The Studebaker Lark is a "compact car" which was produced by Studebaker from 1959 to 1966.
From its introduction in early 1959 until 1962, the Lark was a product of the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. In mid-1962, the company dropped "Packard" from its name and reverted to its pre-1954 name, the Studebaker Corporation. In addition to being built in Studebaker's South Bend, Indiana, home plant, the Lark and its descendants were also built in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, from 1959 to 1966 by Studebaker of Canada Limited. The cars were also exported to a number of countries around the world as completed units and completely knocked down (CKD) kits.
Lark-based variants represented the bulk of the range produced by Studebaker after 1958 and sold in far greater volume than the contemporary Hawk and Avanti models. Beginning with the 1963 Cruiser, the Lark name was gradually phased out of the company catalog and by early 1964, Lark-based models were being marketed under Commander, Daytona and Cruiser nameplates only. The Studebaker company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1952, ceased automobile production in 1966.
1959 - 1961
Sales of the Lark were good for the 1959 and 1960 model year, thanks to the fact that Studebaker had obtained "dual" dealerships with dealers of the Big Three manufacturers that did not as yet have their own compacts to sell.
Initial models included two- and four-door sedans, a two-door hardtop coupe and a two-door station wagon, with two levels of trim (Deluxe and Regal) offered on most. Aside from American Motors Corporation's Rambler line, the Lark offered the broadest line of compacts on the U.S. market. Indeed, the Lark was the first car of its size to offer a V8 engine — the similarly sized Rambler American offered only an inline six.
The lineup grew for 1960, when the company issued a convertible (Studebaker's first since 1952) and a four-door station wagon. Two-door wagons were fast falling from favor throughout the industry, despite a minor redesign which made the two-door Lark wagon's tailgate and rear side windows more user-friendly, and indeed the four-door quickly proved the more popular of the two available wagons from Studebaker.
A taxicab version of the Lark, originally called the "Econ-O-Miler," was built on the station wagon's longer 113 in (2,900 mm) wheelbase. The extra 4.5 in (110 mm) of wheelbase translated into extra rear seat legroom, which was important in the taxi trade.
For 1959 and 1960, Larks were available with either an L-head (flathead) 170 cu in (2.8 L) six-cylinder engine or the company's 259 cu in (4.2 L) V8. Testers at the time gave high marks to the V8's performance. A V8 Lark could turn out a 0 to 60 mph time of around 10 seconds, which was on par with much larger cars. By comparison, among the early Big Three compacts (Ford Falcon, Mercury Comet, Chevrolet Corvair and Plymouth Valiant) that arrived on the scene in 1960, only the Valiant could break the 20-second mark from 0-60 mph. None of the Big Three compacts offered a V8 until the second wave of such cars — the so-called "senior compacts" — arrived for 1963.
To meet the challenge of those new cars head-on, for 1961 Studebaker created a new four-door sedan, the Cruiser, using the Econ-O-Miler taxicab body with an upgraded, more luxurious interior. The resulting car harked back to the long-wheelbase Studebaker Land Cruiser sedans of the late Forties and early Fifties. These cars can be distinguished from their lesser four-door counterparts by the 1959-60-style roofline and operational vent windows in the rear doors, while other sedans used one-piece glass in the rear doors.
A new option, a canvas-covered folding sunroof dubbed the "Skytop" was introduced as an extra-cost feature for sedans and the two-door hardtop. A mild restyling, too, was carried out. Non-Cruiser sedans and the two-door hardtop received a squared-off roofline, and a new front end design gave the Lark a broader grille and the availability of quad headlamps (as standard equipment on Regal and Cruiser models, optional on Deluxes).
Although the styling was modified, engineering enhancements were the big news for 1961, as the Larks received a performance boost. Studebaker advertised as "the compact with Performability," and this was abetted by the addition of the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8 from the Hawk family sports car as an option, although this was mainly for Larks intended for police pursuit packages. The bigger news, as far as the general public was concerned, involved the six-cylinder engine. Studebaker's engineers had long known that their little flathead mill, which dated in its basic form to 1939, was falling farther and farther behind the competition in both power and fuel economy. Lacking the budget to design a completely new engine, the engineering staff converted the 170 engine to overhead valves while retaining much of the basic design. The "new" six, which displaced the same 170 cu. in. as before, went from 90 hp (67 kW) to 112 hp (84 kW), all without a loss in fuel economy. Indeed, most road testers of the day found the new engine to be easier on fuel than the flathead, and cars so equipped were able to shave nearly four seconds off the all-important 0-60 mph time. The redesigned six, known as the "Skybolt Six," was marketed by Studebaker extensively in 1961.
Other engineering improvements that modernized the 1961 Larks included the introduction of cowl ventilation, suspended brake and clutch pedals (accompanied by a firewall-mounted brake master cylinder) and revamped steering systems.
Unfortunately, for all of its new engineering and the mild restyling, sales of the Lark dropped off precipitously for 1961. Even more new competitors were squeezing their way into the marketplace, as Dodge brought out the Lancer, and General Motors issued the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest. These new "senior compacts", in addition to their very presence in the market, caused other problems for Studebaker. Most of the Big Three dealers who had signed on with the independent when the Lark debuted dropped the smaller company under pressure from the Detroit manufacturers once the new cars broke cover. Those who did not drop Studebaker outright often put more effort to selling their other product lines.
In an effort to reverse the downward sales trend created when Detroit rolled out its own compacts in 1960 and 1961, new Studebaker-Packard president Sherwood Egbert called upon his friend, noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens, to effect a striking yet cost-effective 1962 update. Stevens lengthened the car body, especially at the rear, and modernized the interior. Studebaker's board of directors were reportedly pleased with the extent of the changes Stevens was able to make. They could not believe he could do so much for so little money.
In addition to the new styling, Studebaker joined the increasing popularity of front bucket seats and center console models of the early 1960s with the introduction of the Daytona. In the same way that the Cruiser had become the top-of-the-line four-door for 1961, the new Daytona replaced the Regal as the top-trim convertible and hardtop, although Regal versions of these body styles remained available.
All four-door sedans for 1962 moved to the Cruiser's 113 in (2,900 mm) wheelbase body. However, the Cruiser remained the only four-door with rear-door vent windows. Two-door models gained a half-inch in wheelbase, up from 108.5" to 109".
The only model that was deleted from the 1962 lineup was the Deluxe series two-door wagon, which had slipped in popularity since the four-door wagon's debut in 1960. However, some leftover 1961-model two-door wagon bodies were fitted with the new 1962 front clips. This was done to fill a U.S. government fleet order. No one is certain how many were built, although the number was certainly minuscule, and none are known to exist today.
The immediate effect of Stevens' restyle was improved sales. Indeed, had it not been for a strike called by the United Auto Workers Local 5 in early 1962 at Studebaker's South Bend home plant, writers then and now expressed confidence that the company could have easily sold more than 100,000 of the new cars. Despite the strike, which halted production for 38 days, the company sold over 90,000, far more than had been sold in 1961.
For 1963, Stevens again restyled the Lark. The dated wrap-around windshield was eliminated and the entire "greenhouse" was lightened via the use of thinner door and roof pillars. Doing away with the thick framing that had been a much-criticized feature of Studebaker's bodies since 1953 imparted a much more modern appearance.
Inside the cars, a completely new instrument panel with full instrumentation (sans idiot lights) was installed, although the designers were not able to integrate the available air conditioning into the panel; the evaporator and vents were still hung beneath the dash in a space-robbing box. For the ladies, an "Exclusive Beauty Vanity" with a mirror and makeup tray was fitted in the glove compartment on most models. Just in case anyone would forget that Studebaker's glove box contained the vanity feature, the fronts were adorned with the word "Vanity" in golden script.
Aside from the Avanti, the biggest product news for Studebaker in 1963 was the introduction of the novel sliding-roof Wagonaire. Designed by Stevens, the Wagonaire was perhaps the greatest advance in station wagons since the late-1940s introduction of the all-steel body. Dealers found that while buyers were curious in the sliding roof of the Wagonaire, many were hesitant to consider them seriously. When combined with reports of water leakage that many of the early models experienced, management deemed that a less exotic fixed roof wagon was needed. These were added at mid year.
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Cruiser was given heavy promotion as a sensibly sized luxury car. The brochures referred to it as "America's First and Only Limousette." To separate it from the Lark, Studebaker eliminated the "LARK" lettering from the front fenders and added fancier side trim. Inside, buyers could choose luxurious broadcloth upholstery, lending credence to Studebaker's luxury push for the Cruiser.
The Daytona line was expanded for 1963, adding the new Wagonaire to the continuing convertible and hardtop. A new Custom trim level, which used side trim similar to that used on the 1962 Daytonas, stepped into the Regal's former place. Daytonas received new side trim that started as a narrow molding on the front fenders and widened toward the rear. The basic design of this trim was shared with the Cruiser.
With the elimination of the "Deluxe" Lark, this left the formerly "hi-line" Regal models demoted to Studebaker's base model when the 1963 cars were introduced. Regal's were simple badged as a "Lark" and received a thin stainless steel trim piece that extended from the tip of the front fender to the end of the rear fender. While the interiors were plain, they were far from spartan. The regal line shared the newly introduced padded dash, with "Vanity", with its higher priced sister models, and the vinyl interior for some exterior colors featured three colors and textures of vinyl, but with less tufting. Buyers could also option a Regal with any of the engine and transmission choices found in the higher priced models.
In mid-1963, Studebaker introduced the Standard series, a totally stripped line of Larks in the vein of the 1957-58 Scotsman, was introduced, bumping the Regal up a notch in the model hierarchy. While it — like the Cruiser at the other end of the line — was obviously a Lark, it bore no Lark nameplates, just "Studebaker" scripts (first used on 1956 Hawks) on the front fenders. In addition, the Standard, in keeping with its frugal image, carried no side trim, and had a plainer interior with no vanity, just a simple glove box with a lid that opened at the top. Mainly promoted as a fleet vehicle, the Standard offered good value; the two-door sedan carried a base price of only US$1,935, equal to $14,689. This price was very competitive with other companies' small- and mid-sized cars.
On the engineering front, disc brakes made by Bendix (first offered on the Avanti) were made available; at $97.95 (equal to $743.57 today), they were a good value and greatly improved the cars' stopping power. In the engine lineup, in addition to the existing six-cylinder and V8 engines of the past, new options were added for the 1963 model year. Unsupercharged "R1" and supercharged "R2" 289 V8s from the Avanti were made available. Buyers choosing those engines late in the model year could also order a "Super Performance Package," which added a host of high-performance goodies aimed at making the cars not only go faster, but handle better. Cars equipped with the package were called "Super Larks."
Unfortunately, though the 1963 models were seen as an extension of the improvements made the previous year, the buying public by this time was looking for more than just a mild change, and sales fell, this time to around 77,000 cars.
Studebaker's executives allowed Stevens to continue the process of modernizing main line vehicles that resulted in a more extensive (but still inexpensive) restyling for 1964. What resulted was the most mainstream looking Studebaker's since 1946. The Mercedes-like grille of 1962-63 gave way to a full-width, stamped aluminum grille and squared-off headlamp surrounds. Stevens flattened the hood, roofline and trunklid, and reworked the tail panel to incorporate new horizontal taillamps and backup lamps, all the while ingeniously retaining the sculpted quarter panels introduced in 1962, which still suited the new look and reduced by a considerable amount the cost of tooling.
The new look debuted along with the company's plan to phase out the Lark name entirely. The lowest-priced models were renamed Challenger (replacing the 1963-1/2 Standard), while the Commander name (which had last made an appearance in the Studebaker lineup on the last full-size cars in 1958) replaced the Regal trim level. The Daytona series added a four-door sedan (replacing the 1963 Custom four-door), and the Cruiser continued at the top of the line. All models except the Cruiser offered a Wagonaire.
Challenger and Commander models came standard with single headlamps, the first time since 1961 that a Lark-based vehicle offered them. Dual lamps were an extra-cost option.
Early promotional materials referred to the Challenger and Commander as Larks, but aside from Lark emblems on the roof sail panels on Challengers, there was no Lark identification on the cars, as Studebaker replaced the Lark emblems elsewhere on the car with the company's "circle-S" logo.
Inside, the cars were only slightly modified, with minor changes made in upholstery, glovebox opening, and gauge position. The speedometer, which in 1963 had resided in the right-hand "hole" in the gauge cluster, was moved to the center position, with the optional clock or tachometer placed on the right.
A purpose-built Marshal model in three body styles was marketed to police departments. Brochures claimed that "130 mph is merely incidental", the Marshal was available in "Pursuit", "Patrol", and "City" versions.