
Meanwhile, South Bend's lone "family sports car" carried on as simply the Hawk. Its main 1960 change involved engines: V-8s were now exclusively 289s with 210 standard bhp or 225 with optional "Power Pack." Though dated, the V-8 Hawk remained a fine value at $2650, and was still a good performer. But model-year sales dropped by almost half from '59, to 3939, owing to a dearth of dealers, continued advertising emphasis on Lark, and steadily diminishing demand.
Ominously, Lark volume also fell by more than half for 1961 despite revised outer sheetmetal imparting a slightly squarer look, quad headlamps on V-8 models, a new overhead-valve head that turned the old six into a new 112-bhp "Skybolt Six," and the addition of a V-8 Lark Cruiser. The last, reviving Studebaker's luxury-sedan idea, rode the wagon chassis and boasted a richly upholstered interior with extra rear legroom. Hawk returned with a narrow contrast-color panel beneath its fins and newly optional four-speed gearbox, but sales slipped to 3340. For more on defunct American cars, see:
Studebaker Lark and Studebaker Hawk
Studebaker got a new president in early '61 when the dynamic Sherwood H. Egbert replaced the embattled Harold Churchill, who'd held the job since August 1958.
Shortly after he arrived, Egbert asked Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens to rework both the Lark and Hawk for 1962 on a six-month "crash" basis. Company styling chief Randall Faurot stepped aside, and Stevens whipped up cheap but remarkably effective makeovers.
All Larks now wore quad headlamps, plus elongated rear quarters, large round taillights, a Mercedes-like grille (Studebaker had been the North American Mercedes-Benz distributor since 1958 via Curtiss-Wright), and crisper nonwagon rooflines. Two-door wagons vanished, but there were four new Daytona models: a six and V-8 convertible and hardtop coupe with bucket seats, deluxe trim, and an available European-type sliding cloth sunroof for the hardtop.
For the '62 Hawk, Stevens resurrected the pillarless "Loewy" body and applied square, Thunderbird-style rear roof quarters, a matching tail bereft of fins, and a thrust-forward grille. He also penned a new dash with a full set of round gauges in a large rectangle with outboard ends canted in toward the driver.
Retitled Gran Turismo Hawk and offered only with the previous pair of 289 V-8s, it was a deft piece of work. Quick, too, with the optional 225-bhp engine good for 120 mph all out and under 10 seconds 0-60 mph. Though heavy, the 289 was strong, with far greater power potential than its modest size implied -- as we'd soon see.
Helped by an attractive $3095 base price, the GT Hawk attracted nearly 8400 buyers. Total Studebaker car sales jumped by over 30,000 to some 101,400. Regrettably, that would be the firm's only gain of the decade.
Stevens made further refinements for '63. Larks got raked A-pillars and new windshields, thinner door-window frames, a finely checked grille, and a new Hawk-style dash with round gauges, rocker switches, and a "vanity" glovebox with pop-up mirror.
Also new, and quite novel, was Steven's "Wagonaire." Offered in Standard, Regal, and Daytona form, this boasted a unique rear roof panel that could be slid forward for unlimited "head room" -- perfect for hauling tall loads. But Wagonaires leaked badly even when buttoned up, which likely explains why cheaper fixed-roof Stude wagons were reinstated during the year. Further expanding the '63 line were six and V-8 sedans in Standard and nicer new Custom trim, the latter priced between Regal and Daytona.
The '63 GT Hawk displayed a revised grille similar to Lark's, round parking lights (amber, per new federal law), woodgrain dash trim, and pleated-vinyl seats. By midseason, both Lark and Hawk could be ordered with new "Avanti" 289 V-8s: a 240-bhp R1 and a 290-bhp supercharged R2 respectively priced at $210 and $372. An R2-equipped "Super Hawk" exceeded 140 mph at Bonneville that year; an R2 "Super Lark" did over 132 mph. Those engines were named for the totally unexpected grand-touring Studebaker that broke cover in early 1962.
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Easily the most-stunning South Bend product in a decade, the Avanti lived up to its name -- "forward" in Italian -- brilliantly conceived by Raymond Loewy and his stellar team of John Ebstein, Robert Andrews and Tom Kellogg.
Because new Studebaker designer Brooks Stevens was occupied with updating higher-volume models, president Sherwood H. Egbert had turned to longtime designer Loewy Associates for the exotic sporty car he felt would rejuvenate Studebaker's sagging image when it bowed in 1962 -- a swoopy four-seat coupe of the sort Loewy had been designing for years.
As with Chevrolet's first Corvette of a decade before, fiberglass was chosen for the Avanti bodyshell to minimize both time and tooling costs. Those same factors nixed an all-new chassis, but chief engineer Gene Hardig beefed up a Lark rag-top frame with front/rear antiroll bars, rear radius rods, and the Bendix front-disc power brakes newly optional for the '63 Lark and Hawk (the first caliper discs in U.S. production, by the way).
The 289 V-8 was heavily revised to become a "Jet Thrust." The basic R1 employed 3/4-race high-lift cam, dual-breaker distributor, four-barrel carb, and dual exhaust. Andy Granatelli's Paxton Products, then part of Studebaker, added a Paxton supercharger to create the R2.
They also devised a trio of bored-out, 304.5-cid extensions: blown R3 with 9.6:1 compression and 335 bhp; naturally aspirated R4 with twin four-barrels, 12:1 compression, and 280 bhp; and the experimental R5 with twin blowers (one per cylinder bank), magneto ignition, Bendix fuel injection, and no less than 575 bhp.
Immediately generating high excitement, the Avanti promised to pack Studebaker showrooms like nothing else in years. Calamitously, production was delayed a critical six months by botched bodies from the supplier, Molded Fiber Glass Company (which also built Corvette shells), forcing Studebaker to set up its own fiberglass production.
By the time these and other bugs were squashed, most buyers with advance orders had canceled and bought Corvettes. Thus, just 3834 Avantis (including 500 exports) were built for '63.
Overall, Studebaker's 1963 volume was well down from '62, skidding to 81,660. Only Lincoln and Imperial ranked lower among major U.S. makes. Egbert, who'd been repeatedly hospitalized of late, left in November, never to return. (Sadly, he would die of cancer in 1969.)
A month later, new president Byers Burlingame announced the closure of Studebaker's historic South Bend plant after failed last-ditch efforts to obtain financing for future models. Operations were consolidated at the Hamilton, Ontario, assembly plant, where management hoped to return to profitability on 20,000 cars a year, all family compacts.
With that, the Avanti and GT Hawk were unceremoniously dumped after a token run of little-changed '64 models: just 809 and 1767, respectively (including exports).
For more on defunct American cars, see:
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.