Studebaker Cars Spotters Guide

1901-1930 1931-1940 1941-1950 1951-1955 1956-1960
1927 Studebaker
1928 Studebaker
1929 Studebaker
1901-1930 1931-1940 1941-1950 1951-1955 1956-1960
1931 Studebaker
1932 Studebaker
1933 Studebaker
1935 Studebaker
1936 Studebaker
1937 Studebaker
1938 Studebaker
1939 Studebaker
1901-1930 1931-1940 1941-1950 1951-1955 1956-1960
1941 Studebaker
1942 Studebaker
1942 Studebaker
1943 Studebaker
1944 Studebaker
1945 Studebaker
1946 Studebaker
1947 Studebaker
1948 Studebaker
1949 Studebaker
1950 Studebaker
1901-1930 1931-1940 1941-1950 1951-1955 1956-1960
1951 Studebaker
1952 Studebaker
1953 Studebaker
1954 Studebaker
1901-1930 1931-1940 1941-1950 1951-1955 1956-1960
1956 Studebaker
1957 Studebaker
1958 Studebaker
1959 Studebaker
1960 Studebaker

A brief history of Studebaker, 1852-1966

Fred Fox, Hemmings Daily , 16/09/2015

Next St. Patrick’s Day (2016) will mark 50 years since the last Studebaker came off the assembly line. Interestingly, Studebaker today is much more respected than it was in its last year of production, 1966. Like many long-lived carmakers, Studebaker had suffered through some trying times, including receivership in 1933, a near meltdown in 1958 and the final plant closing in 1966. It was easy for journalists, in hindsight, to blame management’s “wrong decisions” for the failure of the company’s automotive division. In truth, Studebaker had had to make many correct decisions in order to survive for 114 years.

Studebaker’s hometown was South Bend, Indiana, but in December 1963, the assembly lines in South Bend closed and production moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. With the closing of South Bend, production of Hawk, Avanti and truck lines stopped, and only “Lark” models were built in Canada. In March 1966, the Hamilton plant also closed, and this severely affected the prices of used Studebakers.

Devoted owners, however, took advantage of the low prices and began to buy Studebakers by the thousands, many of which were still in like-new condition. They also banded together into three Studebaker-related organizations: the Studebaker Drivers Club, the Antique Studebaker Club and the Avanti Owners Association. Today, not counting overlapping memberships, more than 15,000 fans belong to Studebaker clubs, making them one of the largest single-marque hobby groups in the world. These clubs, via their publications, shows, tours and word of mouth, have kept the marque alive and lively.

Studebaker enthusiasts point to many factors that make them proud of their vehicles: milestones in styling, engineering, endurance, economy and speed records. Added to these highlights is the epic story of the industrious people of South Bend who made the 114-year adventure possible.

As to actual Studebaker family members, historians are fortunate to have access to the extensive genealogical research completed by the Studebaker Family National Association (“SFNA”), a dedicated group of Studebaker “cousins.” Founded in 1964, SFNA has printed three volumes with 2,544 pages of genealogical information, including data on over 250,000 American Studebaker descendants!

The SFNA has a specific starting point for its American Studebaker history. In 1736, a small family group with the surname Stutenbecker left Solingen, Germany, and sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, to Philadelphia on the ship Harle. The English-speaking agent who filled out their papers Anglicized their surname to Studebaker. All the Studebaker cousins that the SFNA has traced are descendants of that original group.

For generations, Stutenbeckers in the Solingen area had been involved with blacksmithing, many as producers of fine cutlery. Those who came to America in 1736 brought with them their metalworking skills. The ability to form metal was essential to the construction of early Conestoga wagons. One of the immigrants, Clement Studebaker, reportedly built his first wagon in America around 1750.

In February 1852, two of Clement’s great grandchildren, Henry and Clement, opened the H&C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. During their first year of operation, they built two horse-drawn farm wagons. In 1853, with the help of younger brother John M., they constructed a sturdy wagon that John provided to a wagon train as payment for his overland passage to California’s gold fields.

From 1853 to 1858, John earned a small fortune in Hangtown, now called Placerville, making wheelbarrows and other gold-mining tools. In 1858, John returned to South Bend and invested his earnings in his brothers’ business. The Studebaker Brothers built hundreds of wagons for the North during the Civil War and, by the time the United States was 100 years old, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Co. was the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. By then, brothers Peter and Jacob had also joined the company.

Studebaker entered the car business by building an electric in 1902 and, two years later, brought out its first gasoline automobile—a two-cylinder, 16-horsepower touring car. In 1911, the company purchased the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Co. of Detroit and formed the Studebaker Corp. The corporation marketed the E-M-F 30, the Flanders 20, the Studebaker-Garford 40 and Studebaker electrics. By 1913, these models had been replaced by four- and six-cylinder automobiles, all of which bore just the name Studebaker.

During 1913, Studebaker became the third largest producer of automobiles in America, after Ford and Overland. That year, all Studebaker automobiles were produced in Detroit, but in 1920, after Studebaker stopped making horse-drawn vehicles, car production shifted to South Bend.

Studebakers of the late teens and early 1920s used names like Big Six, Special Six, Light Six and Standard Six, but for the 1927 model year, these generic names gave way to the President, Commander and Dictator series. Also introduced in 1927 was a new quality small car called the Erskine. In 1928, Studebaker took over the ailing Pierce-Arrow Motor Co. of Buffalo, New York, and nursed it along for five years.

Underestimating the impact of the Great Depression, Studebaker president Albert Erskine inadvertently led the corporation into receivership in 1933. Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance ultimately rescued the company, but much of Studebaker’s momentum had been lost. Studebaker introduced another small car, the Rockne, in 1932, but dropped it again in 1933. For the 1934 model year, Studebaker launched several advanced body designs, including the fastback Land Cruiser, a car styled after the famous Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow showcars.

During the 1930s, Studebaker gained a foothold in the truck field. In 1936, it introduced a line of cab-over-engine trucks, and in 1937 the smoothly contoured Coupe-Express pickup premiered. Studebaker built quality trucks continuously from 1929 to December 1963. The Champ pickup, Zip-Van postal trucks, Transtar gas jobs and medium-duty Diesels were its last commercial products. Studebaker also built bus and fire engine chassis.

In 1939, Studebaker introduced the low-priced, six-cylinder Champion. An instant success, the Champion sold alongside the larger eight-cylinder President and six-cylinder Commander. The Dictator name, for obvious reasons, was dropped at the end of the 1937 model year. Popular Studebaker options during this period were overdrive and the Hill Holder.

During World War II, Studebaker produced military trucks, aircraft engines and the Weasel, a tracked personnel and cargo carrier designed by Studebaker engineers. One version of the Weasel was amphibious. Studebaker continued to assemble military trucks on demand after World War II.

Studebakers came out with all-new styling for 1947. People nicknamed the 1947-’49s “Coming-and-Going cars,” because both ends looked similar. Convertibles became available in 1947 for the first time since 1939. The postwar design was revamped for 1950-’51 with a bullet-nosed front end. Studebaker’s Automatic Drive came out in mid-1950, and a modern overhead-valve V-8 was introduced in 1951 for the Commander, the first from an independent automaker.

Studebaker Corp. celebrated its 100th anniversary as a producer of motorized vehicles in 1952. In 1953, Studebaker launched the low-slung Loewy coupes, cars that have often been listed among the world’s most beautiful designs. Raymond Loewy, who’d directed Studebaker styling since the 1938 models, oversaw the development of the coupe, although the actual styling was done by Robert Bourke. To create a special halo model for 1955, Loewy updated a President two-door hardtop and named it the Speedster. The sport-coupe concept continued in 1956 with the introduction of the Hawk. During 1956-1958, the top-line two-door hardtop was called the Golden Hawk. It was supercharged in 1957 and 1958.

Packard Motor Car Company bought Studebaker Corporation in 1954 and formed Studebaker-Packard Corporation. The resulting company had a hard time competing with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, and from 1954 to 1958, Studebaker-Packard didn’t turn a profit. The 1957 and 1958 Packards were actually Studebakers with special interiors and trim, and Packards were discontinued in 1958.

Although sales slumped after 1950, Studebaker took honors throughout that decade in the Mobilgas Economy Runs. In addition to the Hawks, Studebaker introduced several new models during the 1950s: the Conestoga station wagon for 1954, with the President line returning in 1955 after a hiatus of 13 years. In 1957, Studebaker unveiled a new, economical Scotsman series, which sold well during the downturn of 1957-’58.

Due to the Scotsman’s success and a growing demand for smaller cars in late 1958, Studebaker dropped all models except the Silver Hawk and introduced an all-new compact line called the Lark, a project directed by Studebaker president Harold Churchill. During 1959, the Lark became extremely successful and produced the highest one-year profit Studebaker had ever seen up to that time. In 1960, the Big Three countered with their own compacts, and Studebaker again found itself struggling.

In an attempt to create a sportier image, Studebaker brought out the Gran Turismo Hawk in 1962 and introduced the dynamic Avanti for the 1963 model year. The fiberglass-bodied Avanti, when fitted with an optional supercharged R3 engine, was capable of a true 170 MPH. It was, at that time, the fastest production car ever offered in America. The Avanti had a built-in rollbar and front caliper disc brakes, the first on a full-sized U.S. production car.

Larks were given a flashier image with the introduction of the Cruiser in 1961, the Daytona in 1962 and the unique sliding-roof Wagonaire station wagon in 1963. A Lark Commander and Challenger were introduced for the 1964 model year. The 1962-’64 Lark and the GT Hawk were styled by Brooks Stevens, whose own Excalibur phaeton was based on Studebaker components.

As with all automobile companies, the story of Studebaker is about much more than just vehicles. It’s about the founders, engineers, designers, factory employees, dealership owners and the people who purchased the vehicles. Those Studebaker buyers, past and present, are the ones who’ve kept the flame alive. Studebaker enthusiasts feel strongly that the vehicles they honor, and the company’s long history, are unsurpassed in the saga of wheeled transportation. –Fred K. Fox

Select Image to EnlargeDesigner Raymond Loewy (left) and Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert admire a prototype of the 1963 Avanti. Photos courtesy Fred Fox. Select Image to Enlarge1966 Studebaker Cruiser. Select Image to EnlargeCirca 1892 Studebaker buggy. Select Image to EnlargeStudebaker marketed its first automobile in 1902. It was available with runabout, stanhope and trap bodies. Select Image to EnlargeThe company had built trucks before, but it launched a line of cab-overs in 1936 for urban and long-distance hauling. Select Image to EnlargeSouth Bend’s new and different postwar 1947 lines got nicknamed “Coming-and-Going cars” by the American public. Select Image to EnlargeThe Hawk series of sporty coupes followed in 1956. Behind this 1957 Golden Hawk’s classic grille stood a supercharged, 275-bhp V-8. Select Image to EnlargeJust before the Avanti arrived, Studebaker revamped the Hawk with a more formal roof to become the Gran Turismo Hawk. Select Image to EnlargeThe 1963 Wagonaire’s sliding rear roof section accommodated tall objects; fold-down rear step gave kids a leg up.


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