Historic Car Brands
Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the company was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners and the military, and became a significant manufacturer of motor vehicles for about 60 years.
Studebaker wagon Budweiser team – Freekee
With a background of absolute dominance of the horse-drawn wagon market in the USA and abroad, Studebaker was manufacturing more than 75,000 wagons per year in the 1890s and entered the automotive business in 1902.
Initial vehicles were electric and petrol cars, sold by the ‘Studebaker Automobile Company’. Until 1911, its automotive division operated in partnership with the EMF Company (Everitt-Metzger-Flanders) and the Garford Company.
1905 Studebaker Electric Car Ad
After taking over EMF’s Detroit facilities, Studebaker sought to remedy customer dissatisfaction complaints by paying mechanics to visit each disgruntled owner and replace defective parts in their vehicles. The worst problem was rear-axle failure.
From that time, ‘Studebaker’ badging was put on all new automobiles produced at the former EMF facilities as an assurance that the vehicles were well built.
1908 Studebaker Limousine – Harry Shipler
The Garford and EMF brands ceased after 1912 and the EMF rebuild experience resulted in Studebaker’s aim to design ‘for life’ that materialised in The first cars to be fully manufactured by Studebaker were six-cylinder models with monobloc engine castings in 1913.
1916 Studebaker Speedster – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The corporation received volume orders, cabled by the British Government at the outbreak of World War I. The order included 3000 transport wagons, 20,000 sets of artillery harness, 60,000 artillery saddles and ambulances, as well as hundreds of cars purchased through the London office.
Similar orders were received from the governments of France and Russia. During the period 1914-15, the company produced a series of panel and open express trucks and jitney buses based on its then-current passenger car models.
Studebaker Light Four
When the War ended, Studebaker was ready for carp production once more, launching a brace of 1918 models: Light Four, Light Six, Standard Six, Big Six and Special Six.
The Light Four was officially designated Model SH Series 19 and was available as a touring car, sedan or roadster. It was powered by Studebaker’s side-valve, 3.2-litre, four-cylinder engine, delivering 40hp. It shared its chassis and length with the 3.4-litre Studebaker Light Six that developed 50hp.
1918 Studebaker Special Six – Eric-Hart
The Four and Six engines were monobloc castings, incorporating the combustion chambers, but the Six had a monobloc cylinder block, with removable head. The sixes were 3.4-litre and 5.8-litre displacement engines and the ‘Big Six’ was so named because it had a longer wheelbase.
1922 Studebaker Light Six Touring Car – Mr Choppers
The Light Four was dropped in 1920 as Studebaker shifted its model range to the more popular Light Six, Special Six and the Big Six.
However, this concentration on the passenger car business prompted Studebaker historian Fred Fox to state: ‘Studebaker lost one of its greatest opportunities when it did not jump into the commercial vehicle field right after World War One’.
The traditional Studebaker wagon buyers – farmers – went to other brands for load-carrying trucks. Much market share and cash flow was lost by the time Studebaker resumed commercial vehicle production in 1928.
1928 Studebaker Commander GB Big Six – Jeremy
In 1926, a new small car, the Erskine Six, was launched, being named after Albert Russel Erskine, Studebaker’s president at the time. Because Studebaker had concentrated on producing high-performance cars and engines it lacked an entry level automobile in the United States. Erskine had always been fascinated by smaller European vehicles and saw market potential in a short-wheelbase, compact car, especially if it could expand Studebaker’s presence in the European market. The Erskine Six was therefore first launched in Paris.
For the American 1927 model year, the car was marketed as The Little Aristocrat. To make the Erskine affordable, Studebaker fitted the cars with six-cylinder Continental engines rather than the more advanced Studebaker units. Initially, sales demand was promising, with 26,000 sales abroad and many more in America, but within a year Ford introduced its Model A at around half the price.
1930 Studebaker President Phaeton – Lars-Goran Lindgren
To counter the new Ford, Studebaker made the Erskine larger and it became more like its Studebaker brethren. Ultimately, the Erskine was absorbed into Studebaker by May 1930.
The first Studebaker Commander, in 1927, was a continuation of the mid-range Special Six, with a 3.7-litre engine. Their inbuilt durability and toughness gained them great renown under worldwide conditions.
The 1928 GB Commander was a descendant of the Big Six, powered by 5.8-litre engine, modified to deliver 75hp. That output gave it a top speed of more than 80mph and made it a favourite among ‘rum running’ bootleggers. In 1929, Studebaker added an even faster eight-cylinder Commander to the range.
In October 1928, three Commander sixes lined up at the Atlantic City Speedway to challenge the 15,000-mile (24,000km) speed record of 64.25mph (103.40km/h)) held by the much higher-priced Auburn straight-eight Speedster.
They accomplished that and went on to establish new records up to 25,000 miles (40,000km). The two sports roadsters averaged better than 65mph (105km/h) and the sedan, which had flipped on the icy boards during one of the night runs and had been hurriedly repaired, averaged almost 62 mph.
Studebaker GB Commander in Outback Australia – B Jenks
In Australia, a crew of three drivers led by Norman ‘Wizard’ Smith tackled overland records in a Commander roadster. On a 3000-mile run from Fremantle to Sydney, they smashed the previous record by 12 hours 23 minutes despite traversing 450 miles through blinding rain and having to ford a river when a bridge had been washed away. The team rested for a little over three hours before attempting another record on the 600-mile track to Brisbane.
The first Studebaker President was unveiled on July 23, 1926, powered by the proved 5.8-litre six-cylinder engine until the appearance in January 1928 of the smaller and smoother, 5.1-litre, straight-eight engine. Studebaker positioned the President as the finest automobile on the American road, rivalling more expensive Cadillac, Packard, Lincoln, and Chrysler’s Imperial models.
Presidents produced from 1928-1933 broke 118 stock-car records and established land speed records, some of which went unbroken for 35 years.
The President benefited from engineering improvements once the company took control of Pierce-Arrow in 1928. Pierce-Arrow was best known as a manufacturer of luxury automobiles, but also produced small numbers of relatively expensive trucks.
1931 Studebaker President Four Seasons Roadster – Steve Foskett
By 1929, the Studebaker range had expanded to 50 models and business was so good that 90-percent of earnings were being paid out as dividends to shareholders in a highly competitive environment. However, the end of that year ushered in the Great Depression that resulted in many layoffs and massive national unemployment for several years.
Studebaker tried the small-car tactic again, with the 1931 Rockne-brand automobile. (‘Rockne’ was a football coach deemed worthy of having a car brand named after him.) The concept was originally a design exercise done by Ralph Vail and Roy Cole for Willys-Overland. Two of these small-six prototypes were produced, but by late 1930 W-O was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Vail called into Studebaker with the sedan and coupe prototypes and Erskine bought the design that day and Knute Rockne was hired to help promote it. Unfortunately, he was killed in a plane crash two weeks later.
Studebaker Rockne – Valerie Everett
Two Rockne models were approved for production: the ’65’ that was a Cole-Vail design and the ’75’ that was based on the Studebaker Six.
However, times were too bad to sell even inexpensive cars. Within a year, Studebaker was cutting wages and laying off workers. Erskine maintained faith in the Rockne and rashly had the directors declare huge dividends in 1930 and 1931. He also acquired 95-percent of the White Motor Company’s stock at an inflated price.
Despite the economic gloom, the President’s 1931 engine was increased in displacement to 5.5 litres and the crankshaft was drilled for pressurised oil passage to its nine main bearings. At this time, many competitor straight-eight engines had only five bearings and lubrication of the bearings was not as effective. The Studebaker eight also had filters for air, oil, and fuel, plus an improved thermostat and a Lanchester vibration damper. With its straight-through muffler the engine put out 122hp.
By 1932, the Depression was severe and Studebaker was in financial trouble. It eventually was forced into receivership in March, 1933 and Albert Erskine promptly committed suicide.
1935 Studebaker Commander – Tysto
Production continued and the 1933 Rockne line was reduced to one model, called the Rockne ’10’ that was an update of the ’65’. The Rockne 65/10 engine replaced all the six-cylinder Studebaker car engines then in production and powered Studebaker Dictator and Commander cars until World War II. This engine also went on to power postwar Commanders and Land Cruisers until the V8 became available in 1951.
1936 Studebaker Dictator Six – Loco Steve
The Studebaker Land Cruiser streamlined sedan was introduced at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and many of its aerodynamic features were shared with Pierce-Arrow’s Silver Arrow. Work on both cars was authorised prior to the company being placed in receivership.
Production Land Cruisers began to appear in dealer showrooms in the fall of 1933 as 1934 models. The Land Cruiser was designated as a body style and classified in the President model range (C Series) for the year.
1937 Studebaker Dictator – Don O’Brien
By December 1933, the company was back in profit and the purchase of White was cancelled. Full refinancing and reorganisation was achieved in March 9, 1935 and a new car was put on the drawing boards under chief engineer Delmar ‘Barney’ Roos.
The six-cylinder, 2.7-litre Champion’s styling was done by Virgil Exner and Raymond Loewy and it doubled the company’s previous-year sales when it was introduced in 1939.
Although the US Government shut down passenger car production shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, trucks continued in production well into 1942 and many were stockpiled and allocated to critical industries during the War.
1939 Studebaker Champion – Berthold Werner
Studebaker began producing military vehicles in 1941 and its two best known machines were the Weasel tracked vehicle and the US6-model 2½-ton military truck. The US6 was built in 6×6 and 6×4 forms on 148-inch and 162-inch wheelbases and shared some components with the similar GMC CCKW 2½-ton, 6×6 military trucks.
1942 Studebaker Commander Custom Cruising Sedan – Rex Gray
Studebaker prepared well in advance for the anticipated post-War market and launched the slogan ‘First by far with a post-war car’: the 1947 Studebaker Starlight coupé. This vehicle introduced styling features, including a flat-back boot and a wrap-around rear window.
1950 Studebaker Commander Convertible – Rex Gray
For 1950 and 1951, the Champion and Commander adopted a polarising appearance for the 1950 Studebaker Starlight coupe. The front ‘spinner’ feature proved very popular and Studebaker had its best-ever sales year. Studebaker’s first V8 – a 3.8-litre overhead-valve design – appeared in 1951.
1951 Studebaker Commander – GPS56
Massive discounting in a price war between Ford and General Motors could not be equalled by the independent carmakers, for whom the only hope was seen as a merger of Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, and Nash into a fourth giant combine, beneath Chrysler. However, that deal was never consummated. On top of that, Studebaker’s ballooning labor costs, medical cover and pensions for retirees were among the highest in the industry.
From 1950, Studebaker declined rapidly and by 1954, was losing money. It negotiated a strategic takeover by Packard that was a smaller but less financially troubled car manufacturer. The Packard Motor Car Company bought the business and assets of the ailing Studebaker Corporation on October 1, 1954. However, the cash position was worse than it had led Packard to believe, and by 1956, the renamed Studebaker-Packard Corporation was nearly bankrupt.
Studebaker President Hard-top – Steve Foskett
Despite the drama, new models emerged. The 1954 Speedster was a member of the President series, and was based on the hardtop coupe. An initial run of 20 Speedsters was displayed at car shows and reaction caused Studebaker’s management to put the car into production mid-year and offer it for the rest of the model year, after which it was replaced by the previously planned Hawk series.
The Speedster was a competitor to the Ford Thunderbird and power came from Studebaker’s 4.2-litre V8 engine, with185hp (138kW) and 350Nm of torque.
Another attempted volume tactic was the aptly named ‘Scotsman’. Using the Studebaker Champion’s two- and four-door sedan and two-door station-wagon bodies, the company created a vehicle which could undercut the prices of minimal-frill competitors. Hubcaps and grille were painted; a heater was an extra-cost option; interiors were fitted with painted cardboard panels; upholstery was grey vinyl and rubberized floor coverings replaced carpeting.
1957 Scotsman Studebaker – John Lloyd
The only chrome plating was on the front and rear bumpers and some minor interior parts. Painted bumpers were an option to reduce the cost of the car even further. On two-door models, the rear windows were fixed without winders. Standard windshield wipers were vacuum-powered, resulting in reduced performance as engine load increased.
In 1956, a three-year management contract was made with aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright, whose president, Roy T Hurley, attempted to cure Studebaker’s ruinously lax employment policies. At the same time, Packard took its body-making operations in house after its longtime body supplier, Briggs Manufacturing Company, was acquired by Chrysler.
1957 Studebaker President – Greg Gjerdingen
The Studebaker-Packard Hawk series were produced by the merged Studebaker-Packard corporation between 1956 and 1964. The Golden Hawk, fitted with Packard’s powerful big-block 5.8-litre (352 cubic inch), 275 hp V8, was the best high performance car of 1956.
By installing the largest V8 in its lightest body, Studebaker created the first muscle car, eight years before the GTO. It had the second highest power-to-weight ratio of any American production car and contemporary road tests verified the Golden Hawk was faster through in the 1/4 mile than the Corvette, Thunderbird and Chrysler 300B.
Described by the company as ‘family sports cars, the Hawks were all two-door, four-seat coupes and hardtops. They were evolutions of the long wheelbase 1953 C/K models designed by Robert Bourke, lead designer with the Raymond Loewy Agency. The 1962 redesign as the GT Hawk was by another famed stylist, Brooks Stevens.
However, the Hawk was hampered by the company’s tightening financial situation and never developed its full potential.
Flagging sales and a worsening financial situation saw Studebaker become the American importer for Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and DKW automobiles and many Studebaker dealers sold those brands. After this diversification process began, new Studebaker cars, including the redesigned compact Lark (1959) and the Avanti sports car (1962), were based on old chassis and engine designs.
1957 Studebaker President – Greg Gjerdingen
Lark-based variants represented the bulk of the range produced by Studebaker after 1958 and sold in far greater volume than the contemporary Hawk and Avanti models. To save money, the Lark used the central body section of the company’s 1953–58 cars, but was a clever enough design to be popular in its first year.
Larks were available with either a flathead, 2.8-litre, six-cylinder engine or a 4.2-litre (259 cu in) V8.
Beginning with the 1963 Cruiser, the Lark name was gradually phased out of the company catalog and by early 1964, Lark-based models were being marketed under Commander, Daytona and Cruiser nameplates only.
1960 Studebaker Lark Deluxe Convertible – Sicnag
However, Lark sales had begun to drop precipitously after the Big Three manufacturers introduced their own compact models in 1960 and the situation became critical in 1961. The Lark had provided a temporary reprieve, but nothing proved enough to stop the financial bleeding. A labour strike started on New Year’s Day 1962 and lasted 38 days.
The 1962 Studebaker Avanti caused a sensation, being billed as: ‘America’s only four-passenger high-performance personal car’. The Raymond Loewy-designed car offered safety features and was the fastest production car in the world, with a top speed of 286km/h, powered by a Paxton-supercharged, 4.8-litre (289-cubic-inch) V8. It broke 29 world speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
1963 Studebaker Avanti R1 – Kevauto
However, the Avanti introduced new production methods, because of its fibreglass bodywork, so production was slow.
Despite good sales in 1962, continuing media reports that Studebaker was about to leave the auto business became a self-fulfilling prophecy as buyers shied away from the company’s products, for fear of being stuck with an ‘orphan’. By 1963, all of the company’s cars and trucks were selling poorly and the last Larks, Hawks and Avantis were assembled by year’s end.
Last Studebaker Cruiser Four Door Sedan – DDrr666
The engine foundry remained open until the union contract expired in May 1964, so the supply of engines allowed car production at Studebaker’s Canadian plant until the end of 1964. Limited car production of some 20,000 vehicles in Hamilton, Ontario, continued until March 1966, when the last Studebaker rolled off the line.
The Avanti model name, tooling and plant space were sold off to Leo Newman and Nate Altman – longtime Studebaker-Packard dealers – who revived the car in 1965 under the brand name ‘Avanti II’.
Studebaker Down Under
Studebaker had a long history of selling products in Australia, starting in the 1880s when horse-drawn wagons and carts were imported from the South Bend, Indiana factory, and as the company transitioned to automobiles, they were also imported and some were fully assembled from 1948 in limited numbers.
Studebakers were assembled in Melbourne in RHD configuration from CKD kits manufactured at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The Canada Cycle and Car Company assembled Studebaker Lark sedans and station wagons, the Studebaker Champ pickup truck and the Studebaker Silver Hawk.
In 1964, after the South Bend, Indiana factory closed, Australian assembly was handed off to Continental & General’s factory in West Heidelberg until 1968 when the last car was built. When the factory ceased operations Renault products were brought in to replace them.