- Studebaker Lark
The Lark was a pioneering "
compact car" designed and built by Studebaker and introduced as a 1959 model.
From its introduction in 1959 until 1962, the Lark was a product of the
Studebaker-Packard Corporation. In mid-1962, the company dropped "Packard" from its name and reverted to its pre-1954 name, the Studebaker Corporation. In addition to being built in Studebaker's South Bend, Indiana, home plant, the Lark and its descendants were also built in Hamilton, Ontario, Canadafrom 1959 to 1966 by Studebaker of Canada Limited. The cars were also exported to a number of countries around the world as completed units and completely knocked down (CKD) kits.
Lark-based variants represented the bulk of the range of models produced by Studebaker after 1958 and sold in far greater volumes than the Hawk family sports car and the later Avanti. The company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1952, ceased auto production in 1966.
At the time the Lark was conceived,
Studebaker-Packard Corporationwas under a management contract with Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company. Studebaker-Packard had been losing money for years when company president Harold Churchillcame up with the idea of abandoning the full-size carmarket in favor of building a new compact car that he hoped would save the company.
The Lark was ingeniously designed around the core bodyshell of the full-sized 1953-1958 Studebakers. By reducing the front and rear overhangs and shortening the wheelbase, the car could still seat six people comfortably and hold a surprising amount of luggage. It was hoped that the vehicle would save America's oldest vehicle manufacturer when it was launched in the fall of 1958 as a 1959 model, much like the 1939
Studebaker Championhad saved the company in the years prior to World War II. In fact, it was the Champion which Churchill specifically took as his inspiration for the Lark.
Two series of Larks were available, the Lark VI and the Lark VIII, both designations indicated engine type of the cars. Both series were available in "Deluxe" and "Regal" trim levels.
With its simple grille, minimal and tasteful use of chrome and clean lines, the Lark "flew" in the face of most of the established "longer, lower and wider" styling norms fostered by Detroit's "Big Three" automakers (
General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). The 1957-58 Scotsman had proved the existence of a demand for a less-flashy automobile, and while the Lark was not nearly so undecorated as the Scotsman, it was unmistakably purer of line than anything Detroit would offer for 1959.
1959 - 1961
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Wagon: Auto mm|2900|1
South Bend, Indiana Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
engine=Auto CID|170|1 I6
Sales of the Lark were good for the 1959 and 1960 model year, thanks to the fact that Studebaker had obtained "dual" dealerships with dealers of the Big Three manufacturers that did not as yet have their own compacts to sell.
Initial models included two- and four-door sedans, a two-door hardtop
coupeand a two-door station wagon, with two levels of trim (Deluxe and Regal) offered on most. Aside from American Motors Corporation's Rambler line, the Lark offered the broadest line of compacts on the U.S. market.
The lineup grew for 1960, when the company issued a convertible (Studebaker's first since 1952) and a four-door station wagon. Two-door wagons were fast falling from favor throughout the industry, and indeed the four-door quickly proved the more popular of the two available wagons from Studebaker.
taxicabversion of the Lark, originally called the "Econ-O-Miler," was built on the station wagon's longer convert|113|in|mm|sing=on wheelbase. The extra convert|4.5|in|mm of wheelbase translated into extra rear seat legroom, which was important in the taxi trade.
For 1959 and 1960, Larks were available with either an L-head (flathead) auto CID|170|1 six-cylinder engine or the company's auto CID|259|1 V8. Testers at the time gave high marks to the V8's performance. A properly-equipped V8 Lark could turn out a
0 to 60 mphtime of around 10 seconds. By comparison, among the early Big Three compacts ( Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvairand Plymouth Valiant) that arrived on the scene in 1960, only the Valiant could break the 20-second mark from 0-60 mph. None of the Big Three compacts offered a V8.
In 1961, a new four-door sedan, the Cruiser, was introduced, built using the Econ-O-Miler taxicab body with an upgraded, more luxurious interior. The resulting car harked back to the long-wheelbase
Studebaker Land Cruisersedans of the late Forties and early Fifties. A canvas covered folding sunroof dubbed the "Skytop" was introduced as an option for sedans and the two-door hardtop. A mild restyling, too, was carried out. Sedans (with the exception of the Cruiser) and the two-door hardtop received a squared-off roofline, and a new front end design gave the Lark a broader grille and the availability of quad headlamps.
Although the styling was modified, engineering enhancements were the big news for 1961, as the Larks received a performance boost. Studebaker advertised as "the compact with Performability," and this was abetted by the addition of the auto CID|289|1
V8from the Hawk family sports car as an option, although this was mainly for Larks intended for police pursuit packages. The bigger news, as far as the general public was concerned, involved the six-cylinder engine. Studebaker's engineers had long known that their little flathead mill, which dated in its basic form to 1939, was falling farther and farther behind the competition in both power and fuel economy. Lacking the budget to design a completely new engine, the engineering staff converted the 170 engine to overhead valves while retaining much of the basic design. The "new" six, which displaced the same 170 cu. in. as before, went from convert|90|hp|0 to convert|112|hp|0, all without a loss in fuel economy. Indeed, most road testers of the day found the new engine to be easier on fuel than the flathead, and cars so equipped were able to shave nearly four seconds off the all-important 0-60 mph time.
Other engineering improvements that modernized the '61 Larks included the introduction of cowl ventilation, suspended brake and clutch pedals (accompanied by a firewall-mounted brake master cylinder) and revamped steering systems.
Unfortunately, for all of its new engineering and the mild restyling, sales of the Lark dropped off precipitously for 1961. Even more new competitors were squeezing their way into the marketplace, as Dodge brought out the Lancer, and
General Motorsissued the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85and Pontiac Tempest. These new cars, in addition to their very presence in the market, caused other problems for Studebaker. Most of the Big Three dealers who had signed on with the independent when the Lark debuted dropped the smaller company under pressure from the Detroit manufacturers once the new cars broke cover. Those who did not drop Studebaker outright often put more effort to selling their other product lines.
Infobox Automobile generation
South Bend, Indiana Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
production=1962-1964In an effort to reverse the trend of sagging sales, new Studebaker-Packard president
Sherwood Egbertcalled upon his friend, noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens, to effect a striking yet cost-effective 1962 update. Stevens lengthened the car body, especially at the rear, and modernized the interior. Studebaker had entered into a distribution agreement with Daimler-Benzin 1957, and the design of the Lark's new grille was intended to mimic the famed Mercedes-Benzradiator shell. Studebaker's board of directors was reportedly extremely pleased with the extent of the changes Stevens was able to make. They could not believe he could do so much for so little money.
In addition to the new styling, Studebaker joined the bucket-seats-and-console craze of the early 1960s with the introduction of the Lark Daytona. In the same way that the Cruiser had become the top-of-the-line four-door for 1961, the new Daytona replaced the Regal as the top-trim convertible and hardtop, although Regal versions of these body styles remained available.
The immediate effect of Stevens' restyle was improved sales. Indeed, had it not been for a strike called by the
United Auto WorkersLocal 5 in early 1962 at Studebaker's South Bend home plant, the company could have easily sold more than 100,000 of the new cars. Despite the strike, the company sold over 90,000, far more than had been sold in 1961.
For 1963, the Lark's dated wrap-around windshield was eliminated and the "greenhouse" was lightened via thinner door and roof pillars. Doing away with the thick pillars that had been a feature of Studebaker's car bodies since 1953 imparted a much more modern appearance, although most shoppers seemed not to notice.
Inside the cars, a completely new instrument panel with full, direct-reading gauges (and no
idiot lights) was installed. For the ladies, an "Exclusive Beauty Vanity" with a mirror and makeup tray was fitted in the glove compartment on most models.
Aside from the Avanti, the biggest new product news for Studebaker in 1963 was the introduction of the novel sliding-roof "Wagonaire". Designed by Stevens, the Wagonaire was perhaps the greatest advance in station wagons since the late-1940s introduction of the all-steel body.
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Cruiser was given heavy promotion as a sensibly-sized luxury car. The brochures referred to it as "America's First and Only Limousette." To separate it from the Lark, Studebaker eliminated the "LARK" lettering from the front fenders and added fancier side trim. Inside, buyers could choose luxurious broadcloth upholstery, lending credence to Studebaker's luxury push for the Cruiser.
The Daytona line was expanded for 1963, adding the new Wagonaire to the continuing convertible and hardtop. The former highline Regal trim was pushed down to replace the 1959-62 Deluxe, and the new Custom trim level, which used side trim similar to that used on the 1962 Daytonas, stepped into the Regal's former place. Daytonas received new side trim that started as a narrow molding on the front fenders and widened toward the rear. The basic design of this trim was shared with the Cruiser.
In mid-1963, Studebaker introduced the Standard series, a totally stripped line of Larks in the vein of the 1957-58 Scotsman. While it — like the Cruiser at the other end of the line — was obviously a Lark, it bore no Lark nameplates, just "Studebaker" scripts on the front fenders. In addition, the Standard, in keeping with its frugal image, carried no side trim, and had a plainer interior and no vanity, just a simple glove box with a lid that opened at the top. Mainly promoted as a fleet vehicle, the Standard offered good value; the two-door sedan was priced at just US$1,935. This price was very competitive with other companies' small- and mid-sized cars.
On the engineering front, disc brakes made by
Bendix(first offered on the Avanti) were made available; at $97.95, they were a good value and greatly improved the cars' stopping power. In the engine lineup, in addition to the existing six-cylinder and V8 engines of the past, new options were added for the 1963 model year. Unsupercharged "R1" and supercharged "R2" 289 V8s from the Avanti were made available. Buyers choosing those engines late in the model year could also order a "Super Performance Package," which added a host of high-performance goodies aimed at making the cars not only go faster, but handle better. Cars equipped with the package were called "Super Larks."
Unfortunately, though the 1963 models were seen as an extension of the improvements made the previous year, the buying public by this time was looking for more than just a mild change, and sales fell, this time to around 77,000 cars.
Undeterred, Studebaker's brass allowed Stevens to create a more extensive (but still inexpensive) restyling for 1964. The Mercedes-like grille of 1962-63 gave way to a full-width, stamped aluminum grille and squared-off headlamp surrounds. Stevens flattened the hood, roofline and trunklid, and reworked the tail panel to incorporate new horizontal taillamps and backup lamps, all the while ingeniously retaining the sculpted quarter panels introduced in 1962, which still suited the new look and reduced by a considerable amount the cost of tooling.
The new look debuted along with the company's plan to phase out the Lark name entirely. The lowest-priced models were renamed Challenger (replacing the 1963-1/2 Standard), while the Commander name (which had last made an appearance in the Studebaker lineup on the last full-size cars in 1958) replaced both the Regal and Custom trim levels. The Daytona series added a four-door sedan, and the Cruiser continued at the top of the line. All except the Cruiser offered a Wagonaire.
Early promotional materials referred to the Challenger and Commander as Larks, but aside from Lark emblems on the roof sail panels on Challengers, there was no Lark identification on the cars, as Studebaker replaced the Lark emblems elsewhere on the car with the company's "circle-S" logo.
End of the line in South Bend
Studebaker worked very hard to establish a high-performance image for the '64 lineup, sending a number of them to the
Bonneville Salt Flatsto set new production-car speed records. Advertisements played up the powerful R-series engines, disc brakes and the company's position that Studebakers were "different ... by design"" from other American cars.
Magazine road test reviews of the new cars were generally positive. One of the more-popular automotive magazines of the day even got to help build the car they would test.
Gene Booth, the editor of Car Lifemagazine, went to South Bend and assisted in building a Daytona hardtop with the full R4 Super Performance Package. This car ended up being the only Studebaker equipped from the factory with the optional 304.5 cubic-inch, dual-quad "R4" engine.
But it all came to naught.
It rapidly became apparent that despite the dramatic styling change, innovative models like the Wagonaire, the high-performance R-series engines and Super Performance Packages (inspired by the Avanti) that were developed with the help of "Mr. Indy 500"
Andy Granatelli(who headed Studebaker's Paxton Productsand STP divisions), nothing could bring Studebaker's sales out of the doldrums. By the early autumn of 1963, Studebaker's board of directors saw the handwriting on the wall.
The first hint of what was to come involved the slowdown of the South Bend assembly lines. At the start of the model year, the company was building 60 cars per hour. By late October 1963, some 2,500 workers were laid off and the line speed was reduced.
November 1963 presented a "perfect storm" of events that would seal South Bend's fate, from the illness of the company's president to falling sales which only got worse following the
assassination of John F. Kennedy. Rumors were spreading that the board of directors and the company's president, Sherwood Egbert, were at odds over the future of the automotive division. The board's opinion was that it was finally time to find a way out of the auto business as the company's non-automotive divisions were profitable, while the auto operation was bleeding the company dry. Egbert, despite being terminally ill with cancer, fought this. However, when Egbert had to undergo further cancer surgery (his third since 1962) that month, the directors took the opportunity to force him out and execute their plan to wind up automotive production.
Although it would by necessity have to be done slowly and methodically, lest the company expose itself to contract lawsuits from angry dealers, the directors quickly put their plan into action. Meeting with the leaders of
UAWLocal 5, which represented Studebaker's assembly workers, the decision was made to close the South Bend plant and continue production at the company's small Canadian factory in Hamilton, Ontario, which could, it was believed, be operated at a profit.
The closure of the South Bend plant was announced on
December 9, 1963, and the final Lark-type car, a Bordeaux Red 1964 Daytona two-door hardtop (originally intended for shipment to a dealer in Pennsylvania), rolled off the assembly line on December 20.
Canadian Production 1965 - 1966
Infobox Automobile generation
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
After the South Bend closing, production continued at the Studebaker's Canadian plant in Hamilton, Ontario, which was overseen by
Gordon Grundy, the president of Studebaker of Canada, Ltd. Grundy was a dedicated Studebaker executive who, like Egbert before him, wanted to see Studebaker continue as a builder of automobiles.
The "second series" Canadian-built '64 lineup wasn't much different from the South Bend offerings; however, the entire Challenger series (along with the Hawk and Avanti) was dropped. Six-cylinder Daytona models that had not previously been offered in the U.S. (but had been available in Canada and export markets) were added to the U.S. lineup. Another new addition was the Commander Special, which combined the mid-range Commander body with the interior of the sporty Daytona. A good value for the money, it proved mildly popular and would serve as the basis for another model in 1965. Spotters can distinguish original second-series '64 cars by their solid white steering wheels; cars built in South Bend were built with steering wheels that either matched the interior color or were two-toned with white as the upper and lower color. Also, cars without clocks had a blank plate in the instrument cluster which read "STUDEBAKER CORPORATION" on South Bend cars and "STUDEBAKER OF CANADA" on Hamilton cars.
Under the hood, all of the R-series engines were discontinued, although remaining engines continued to be sold by Paxton Products for some time afterward. Engines for the Canadian-built late-1964 models came from South Bend until the end of the model year. When the union contract ended in May 1964, the foundry was closed.
With no foundry, Studebaker no longer had a source of engines for its cars. The company was forced to search for an outside supplier. The small engineering staff quickly and thoroughly tested engines from both General Motors and Ford. The Ford engines would not fit without expensive modifications to the cars, while the GM engines fit perfectly. The only hang-up was how to mate these engines to the
Borg-Warnertransmissions that the company preferred to continue using.
Fortunately, according the late
E.T. Reynolds, a Studebaker engineer, Checker Motorshad started using Chevrolet engines in their taxicab and Marathon lines at about the same time that Studebaker began considering doing the same. Like Studebaker, Checker had long used Borg-Warner transmissions, and that company's engineers had created an adapter to mate them to the engines. Checker made its parts available to Studebaker, and the company began purchasing engines from GM for the 1965 model year. The chosen powerplants were basically the same as found in the Chevrolet Chevy II. The Studebaker six was replaced by a auto CID|194|1 Convert|120|hp|kW|0|abbr=on six, and the well-known auto CID|283|1 Convert|195|hp|kW|0|abbr=on V8 replaced both Studebaker's 259 and 289 engines.
The Studebaker model lineup was changed little for 1965; indeed, without opening the hood, it is difficult to distinguish them from the 1964 models.
The Commander was offered in two- and four-door sedan form along with a Wagonaire. The Cruiser four-door sedan was still available, as was the Daytona Wagonaire. The Daytona convertible, hardtop and four-door sedan models were all discontinued, however. Aside from the Wagonaire, the only other 1965 Daytona was the vinyl-roofed two-door Sports Sedan, which drew its inspiration from the late-1964 Commander Special. All models continued the 1964 design with only minor detail changes, the most significant being that the Commander gained standard quad headlamps, replacing the dual lamps that had been standard the previous year.
Sales, unfortunately, continued to plunge; fewer than 20,000 Studebakers were built in 1965, and some blamed the poor results on Studebaker of Canada's decision to make no year-to-year style changes (a plan that worked well for Volkswagen, but not for a company like Studebaker which had long made annual changes). Others, many Studebaker loyalists included, felt that the GM-powered cars built in Canada were not true Studebakers. The term "Chevybaker" was coined early on for these cars, bringing to mind the "
Packardbaker" nickname of the 1957 and 1958 Packardsbuilt on the Studebaker President body.
The 1966 Studebakers, advertised as having "The Smart New Look", were slightly restyled, the result of a reversal of the company's previous decision to make no annual model changes. The cars bore a stylish new grille, single headlamps, revised and simplified side trim, luxurious new interiors (even in the cheapest Commander), and other refinements. Even the famous Hawk logo was brought out of retirement, slightly redesigned, and applied to wheelcovers, grilles, and engine identification emblems on the front fenders. The redesign, which was evidently begun by Brooks Stevens, was completed by the Detroit design firm of Marcks Hazelquist Powers.
Bob Marcks, who later worked as a designer and product planner at
Chrysler, commented in a 1970s interview that the general feeling shared by both designers and management was that Studebaker's cars needed to project a more upscale image. To do this on Studebaker's limited budget, the designers chose colors and upholstery materials comparable to those seen in Cadillacs and Lincolns, rather than the plainer variety that one might expect in a lower-priced car. The tasteful nylon brocade upholstery with contrasting-color vinyl trim that was standard in the Cruiser particularly reflected this philosophy.
Studebaker's final engineering innovation, flow-through "Refreshaire" ventilation with air extractor vents integrated into the taillamp assemblies, debuted on the 1966 models to wide acclaim. Refreshaire virtually eliminated the need for opening the vent windows in the front doors. In fact, the Cruiser, which had, since its 1961 introduction, been equipped with opening rear-door vent windows, lost that feature with the advent of Refreshaire.
Under the hood, a larger auto CID|230|1 Convert|140|hp|kW|0|abbr=on six-cylinder engine was added as an option, first available only with an automatic transmission. Later in the model run, however, the bigger six was made available with any of Studebaker's three transmission options.
The only change to the 1966 model lineup was that the Wagonaire was now on its own and thus no longer part of either the Commander or Daytona series. The station wagon bore "Studebaker" nameplates on its front fenders and shared the Commander's grille and exterior trim, but had a Daytona-grade interior. The fixed-roof option returned after a one-year hiatus, and the rear-facing third seat was dropped from the option list.
All of the other models, Commander, Daytona and Cruiser, were continued. The Commander, however, received some notable additional standard equipment in January 1966 as the company began including the Climatizer heater/defroster, windshield washer and other items at no additional cost.
Unfortunately, despite the clever restyling, luxurious interiors, engineering advancements, and added standard equipment, sales dropped once again. Even when compared against 1965's poor numbers, sales in 1966 were minimal. Surprisingly, though, while the Hamilton plant was not turning out many cars, it was — by most accounts — operating at a small profit, thanks to the efforts of Gordon Grundy, who cut costs wherever possible to bring the plant's
breakevenpoint as low as he could.
Grundy's efforts were not enough to satisfy the company's board of directors, however. Most of them had viewed the South Bend shutdown two years earlier as the first step in ending auto production completely, but surviving evidence indicates that they did not inform Gordon Grundy of this. Grundy, who along with his small staff, had been working with Marcks Hazelquist Powers on a facelifted 1967 model, approached the board in early 1966 seeking less than $300,000 in tooling funds (a pittance by Detroit standards) for the job. Much to his dismay, he was told that there would be no 1967 production. The board then moved to close Hamilton as soon as possible, and the last Studebaker car, a Timberline Turquoise Cruiser four-door sedan, was built on
March 16, 1966(some sources claim the car was built on March 17). It was the last of only 8,935 (some sources incorrectly state 8,947) Studebakers built for 1966 and the end of a transportation legacy that stretched back some 114 years.
Final Larks still exist
Studebaker aficionados can take heart that both the last South Bend car and the last Canadian car still exist and are on display at the
Studebaker National Museumin South Bend, Indiana.
The final U.S. built Lark-type, the Bordeaux Red 1964 Daytona hardtop mentioned above, was retained by the company instead of being delivered to the Pennsylvania dealer who had ordered it. The car is considered to be the last "new" Studebaker, having only around convert|30|mi|km on its odometer.
The final Canadian car, a 1966 Cruiser, was driven several thousand miles by a company executive (records indicate that it was built for delivery to the company's Parts and Service Division in South Bend). It was eventually retired to the company's collection and has been restored in recent years to as-new condition.
body-on-frameconstruction made it very easy for custom coachbuilders and designers to create new interpretations of the cars both for Studebaker and for others who wanted something "a little different."
The noted Italian coachbuilder and designer
Pietro Fruarebodied a very small number of Larks in 1960. Two four-door sedans are known to still exist, but both are in need of extensive restoration. It appears that at least one two-door model was also built. The Frua Larks are notable for their distinctive straight-lined bodies and generous use of glass.
In addition, American designer
Brooks Stevenscreated several special concept cars on the basic Lark chassis. Three of these cars, a four-door sedan with suicide doors, a sliding-roof station wagon (called the Skyview) and a two-door Sceptre sports coupe exist today and are housed in the Studebaker National Museum.
The Lark convertible lent its reinforced X-frame chassis to the Avanti and Brooks Stevens' Excalibur, both of which would be manufactured in limited numbers long after Studebaker was out of the automotive business, although Excalibur switched to a custom-designed chassis when its supply of Studebaker frames ran out. Avanti Motors would continue to use the basic chassis into the early 1980s.
"Lark-types" and other trivia
* Although Studebaker phased out the Lark name in 1964, Studebaker collectors and enthusiasts refer to all 1964-66 Studebaker sedans and station wagons as "Lark-types", since the cars are still as much Larks as the 1959-63 models, despite the name changes.
* From 1959 to 1961, six-cylinder Larks were identified as "Lark VI" models, while V8-powered cars bore nameplates identifying them as "Lark VIII" models. Novices in the Studebaker hobby sometimes erroneously refer to these cars as "Mark VI" and "Mark VIII" Larks (not to be confused with the Lincolns of the same names).
* The early Lark four-door sedan's body was used to create the cab section of the 1960 Studebaker Champ pickup, Studebaker's last "all-new" truck design. A new back cab wall was created, with the front doors, dashboard and front sheetmetal largely unaltered from those of the car. A more "truck-like" grille was added to the Champ, but otherwise the bodies of the 1959-60 Larks and all Champs built from 1960 to 1964 share a great deal of their body components. In fact, some export-market Champs were even built on the long-wheelbase Cruiser chassis instead of the truck chassis. None of these are known to survive, and none were sold in the U.S.
* A rear-facing third seat was optional on station wagons from 1959 to 1965. Cars with this option did not come with a spare tire. Instead they came with special "Captive-Air" tires that had an inner lining that allowed the car to be driven even if the outer tire were punctured.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBZxcLfjiGY Vintage Studebaker Lark TV Commercial featuring Mr. Ed]
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