|1957 Studebaker President.|
There were many dark days for the Studebaker–Packard Corporation of Canada, Limited in 1955. The US parent was in deep trouble because investors and consumers alike had lost faith in the once-mighty independent automaker. Sales and production slid. The lines were idled in South Bend and in Hamilton, too.
Top brass in Canada and the US would rekindle confidence in their product line. Studebaker and Fram had a relationship that reached back to 1936. Installing oil filters on vehicles was a very new concept at the time. Studebaker and Fram both heavily promoted their association and the benfits to owners in the media. The relationship had been a good one and continued on ever since.
To boost morale, an international contest was launched. In the Dominion, only the Canadian dealer principals, their sales staff and garages that sold Fram products could take part. All they had to do to win was to correctly guess how many Studebaker cars would leave the Hamilton, Ontario factory during the 1956 model year with Canadian-made Fram filters installed as original equipment. Participants got the official entry forms from the local Fram salesmen when they dropped in to take orders and deliver filters.
It was a pretty glamorous contest with $110,000 worth of prizes to be won, including movie cameras, television sets, automatic washing machines and ironers. The grand prizes were a pair of brand spanking new Studebaker automobiles.
Model year production got under way in Hamilton in November of 1955. This year it would be passenger cars only; truck production had been shifted back to the Hoosier State. Champions and Commanders rolled out the doors of the 12-acre plant located on Ferry Street and now flagship Presidents were being domestically built, replacing the truck line.
The new Studebaker line was a dramatic departure from the Euro-look cars offered from 1953 to 1955. The story is told that when Packard purchased Studebaker, one of the new president’s first acts was to see what was in the pipeline for Studebaker. He hated the prototypes and promptly fired Raymond Loewy, the French designer who had been responsible for styling, all the way back to the 1939 Champions.
Independent stylist Vincent Gardiner hired to create a new look. Gardiner was not only able to design vehicles but to execute them as clay models. His versatile talent was highly sought after by all the manufacturers. Gardiner squared up the existing body and made it look more conventional. By all accounts he did a beautiful job. Few would have guessed that this was a facelift, not an entirely new car.
In Hamilton, the rate of production started out at 40 units a day. Only hardtops, coupes, wagons and Hawks of all stripes (Flight, Power, Silver and Golden) were imported. Contest entrants who guessed production based on that rate would be disappointed. In December, the rate moved upward to 1,008 units, or 48 completed vehicles a day. Production figures stuck like glue to that number right through the model year until the factory closed down for the annual changeover in August of 1956.
|1957 Studebaker Hawks were imported from the USA.|
In March there could have been a nasty strike that would have shut down the lines and skewed the contest but the company and the union were able to ink a labour deal that gave workers an 18-cent increase in their pay cheques, spread over the life of the three-year contract.
|1957 Studebaker Scotsman was the no-frills model that kept the company alive until it could unleash its new, compact Lark for the 1959 selling season.|
Not only did production hold steady but sales were greatly improved, too. By the end of June, head office could brag that dealers had sold 6,064 of the 1956 models in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario and estimated sales of another 1,516 new Studebaker passenger cars in Western Canada. That was well ahead of last year’s totals and the year wasn’t over yet. Records show that sales were especially brisk for the two-door coupes and the imported hardtops. They experienced an increase of 11.5 percent over the previous year’s totals. Though the now imported truck line dropped by half from the previous year to 130 sales during the same six-month period, that loss wasn’t awful because Studebaker-Packard dealers now sold the luxurious Mercedes-Benz and the tiny DKW, both imported from West Germany.
|Studebaker dealers throughout the Dominion sold Mercedes-Benz automobiles, including the 1957 300SL Gullwing Coupe.|
|Studebaker dealers also sold the tiny DKW, imported from West Germany.|
When the last 1956 Studebaker passenger car rolled out the door at the end of the model year, 5,205 Champions, 2,472 Commanders and 455 Presidents had been built.
History has not been kind enough to preserve the exact number of Studebakers equipped with the Fram oil filters. It is known that staff from 116 dealerships and garages across the country participated in the contest. It is also known that Mr. Kane of Kingston, Ontario guessed the exact number of Fram filters installed and won a new 1957 Studebakers. Mr. Cox, the Fram salesman who gave him the entry form won a Studebaker as well.
James Kane owned LaSalle Tire Limited. He sold Fram filters. After reading an article in the Whig-Standard about new car sales, James calculated the number of 1956 Studebakers that he thought would be equipped with Fram filters. He filled out the form and completely forgot about the contest. A year went by and when informed he had won, he was completely astonished.
The two men and their wives were honoured at a special luncheon on April 8, 1957. Studebaker-Packard’s President Gaskin, an industry legend, was on hand for the occasion. After the lunch and a few short speeches, the keys to the lovely cars were presented to the winners and their wives by Tom Pryde, S-P’s General Sales manager, along with F.A. Knight, President of Fram Canada, Limited.
The Kane’s Studebaker was a brown and white four-door sedan. Winning the Studebaker turned the Kanes into a two-car family, virtually unheard of in Canada at that time. The stately Studebaker served as Mrs. Kane’s wheels for a good decade before it was traded in for a new Rambler.
At the luncheon, Studebaker officials announced to the press that Fram Easychange filters were now being offered as standard equipment on President models and made optional on Commanders and Champions. The press release bragged just a little that this represented a Canadian automotive industry first. That got the manufacturer national press coverage and Canadians’ attention. Studebaker had not lost its edge as a pioneering independent and it was still a force to be reckoned with.
|Studebaker family snapshot for 1957.|
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Copyright James C. Mays 2004
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