Studebaker Car Company (post WW2)
Article by Mark Trotta
With origins dating back to 1852, the Studebaker company has a long and colorful history. This article focuses on passenger cars built after World-War-Two.
After the Second World War ended, Studebaker was the one of the first Automakers to offer freshly-styled cars to the American public. The new 1947 models were announced in early 1946.
Offered in Coupe or convertible, the Champion was their lower-priced model. Top of the line was the Commander (coupe or convertible). Automatic transmission was available in 1949.
By the late 1940's, Studebaker was the fourth largest car company in America, right behind Ford, GM, and Chrysler.
Bullet Nose Studebaker
The "bullet nose" models were produced in 1950 and 1951.
The year 1952 was Studebaker's 100th year in business, and passenger car models saw a mild restyle. The 232 cubic-inch V8, introduced a year earlier, proved to be reliable and economical.
Starliner Hardtop And Starlight Coupe
Heralded as one of the best new car designs of the fifties, Raymond Loewy spearheaded the teams that created the 1953 Starliner and Starlight. The aerodynamic shape was unlike anything seen before.
Offered in 1953 and 1954, the Starlight was a coupe (with a B pillar), and the more expensive Starliner model was a hardtop (no B pillar).
By the early 1950's, Detroit's Big Three (General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation) were dominating new car sales, while smaller U.S. car manufacturers fought for their share of the market. Hoping to strengthen sales organizations and reduce production costs for both parties, Studebaker and Packard merged in 1954.
This special edition two-door hardtop was offered for one year only (1955). Features included leather interior, unique dash panel, and two tone paint combinations. Power was from a 259 cubic-inch small-block V8.
Studebaker Hawk Series
Produced between 1956 and 1964, the Studebaker Hawk series was designed to compete with the Ford Thunderbird and the Oldsmobile Starfire. Four models were offered; the Flight Hawk and Power Hawk cars were two-door coupes, while the Golden Hawk and Sky Hawk were hardtops.
Often confused with the later Ford V8 of the same displacement, Studebaker's 289 cubic-inch V8 debuted in 1956.
Studebaker Golden Hawk
Produced from 1956-1958, the Golden Hawk was a stylish two-door coupe weighing 3360 pounds. First-year models were powered by Packard's 352ci V8 producing 275 horsepower. At the time, it was second only to the Chrysler 300 (300 horsepower).
With Packard's V8 no longer being produced, 1957 Golden Hawks were fitted with Studebaker's 289ci V8 equipped with a McCulloch supercharger. Engine output was 275 horsepower, same as the Packard V8.
By 1958, the company's sales had fallen to their lowest level since World-War-Two. The decision was made to drop the Packard brand.
Replacing the Golden Hawk, the Silver Hawk was produced from 1959-1961 and powered by the 289 V8. A four-speed gearbox became available in 1961.
Debuting in the Fall of 1958 for the 1959 model year, the all-new Lark was available in two and four door sedans, convertible and wagon. In it's first year out, the compact Lark was very successful, and produced the highest one-year profit the company had experienced up to that time.
The Lark's success was to be short lived. In 1960, the Big Three (as well as Rambler) countered with their own compacts, and Studebaker again found itself struggling. The Lark was the last successful car for the company.
In 1962, the Gran Turismo Hawk was redesigned by Brooks Stevens, who would later go on to build the Excalibur car with Studebaker chassis and drivetrain.
In hopes to boost the company's image and attract younger buyers, Raymond Loewy was commissioned to design the new Avanti sports car in 1961.
After great initial reception and an encouraging amount of Avanti pre-orders, the factory ran into production issues. The tolerances of the 100+ fiberglass body parts and panels were off, and the cars could not be assembled. There were reports of the rear window glass popping out at high speeds due to air pressure. Months rolled on and production backed up before the Avanti was in dealer showrooms.
Indy Pace Car
For the 1962 Indianapolis 500, the new Avanti was selected to pace the field, but the company was unable to furnish a car in time. As a substitute, a 1962 Lark Daytona Convertible held the honor. This would mark the last time an independent manufacturer's car was selected to pace the Indy 500.
The 1962 Lark Pace Car was equipped with a 289 V8 producing 210 horsepower.
Closure Of South Bend Facilities
Studebaker's main production facilities were based in in South Bend, Indiana. They also had satellite plants in Ontario, Canada. Due to financial difficulties, the South Bend plant ceased automobile production in December of 1963.
On the premise that the company could still be profitable by making just 20,000 vehicles a year, all production was shifted to the Canadian plant. Studebaker engines were no longer available, in their place were Chevy straight-6 and small-block V8 engines.
Studebaker pickup trucks, in production since 1929, were discontinued in 1963.
For the 1965 model year, 19,435 cars produced, which was close to the projected goal. But with only 8,947 models sold for the 1966 model year, the decision was made to close the Ontario facilities in March of 1966, ending the company's 114 year history.