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Saturday, January 29, 2011

1959 Studebaker Lark

This lovely hardtop is the 1959 Lark by Studebaker.
Shown in Regal trim, it listed for $2,947 f.o.b. Hamilton
 and weighed in at 3,042 pounds.

Studebaker had long been part of the domestic automotive scene by the time the Lark appeared on Canada's highways and byways in the fall of 1958. The predecessor E-M-F and Flanders cars were built in Windsor, Ontario starting in 1910. That company was taken over by Studebaker in 1912 and the latter grew to be one of the most popular cars in the country.

Big and fast, the Studebaker was a favourite of both rum runners and the police during the American prohibition years. The factory closed in 1936 when it became cheaper to build cars in the United States and export them to Canada than it was to build them here. Plans were under way to reopen a factory in 1939 thanks to the runaway success of the inexpensive Studebaker Champion but our 1939 entry into World War Two put those plans on hold for six long years until victory came and the world was at peace once again.

Listing for $3,164 with the V-8 engine, 
the most expensive Lark in the lineup 
was the Regal two-door station wagon. 
It rode on a 113-inch wheelbase.

Proclaiming a new dimension in motoring by Studebaker, the company’s 1958 annual report was jubilant with the company’s success. “The new Lark fulfills our decision to concentrate our energies in the rapidly expanding smaller car field—and tailor our products to a demonstrated consumer demand for a convenience-sized automobile.”

The car that took shape under stylist Duncan McCrea was certainly ingenious even if the basic envelope had been in use since the 1953 models bowed. With no money for a ground-up package, the restyle was nothing less than stunning. A compact-sized car emerged, built around the existing frame. This was achieved by cutting eight inches out of the part of the perimeter where the interior was cradled by the frame. A reporter wrote that the Lark was “a tidy 108.5-inch automobile, shorn of excessive ornamentation and engineered for functional value. Studebaker lauds the Lark as ‘the common sense car’ because of its initial low cost its economy of operation and practical design.”

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Larks began rolling out the doors of the Hamilton, Ontario plant in October of 1958. Production was set at a modest 32 cars a day. Reports said the 600 Studebaker craftsmen in Hamilton “are proud of their product. The Lark is unlike any other car because its proportions and performance are ideally suited to today’s driving conditions. The Lark has all the space the …motorist demands for driving comfort, seating six adults and accommodating their luggage in a vacation-size trunk. The Lark runs with any car and adds the advantage of economy. Eliminated are useless overhang, excess bulk and wasteful “dead “ weight.” 

The “Econ-O-Miler” Taxicab was a special 
Lark offered in 1959 by Studebaker-Packard of 
Canada Limited. 

The stark truth was that Lark was Studebaker’s last hope to stay in business. Nervous management was anxious about its acceptance by the public. The company’s entire future was pinned on the Lark's success. They needn’t have worried, Lark turned out to be the right car, in the right place, at the right time. Introduced during a business recession, those few consumers who were buying new cars were headed straight for small, thrifty vehicles. Many of them were European. One out of every five cars sold in Canada during calendar year 1958 came from the UK, West Germany, France, Sweden or Italy. The other practical small car choice was, of course, the stylish Rambler by the newly minted American Motors of Canada Limited. The Lark by Studebaker was a step up from the imports, took on Rambler toe-to-toe and turned out to be a smash hit for the old-line, independent automaker.

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“Easy to park, effortless to handle, fun to drive; in every respect, the Lark is she car that meets the needs and tastes of our times,” bragged advertising and the annual report threw roses to the marketing team, too. “The appeal of the Lark by Studebaker has perhaps been best described by the phrase in our advertising, ‘Smart, sensible, solid, smooth, spirited,’ and the trend toward this type of automotive transportation is the most revolutionary occurrence in the…auto market in many years.”

The Lark four-door sedan sold for $2,441 with a
six-cylinder engine and $2,640 with Studebaker’s
259-cubic inch V-8 mill stuffed under the hood.

With its bargain $2,355 price tag, the Lark 6 by 
Studebaker in Deluxe trim was the 
cheapest set of  
wheels Hamilton could offer in 1959.

Instrument panel of the 1959 Lark featured a 
padded dash overlay in Regal models. 
All Larks carried a centrally located glove box.

Copyright James C. Mays 2007 
All rights reserved.
Advertising billed the cars as “haughty and handsome” and “jewel-like.” Folks liked them immensely. In the first two months of the 1959 calendar year, workers built 4,108 cars. January retail sales were the company’s best since 1951.  In March of 1959, management was obliged to increase production by 50 percent to keep up with demand. With the move to 48 cars a day, a hundred new men had to be hired to do the job.

Interiors were the largest in the compact class, seating six with ease. They were said to be “inviting” as well as extremely comfortable. Special attention was drawn to the extra seat support provided for the small of the back and under the thighs. Stealing a page from Rambler, reclining seats could be ordered for “the ultimate in motoring comfort.” 

Studebaker boasted it was the friendliest family car in town and that the entire family would love it. Plenty of families did. Studebaker-Packard Canada Limited ranked 13th for calendar year 1959 with a total of 7,686 sales—and that figure included the Silver and Golden Hawk sports cars as well. Factory reports show 7,294 cars were built in the Hamilton facility for the 1959 model year. The company further strengthened its position by selling 189 acres of unused industrial-zoned land it owned on Guelph Line Road near the QEW in Hamilton. That property sale was a good thing because competition stiffened considerably with new compact entries from GM. Ford and Chrysler. Workers would only build 6,446 Larks for the 1960 model year.

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