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Thursday, October 4, 2012

1966 Studebaker

The 1966 Studebaker Commander series was available in two- or four-door configurations.

No other North American automaker could reach as far back into transportation history as Studebaker. The company's beginnings centred aound brothers Henry and Clement who began building high quality wagons and carriages in 1852 in their Southold (South Bend), Indiana blacksmith shop.

Henry, Clement, Jacob, Peter and J.M. Studebaker

Their credo was a simple one, "Always give more than you promise." The brothers prospered because they did exactly that. With time, three more brothers joined the family enterprise, adding their knowledge and expertise to a rapidly growing business.

Studebaker's sturdy Conestoga wagons were a favourite of pioneers trekking across the continent to search for gold and land. The company became the world's largest manufacturer when awarded a contract to supply wagons to the US Army in 1861.

In the 1870s the company expanded its line to include stylish traps, elegant carriages and beautiful sleighs for its urban customers. Keeping pace with the times, electric and gasoline buggies were added at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

A 1908 Studebaker Limousine.

In 1908 Studebaker became the third largest auto manufacturer in the world. Battling it out with rivals Maxwell and Willys-Overland, by 1911 Studebaker had climbed to the Number Two spot, bested only by Ford.

Studebaker's management wisely emphasized building key components so that they could be shipped worldwide. This allowed for locally made parts wherever they were shipped. Recognizing the local content laws required in many countries gave Studebaker preferential tax breaks in many markets. 

A 1911 E-M-F Touring (top) and Roadster.

For the British Empire, Studebaker's headquarters were in Windsor, Ontario. When the company purchased the E-M-F concern in 1911, part of the deal was the E-M-F plant in Windsor.

The 1913 Studebaker Model AA.

By 1913 the E-M-F name was retired in favour of Studebaker. Records show that 3,000 Studebakers were domestically assembled that year.
This 1913 photo shows the Studebaker of Canada Limited factory in Windsor, Ontario.

The stylish cars appealed to the affluent. The least expensive Studebaker cost CAD$1,245 in 1918. As early as 1923 records showed profitable shipments of Canadian-built Studebakers throughout the British Empire.

Business was great until 1927 when the Erskine was introduced. Designed for wealthy globetrotters, the car was too European in looks and sufficiently overpriced that it was not accepted by the public. In May of 1930 Canadian production of the Erskine was discontinued. The car was rebadged as Studebaker 53 and old somewhat better.

The 1932 Pierce-Arrow Model 54. Note the unusual position of the headlights.
 In 1928 Studebaker moved further into the luxury field by purchasing old-line Pierce-Arrow. The prestigious marque had long been the preferred conveyance of royalty and heads of state, but had fallen on hard times as management had not kept up with the changes in the industry. Studebaker poured millions into the development of a new 12-cylinder engine for Pierce-Arrow, but  to no avail. The investment proved to be a very expensive mistake. Produced in Canada from 1932 to 1934, Pierce-Arrow buyers were far and few between. The luxurious brand was sold off in 1934.

The third costly error was the introduction of the Rockne in 1932. The little economy car was a great idea but with one out of five Canadians was looking for works in the depths of a world business depression, no one was buying. With three stunning failures in a row, Studebaker's world president committed suicide.

The company went into receivership in 1933, though the Canadian subsidiary operated in the black throughout the Dirty Thirties, sending a cheque to head office for $3.5 million in 1934. Reorganized and nursed back to health, the company soldiered on.

The 1936 Studebaker President sold for $1,073 in Canada.
Assembly continued in Windsor until 1936 when Parliament rewrote the laws pertaining to the domestic content of automobiles. It was now more lucrative to ship completed cars to Canada than to build them here.

Through good times and bad, Studebaker continued to impress. American presidents and Hollywood stars appreciated their elegant lines. King Edward VIII had one in his stable. Viscount Alexander of Tunis--Canada's Governor-General from 1946 to 1952--counted Studebaker among his favourite conveyances.
The 1922 Studebaker Model EK Big Six, a.k.a. the Whisky Six was a favourite of rum runners carting booze from Canada into the United States.

Outlaws liked Studebaker's speed. Big Studebakers were favourites of folks smuggling alcohol into the US from Canada during the years that our southern neighbours went 'dry.' Nicknamed 'Whisky Sixes,' speedy Studies could easily outrun police cars, adding glamour and panache to the brand.  The very name Studebaker meant power. Not to be outdone the Windsor, Ontario police force ordered Studebakers for their own arsenal.

The thrifty and small 1939 Studebaker Champion was popular enough with Canadians that the company planned to reopen its assembly plant.

In 1939 war broke out. Studebaker's plans to reactive its assembly plant in Canada would have to wait until the war's end. When peace did come in 1945, the company bought a factory in Hamilton, Ontario. The new plant opened to much fanfare in August of 1948.

First out the door were the highly popular and thrifty Champions. Soon other models including trucks, were rolling down the production lines and being loaded onto transports for dealer delivery in all nine provinces. Figures show just under 13,000 vehicles were built in 1949 and those included shipments to Canada's newest province, Newfoundland and Labrador. Production rose to more than 15,000 units in 1950. In 1951 the corporate flagship--the Commander--became a Canadian product.

The 1952 Studebaker Commander V-8.

Studebaker marked its 100th anniversary in 1952. A new design wasn't ready so there was one more face lift for the ageing body.

Studebaker was honoured to pace the Indianapolis 500 Race in 1952.

The 1953 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe.

Then Studebaker found itself in trouble for a variety of reasons. The 1953 cars were not well received as many found them to be far too European in looks. Worse, the surviving independent automakers were virtually cut out of the market as Chevrolet and Ford engaged in all-out war to be Number One in the hearts and garages of consumers. Their ruthless price-cutting game was devastating to Nash, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker and Willys-Overland. Survival meant merging and Packard bought badly ailing Studebaker in 1954.
The majestic 1954 Packard Patrician. Packard had been building cars for 55 years in 1954.

Unfortunately, Studebaker's South Bend plant had the highest break eve point of all the indepdenents partly because it paid the highest wages in the industry. The newly merged company was not a healthy one and internal rivalries were bitter. Studebaker had lost control of its cost. High retail prices prompted consumers to to buy vehicles elsewhere.

Packard had its own troubles. Management didn't trust each other. The cars were poorly finished. Convertibles leaked. Top brass decided to resolve the problem on the cheap by ordering waterproof upholstery. Confidence continued to slip. That meant there was less new money to develop new products.

Truck production was pulled from Hamilton in 1955. Only 256 trucks were built that year. Total car production in Hamilton dropped to 8,441 units.

The 1956 Studebaker, Packard and Clipper (now a separate marque) lineup should have been the company's last.

The public perceived Studebaker and Packard as yesterday's cars. Production for the 1956 model year was limited to actual orders. Even sales brochures were rationed. Packards by the scores were sent back to the factory because of a flaw in the rear axle design. Things got worse when Chrysler bought Briggs--the company that stamped Packard bodies for years. Merging operations wasn't going well, either. Packards couldn't be built in South Bend because the bodies were too large for the lines. Underwriters refused to advance Studebaker-Packard the USD$95 million needed to tool up new bodies for the 1957 model year. 

Top-of-the-line Studebaker President four-door sedan for 1957.

The story would have ended right then except for US President Eisenhower. It was an election year and he wanted a second term in office. That wasn't going to happen if Studebaker-Packard went under. It would be the largest business failure in American history. It was arranged for S-P to be purchased by Curtiss-Wright. The aircraft component maker would manage the company for three years and get it back on its feet. 
The 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL turned heads.

Problems began to get solved. A new Packard would be made from the Studebaker body. A compact car would be made from the current Studebaker body as well. In the short term, S-P dealers would sell Mercedes-Benz, imported from West Germany. Finally there needed to be a stop-gap vehicle that would keep the doors open until the new compact arrived in the fall of 1958.
The 1957 Studebaker Scotsman was priced in the Volkswagen Beetle range.

 That stop-gap model would be the Scotsman. It was a stripper but it might steal sales from frugal folk who might buy Volkswagen and Rambler. Billed as an inflation fighter, the Scotsman used cardboard in the interior and paint rather than chrome. Those who remembered Studebaker's glory days were disgusted. Denis 'Gus' Gaskin, President of Studebaker-Packard of Canada took one look and snorted, "Why don't you save some more money by taking the wheels off the darned thing." He resigned that day and went to work the next Monday as president of Mack Trucks of Canada.
The Studebaker Scotsman was plain from every angle.

Regardless, it was the lowly and humble Scotsman that would tide the company over until the sensational new compact--the Lark--could be readied for the 1959 selling season. Engineers got things right this time around, as many sound mechanical improvements were made. Studebaker's fiscal house was in order by August of 1958. Curtiss-Wright's management team pulled out of its contract 14 months early, allowing the company the freedom to operate as it wished.

Engineers and designes took the 1958 body shell and cut big chunks out of it. The result was a smart, compact design that would compete well with Rambler, Volkswagen and anything the Big Three might have waiting in the wings.

The 1959 Lark by Studebaker was a big hit with the public.

When the Lark debuted in the fall of 1958, sales were phenomenal and continued to be a strong seller in 1960 as well. The automotive press speculated constantly about Studebaker's demise. It was rumoured that any day Studebaker would pull the plug on its unprofitable automotive division. Folks shied away from the possibility of owning an orphan car.

The 1962 Studebaker

Still, Studebaker soldiered on. A facelift for the 1962 Lark made it look very Mercedes-like. Studebaker was chosen to be the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500. The Lark was Track and Traffic Canada's pick as Car of the Year. Packard had been allowed to die in 1958 and the corporation dropped its name from its title. Here at home the new name was Studebaker of Canada, Limited.

Introduction of a station wagon with a novel sliding roof didn't help sales much. Neither did the introduction of the sleek, fibreglass-bodied Avanti sports car.

Production in the US was right at 30,000 for 1963 but the company lost $25 million on sales of $403 million. On December 31st the South Bend plant was shuttered and production was moved to Hamilton, Ontario. The newer and more efficient plant could supply cars to dealers in North America. As long as production held steady at 20,000 units a year, the company would make a profit. The introduction of the Canada-USA AutoPact made it easy to ship Studebakers to the States.

Studebaker got a much needed and very stylish facelift for 1964. Jane Kmita received a beautiful new Studebaker convertible when she was crowned Miss Canada that year. At home, it was billed as "Canada's Own Car." People liked them and production hit 17,614 units.

Stealing a bit of Volkswagen's thunder, the 1964 and 1965 Studebakers were touted as thrifty because they were no changes.
A very real problem was sourcing engines. The engine plant had not been brought to Canada. A solution was found by having motors made by GM Canada's McKinnon Industries in St. Catherines, Ontario. That company built engines for Chevrolet. The new mills were built to Studebaker engineers' specifications. Folks who thought that the motors were just Chev engines were surprised to learn that none of the parts were interchangeable.

The 1964 Volkswagen T1500 Sedan.

The company constantly looked for new ways to improve the profit margin. AutoPact allowed Studebaker to import cars. It was already importing Mercedes and now it added Volkswagen to the list. The West German cars were shipped to Canada with no tax or import duties and then resold to Volkswagen of Canada, Limited. This deal put money in Studebaker's bank account and allowed VW to sell its cars for less money than if they had imported them itself.

The 1964 Datsun Bluebird.

Gordon Grundy was president of Studebaker. He saw the future and to him it was clearly Japanese. He went to Japan to talk to Nissan. The two companies were ready to sign when Grundy was ordered to break off negotiations and sign with Toyota. Nissan's honour was at stake and Japan's national pride was about to be insulted. Toyota officials refused to meet Grundy and he came home empty handed.

The 1965 Isuzu Bellet was assembled on Cape Breton Island.

Top brass wanted out of the car business once and for all. Grundy came very close to selling the automaking division to Canadian Motors Limited. This company already assembled Toyotas and Isuzu Bellets in Nova Scotia for the domestic market. The deal fell through when a single bureaucrat in Nova Scotia refused to sign the papers.

The 1966 Studebaker was reskinned on a body that was now 14 years old. The look was attractive. Remarkable new features included a transistorized ignition and an advanced flow-through ventilation system called Refreshaire. It wasn't enough to save the day. Only 2,045 cars had been built during the calendar year (model sales were 8,947 units) when head office pulled the plug on its profitable automobile division. The last Studebaker rolled off the line on March 17th, 1966. The Timberline turquoise V-8 Cruiser was shipped to the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, the end of another automobile legend.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Copyright James C. Mays 2001
All rights reserved.


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