How Studebaker Works

1958, 1959, 1960 Studebakers

Styling for the 1958 Studebakers, such as this Commander, was done on a tight budget -- and it showed.
Styling for the 1958 Studebakers, such as this Commander, was done on a tight budget -- and it showed.

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: