- Studebaker Champ
The Studebaker Champ was a light-duty
pickup truckproduced by the Studebaker Corporationfrom 1960 to 1964.
Designed at a time when Studebaker's truck line hadn't seen major upgrading in over 10 years, the company, which had been through many years of flagging sales, was forced to use a number of existing components, but the result was impressive to say the least.
The chassis and cargo box of the Champ were basically the same as what had been used for Studebaker's half-ton and three-quarter-ton trucks since 1949, but the cab section was very different from what had gone before. The company's perennial cash-flow problems dictated that the company couldn't afford an entirely new cab, so the engineers whipped up a suitable cab based on the four-door Lark sedan, cut off behind the front doors and modified slightly to fit the truck chassis. The Lark's front end sheetmetal was retained as well, but funds were allocated to give the Champ a new horizontal-bar grille that delivered a "tougher" look.
Studebaker equipped the Champ with engines that had served well in the company's lineup for years. Buyers in 1960 could choose the last of the company's flathead sixes, either the Lark's 170-cubic-inch (90 horsepower) or the ancient 245-cubic-inch "Big Six" (110 horsepower). The 170 engine was upgraded to overhead valves (OHV) for 1961, gaining 22 horsepower in the process (up to 112), enough of an improvement that Studebaker saw fit to finally discontinue the Big Six.
The new OHV six was a novel design, retaining as many existing components as possible while modernizing an engine that had been introduced in 1939. Unfortunately, the little engine's quality came into question early on, with a number of engines developing cracks in the cylinder head. The problem, which occurred most often in engines that had improperly-adjusted valves, was never completely solved, but with proper care, the 170 remains a serviceable engine for many owners more than 40 years after it went out of production.
From the start of production, V8 purchasers could choose between Studebaker's 259- and 289-cubic-inch engines with either a two- or four-barrel carburetor. Both engines remained largely unchanged during the Champ's production run.
A wide variety of transmissions, both manual and automatic, were available in Champs. Base models came with a three-speed column shifted manual (AKA: 3 on the tree), with four- and five-speeds optional, as well as overdrive (with the three-speed). Studebaker's Flight-O-Matic (built by Borg-Warner) was the automatic option.
Given the cobbled-up nature of the truck, sales were fairly good for the 1960 model year "5E" series. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
1961's 6E series saw the addition of a full-width cargo box, the Spaceside, for which Studebaker had purchased the tooling from Dodge. It didn't help sales, however, nor did the debut of a new overhead-valve version of the 170 engine, which became known for the propensity of the cylinder head to crack.
Few changes were made to the Champ in 1962 (7E series) or 1963 (8E series), and the few 1964 models built actually continued the 8E series started for the '63 models. By December 1963 Studebaker's board of directors announced the closure of its
South Bend, Indianafactory, and the trucks were among the casualties of the company's consolidation around an abbreviated family-car lineup in its Hamilton, Ontario, Canadaassembly plant.
A pioneering truck
The Champ is seldom given credit for introducing a feature that is nearly universal among today's pickup trucks: The sliding rear window, which was available from the start, proved to be quite popular among Champ buyers. It was truly one of Studebaker's better ideas, and caught on later among the major truck makers.
While it didn't prove to be the savior of the Studebaker truck line, the Champ did point the way to a more rationally-sized pickup, something Dodge later claimed as a "first" with their mid-sized Dakota, which was introduced as a 1987 model, nearly 27 years after the Champ.
Today, the Champs that still exist are highly prized for their interesting combination of passenger-car comfort and style and their rugged mechanical durability (the sixes' head problems notwithstanding). About the only major failing of the Champ is shared with many Studebaker models: rust. Champs tend to rust most severely in the cab floor and front fenders. If left unchecked, it can be extensive and very costly to repair, if it is repairable at all.
* The Champ, unlike most American pickups of the 1960s, was never offered with power steering, although such a system was offered on Studebaker's heavier-duty Transtars and Diesels. The final "8E" (1963-64) models had an improved steering system that reduced friction and, thus, steering effort, but not to the degree that power steering would have. Of course, power steering was not yet commonplace in light trucks during the early 1960s, so Studebaker was not necessarily at a competitive disadvantage by not offering the option.
* Factory-installed air conditioning was not offered by Studebaker on the Champ until the 1963 model year. It is not clear how many were so equipped, but the number is certainly small.
* The Champ is believed to be the first American truck to be offered with factory-approved fiberglass service bodies. These were introduced for the very short 1964 model year and only a relative handful were built.
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