This is possibly the most beautiful pickup truck ever produced –
—- -the 1958 Studebaker Transtar Pickup Truck.
of South Bend, Indiana,
produced high quality
and beautifully designed automobiles from 1907 to 1966…
from the Studebaker Electric
to the Studebaker Daytona —
Here’s a brief history.
1948 Studebaker Foldout
With only three major U.S. car makers today,
…it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that at one time, American manufacturers dominated the world car market—
…….. and that there have been over 1800 U.S. automobile companies since 1896 !
One of the most highly regarded of those was the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, which produced automobiles from 1907 to 1966.
Their cars had a reputation for being reliable, well made, and thoughtfully engineered.
Several of the cars they designed are popular with restorers,
…………. and one was still being replicated in 2006 !
This car, the Avanti,
was a cutting edge sport car —
Maurice Hendry called it:
“.. one of the more significant milestones of the postwar industry ” .
Avanti was a fiberglass-bodied 2 door sports luxury coupe, based on a modified Studebaker Lark, with a 289 V-8 Studebaker Hawk engine, making 240 horsepower —
— 300 with the optional Paxton supercharger.
It was the first American production car to feature front disk brakes.
It is thought of by many enthusiasts as one of the most beautiful cars Studebaker ever produced.
In addition to many two door replicas, there are also about 90 four-door Avanti made by the Avanti Corporation — these are rare, but they are out there.
But, the Avanti is only a small part of the very interesting story of Studebaker.
Studebaker Corporation started out making wagons in the 1840’s.
The company’s fortunes were boosted by the California Gold Rush, and the resulting mining and land boom.
They built their first car in 1902– an electric model, which they produced until 1911.
Their first gasoline powered model was produced in conjunction with the Garford Motor Car Company in 1904, but this arrangement wasn’t advantageous to Studebaker, and they switched to licensing E-M-F ( Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Inc. ) in Detroit to build their cars.
This was a disastrous move, however….
… the E-M-F made cars had terrible build quality and were known to be extremely unreliable.
Mechanics would call the E-M-F cars ” Every Morning Fixits ” , and sales plummeted.
In 1911, the company reorganized and committed itself to producing and developing a name for quality.
Toward this aim, they paid mechanics to repair and replace defective parts on the EMF made vehicles, especially the often-faulty rear ends, and although it cost the company over 1 million dollars, it did help reassure potential buyers for the new Studebaker marqueed gasoline cars,
In 1913, the company was the first to employ monobloc engine casting in their six-cylinder models, which were very dependable and made repairs both easier and more standardized.
Six cylinder engines became the rule in 1916, and in 1919, the company started making trucks with those same powerful, dependable engines…… including buses, fire engines– even locomotives.
Until 1927, all Studebakers made in the 1920’s were six cylinders, which were well suited for the state of the road system..
— but the 1927 8-cylinder President gave Studebaker a big, powerful luxury car with a smooth, balanced ride.
The Great Depression almost destroyed the company,
But by the dawn of World War II,
they were very profitable and were producing cars in record numbers.
They had plants in South Bend, Detroit, and an assembly plant in Walkerville, Canada, producing cars for the British Commonwealth market with right hand drive.
Popular models included the President,
( the replacement in the line for the ‘Dictator’ which was made from 1927-1937 )
and , in 1939, the Champion.
The extremely popular and low priced Champion, designed by Virgil Exner and Raymond Loewry, doubled the company’s previous years sales figures it’s first year.
It was tough, light weight, economical, and designed from the ground up —
— it had a 2.7 liter, straight six engine that got about 27 miles per gallon.
That same assembly line switched over to war production in 1942, and manufactured some very high quality military vehicles during the war,
including the US6 truck, and the M29 Weasel personnel carrier.
Studebaker came roaring out of the gate after World War II,
……and their slogan was:
“First by far with a post war car“.
They moved their Canadian assembly plant to Hamilton, Ontario, retooled their South Bend operations…
They dropped the ‘President’ from their line, and made the ‘Commander’ their premium car–
…… a larger wheel based model of the Commander was released as the ‘Land Cruiser’ .
( The ‘President’ regained it’s position as top of the line when it was re-released in 1955.)
And in 1947, came out with the very innovative Studebaker “Starlight ” two–door coupe design concept, which was offered on the Champion and Commander lines…
…. which is still noted for it’s panoramic wrap around glass, and futuristic look.
In the fifties, the economic climate made it difficult for small auto manufacturers to compete with the Ford and General Motors,
— and there was an attempt made to merge Studebaker with Packard, Hudson, and Nash, to create a third large car company —
however this eventually was abandoned as impractical.
Studebaker did manage a strategic takeover over it’s rival Packard,
( the pin-up at the bottom of this post features a Packard-Studebaker Clipper )
but this did little to improve Studebakers’ balance sheet,
with production and labor costs running riot.
It is ironic that this period in time also marks the manufacture of some of Studebaker’s most interesting and innovative cars.
Studebaker was struggling for it’s very survival, and they pulled out all the stops in their design department.
While other companies were making clunky, inefficient models with large fins, garish trim features, and such…
Studebaker models were streamlined, economical, and thoughtfully appointed.
Their model offerings during this time offer some insight on where the company was going …
The Studebaker-Packard Hawk series included what could be rightly called the first muscle car–
The Raymond Loewy designed Golden Hawk, with a 310 hp 374 c.i. V-8 engine and a double four barrel carb, in a very lightweight vehicle—
……… it could out-accelerate both the Corvette and the Thunderbird in the quarter mile.
There was also a Power Hawk ,
and Sky Hawk –
made only in 1956, the Silver Hawk made from 1957 to 1959.
Another interesting Studebaker of the era was the 1955 Speedster —
This car was basically a low slung ‘President’ hardtop coupe with a special equipment and trim package.
The Speedster came standard with automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, dual exhaust with tailpipe extensions, custom gauges , upgraded interior touches including hand sewn top grain leather seats — plus a special hood length ornament, stainless steel roof band, etc…
The most memorable option was the choice of factory two or three-toned paint jobs….
the ‘lemon-lime’ combo ,
which Studebaker called ‘ Hialeah Green ‘ & ‘ Sun Valley Yellow ‘, is often seen at car shows today.
The Conestoga was a mid-sized all steel bodied station wagon made by Studebaker in 1954 and 1955.
It was a two door wagon, with a two piece tail gate/lift gate on a 116.5 inch wheelbase.. when the rear seat and tail gate were flipped down, there was about 88 inches floor room.
Two engine options were available, a straight six or a V-8 delivering about 120 horsepower…
— and a choice of an automatic transmission, and a manual with or without overdrive.
It was widely used by police and fire departments, and as ambulances and hearses.
The ‘ Lark ‘ was Studebaker’s compact car from 1959 right up to the end of U.S. production in December, 1963 ..
It was hoped that by emphasis on producing smaller cars, the company’s management might be able to save Studebaker from its dire financial situation, and the ‘Lark’ was to be the leading edge of that emphasis.
It was a very practical and well designed car, and had room for 6 passengers…
this was due to the fact that the Lark was built on the body-core and wheelbase of the ‘Commander’.
It was also reasonably inexpensive,
although it went through a bewildering array of model names, series and different trim levels.
Challenger, Commander, Daytona, Cruiser, Wagonaire all were used in conjunction with the Lark ,
and the car was available in 2 door and 4 door sedans, 2 door coupes and convertibles, 2 and 4 door wagons, two series depending on engine type, and in three trim levels, ‘standard’, ‘deluxe’, and ‘regal’.
It was the first compact car to offer a V-8 engine option…
a 289 ci v-8 boasting about 180 hp, and a redesigned straight “Skybolt Six” 170ci with overhead valves that would make about 112 hp.
In 1963, the “second generation” Lark, restyled and offering even more options, was released, but it wasn’t enough to save the company.
The last “Studebaker” , a 1964 “Bordeaux Red” Lark Daytona two door hardtop, rolled off the South Bend assembly line and onto the floor of the Studebaker Museum on December 20, 1963.
From 1964 to 1966, the Lark was still being made at the Hamilton, Ontario plant, and these cars are referred to as the “third generation” Lark.
Their last car was a “Timberline Turquoise” Lark Cruiser four-door sedan, was built on March 16, 1966 , which also can be seen at the museum….
But, such a complicated story cannot have such a simple ending…
……………. and so it should also be with Studebaker.
There were apparently several thousand more Larks made under license at the Ilin plant in Haifa, Israel until 1967.
And we have already discussed the story of the Avanti.
But, it seems there may be some automotive life left for the Studebaker name as well…….
As of 2012, a new company calling itself the “Studebaker Motor Company” was working up a brand new SUV type vehicle :
… ” to create vehicles that are in some way reminiscent of classic Studebakers, or in other words, definitively Studebaker, yet brought into the 21st Century, and again to see Studebaker Motor Company the American Icon it once was. ”
But, so far,
and it’s been 5 years now, nada.
For those of you
who are all around vintage Studebaker affectionados,
…. might I suggest the Studebaker Drivers Club,
……….. for all things and information related to rallies and such.
HIT THE ROAD ( in whatever you drive )
………………. and SEE AMERICA !!!