Hat tip today to “Chris-to-Fear” for inspiring this post.
We generally think that the last Studebaker built was built in Canada. However, like the line in one of the songs in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, “it ain’t necessarily so”. Seldom remembered today is that Studebaker had assembly plants scattered around the globe: Mexico, Belgium, Australia, South Africa and Israel being among them. The plants overseas got “knocked down kits” from South Bend and assembled the Studebakers locally. When Studebaker closed the plant in South Bend, Indiana in December, 1963, parts were gathered into kits. V-8s were sent to South Africa and 6s were sent to Israel. It is likely that the very last Studebaker built was assembled in Haifa, Israel rather than in Hamilton, Ontario. And, unlike the last Canadian-built Studebakers which were powered by engines bought from General Motors, the Israeli Studebakers were REAL Studebakers with Studebaker engines.
When it opened, the factory built Kaiser-Frazer products, along with Mack trucks, under license. By the end of the 1950s, the operation was known as Kaiser-Ilin, named after Ephrain Ilin, the Israeli entrepreneur who’d negotiated the Haifa plant deal with Hickman Price Jr., the nephew of Joseph P. Frazer. In 1959, Kaiser-Ilin reached an agreement to assemble six-cylinder Studebaker Larks in Haifa, to help potential buyers bypass stiff Israeli duties on imported vehicles.
At some point, the management of Kaiser-Ilin agreed it was apropos for the president of Israel (the nation’s head of state, as opposed to the Prime Minister, its head of government) to drive a car built in his homeland. Dick Zalman, chief engineer and designer for Kaiser-Ilin, received the assignment. It got under way when Zalman plucked one of the company’s workaday cars off the Haifa assembly line, a 1964 Studebaker Cruiser sedan, which had been built with heavy-duty brakes and the Flightomatic automatic transmission, powered by the 169.6-cu.in. straight-six. In 1964, the year all production of Studebakers built for North American buyers shifted to Canada, the Cruiser started out as an export model.
The Studebaker’s intended use by government dignitaries mandated that it be turned into a large convertible, even when taking the recent catastrophe at Dealey Plaza in Dallas into consideration. Zalman determined that the Lark sedan’s normal wheelbase of 113 inches be stretched by another 25 inches, to make room for the bigger backseat and the additional jump seats. He also wanted to ensure that the rear-seat compartment had a flat floor, so that the luminaries in back could easily stand during parades. Zalman sliced the factory frame and added two elongated box members to add the necessary length. An extended driveshaft was wisely hung in an extra bearing to keep it from undulating or vibrating. Workers at the Kaiser-Ilin factory cut and fit a new framework to support the extended floorboards for the car, which began to take shape as a true phaeton.
The extensive front seat-aft fabrication work on the body focused on the new pair of rear doors, which were hung in Lincoln Continental–or, if you prefer, “suicide”–fashion, with the hinges mounted rearward. The placement of the center pillar was particularly ingenious. When the long, long folding top was raised out of the way, you could take the metal pillar, pivot it on its axis, and then conceal it in a special slot, producing a clean, unbroken side profile when the top was lowered. While mechanically export-stock, the Lark Cruiser had custom extras including a full-leather interior, a refrigerator and a bookshelf. It was presented to President Zalman Shazar on April 16, 1964, Israel’s independence day.
The Israeli plant was an important contributor to the economy both of Haifa and Israel. Israeli-built Studebakers were exported to other countries. The Haifa plant is still in operation today building Jeeps.
This custom-built ’64 Studebaker parade limousine was very well-executed. The standard 113″ wheelbase was extended by 25″ – but it doesn’t look cobbled together. Note the nice use of the ’63 side trim on the rear fender.
The fate of this Studebaker is not fully-known. It is likely that the car was scrapped in 1969.
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