Thursday, June 9, 2016

Studebaker Lark: Chop Off the Ends to Make it Compact

Studebaker suffered a long, slow death.  The post- World War 2 American automobile market was dominated by the so-called Big Three: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.  Then there were the so-called "Independents" which were Studebaker, Nash, Hudson, Willys, Kaiser-Frazer and Packard -- plus a few minor brands such as Crosley.  All but the Big Three eventually went out of business, though Willys' Jeep remains as a Fiat-Chrysler brand.

Studebaker was the strongest Independent during the late 1940s, but its 1953 redesign was its last before the company left the auto business in 1966.  All that followed the '53s were facelifts.

The most successful facelift of sedans was the creation of the Studebaker Lark line for the 1959 model year (Wikipedia entry here). It resulted in increased sales that helped Studebaker last longer than it might have otherwise.

What Studebaker did was create a "compact" car (in American size terms) by chopping off the ends of its existing sedans and hardtop convertibles (the Hawk line excepted).  This in response to a growing sales trend towards smaller cars, exemplified by American Motors' Rambler (formerly a Nash product) and imported cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle.  So Studebaker caught the trend for a few years and prolonged its existence.

Besides hopping on the trend, Lark sales were helped because it was nicely designed.  Not all facelifts are bad.


1953 Studebaker Champion
This is an example of Studebaker's redesigned sedans for 1953.

1958 Studebaker Commander
Several facelifts later, we find this awkward pre-Lark sedan.

1959 Studebaker Lark sedan ad card
The large grille recalls Studebaker's Hawk, itself a facelifted version of the classic 1953 Starliner.

1959 Studebaker Lark hardtop ad card
The Lark was a clean design, quite unlike the 1958 Studebaker and other American brands that suffered from the 1950s disease of over-decoration.  This hardtop convertible was especially attractive.

1959 Studebaker Lark publicity photo
Four door sedan Larks were stubby, but that was what buyers of compacts expected.

1959 Studebaker Lark hardtop - rear 3/4 view - sales photo
Lark rear ends were cleanly styled too.  My only complaint is that the wheels and tires are a little smaller than I prefer -- perhaps halfway between what we see here and what the 1953 Champion had.

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