Readers’ Car Series
Hat Tip to Gordon K. for today’s car!
“I purchased this car in un-restored , original condition at the York Studebaker swap meet in about 1990. It then had 29,000 actual miles, and was residing in Fairfield, PA about 8 miles east of the Chambersburg, PA dealership from which it was sold.
The car was originally sold to an elderly couple in St. Thomas, Pa. which is about 8 miles west of the same dealership. The original owners used the car sparingly as they were in their 80’s when the car was purchased. The gentleman from whom I purchased the car had cancer, and was only selling the car because he was uncertain as to his outcome, and did not want to burden his wife with the need to sell the car if his cancer took his life.
The dealership, A-1 motors in Chambersburg, PA is,I believe, still a used car outlet run by relatives of the original owners. Shortly after I purchased the Lark, I drove it to A-1, and was able to talk to a long time employee who remembered the car. He advised me of the fact that the original family still owned A-1 Motors. I sold the car this past year as part of downsizing in preparation to ultimately moving to Florida where I just don’t have the storage that I have in Pennsylvania. The car was purchased by another Keystone Region member, and at this time resides in his care in Ronks Pa. It now has 37,xxx miles on the odometer and it still resides within 80 miles of where it was sold.”
This Lark is fitted with Studebaker’s OHV Six. The overhead valve configuration was a long time coming to Studebaker’s six cylinder engine. The six dated to the 1939 Champion where it was configured as a flat head engine and so it remained until the end of the 1960 model year. At long last, in 1961, the hoary flathead six was replaced by the overhead valve engine. The valves and lifters for the OHV engine were donated from Studebaker’s V-8s. The block and lower end of the engine was beefed up from the original Champion engine. While the basic block shared its DNA with the 1939 engine, Studebaker engineers beefed the engine up and changed the block enough that the top end of the engine can’t be retrofitted onto one of the older blocks.
1962 represented a change in strategy for Studebaker. On the cusp of death in 1958, the company saved itself by launching the compact Lark in 1959. Developed in only seven months using almost no new sheet metal, like the Champion in 1939, the Lark was the right car at just the right time. Sales for 1959 soared to 160,826 cars and 10,909 trucks, allowing the company to break even for the first time since the merger with Packard in 1954. Studebaker-Packard made a profit of $28.5 million that year. With the tax credits accumulated from the previous years’ losses, S-P’s after-tax net profits were the highest in Studebaker history.
But storm clouds were on the horizon – the “Big Three” were developing their own compact cars which would arrive in 1960. Studebaker sales for 1960 fell to 133,894 cars and trucks. Profits fell to $708,850.
The 1961 Lark received an awkward facelift – and the Big Three’s compacts ate into Studebaker’s sales again. Volume for 1961 was 92,434 cars and trucks.
The Studebaker board brought Sherwood Egbert from McCulloch on and gave him a mandate to exit the car business. Egbert was not a car guy, but quickly became one. He hired Brooks Stevens to restyle the Lark and Hawk and contracted Raymond Loewy to develop a sports car – the Avanti.
Gordon’s ’62 Lark benefitted from Brooks Stevens’ restyle – new sheet metal at the rear and at the “c”-pillar of the greenhouse.
The ’62 Studebakers were Stevens’ first crack at remaking the Lark into a thoroughly modern car. The underpinnings of the Studebaker line dated to the ill-fated ’53 models.
To make the full-size Studebaker into the ’59 Lark, the wheelbase was shortened from 113″ to 109″. For 1962, Stevens retained the 109″ wheelbase for the two door hardtop and the convertible, but the sedans and wagon went back to the 113″ wheelbase. The Hawk got Stevens’ masterful makeover and the sedans, wagons and hardtops got new rear fenders and rear deck while retaining the underbody that still dated to 1953. Sales for 1962 perked up a bit – 30,000 units better than 1961. Egbert and Stevens did more for 1963 with still more to come for 1964. Stevens designed completely new Studebakers for 1965, stunning cars – that never saw production.
Gordon K’s ’62 Lark, now in the hands of another faithful Studebaker aficionado, represents an important transition for Studebaker. It’s sad that Egbert’s untimely death due to a fast-moving cancer forced him to leave Studebaker, giving the board the latitude they wanted to exit the car business.
Readers’ Car Series:
• “Theater Organ Man’s” 56 Packard Patrician
• Chris-to-Fear’s ’55 Studebaker Champion, “Uncle Tilden”
• PacDoc56’s ’56 Packard Executive
• Roscoe S’s Fuel Injected ’56 Packard Executive
• George Hamlin’s ’56 Packard Esquire
• Dave B’s ’56 Packard Esquire