Gear Head Tuesday – Where Was The Last Studebaker Assembled?

Gear Head

Hat tip today to “Chris-to-Fear” for inspiring this post.

58 Studebaker Champion - NZ

Photo from Hemmings – This 1958 Studebaker Champion has only 128 miles on it! It likely was built in Studebaker’s plant in Australia. (The Hemmings article states that it was built in South Bend.)

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.

Interestingly, the plant in Haifa was established in 1951 not by Studebaker, but by Kaiser-Frazer not long after the Jewish state’s creation. Quoting from a story in Hemmings from 2007:

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.

Studebaker Israeli parade car

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.

Studebaker-Israeli Parade Car-top

The fate of this Studebaker is not fully-known. It is likely that the car was scrapped in 1969.

studebaker-sign

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8 Comments

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  1. rulesoflogic 03/04/2018 — 07:44

    I love stories that buck the consensus especially when documentation is offered. I despise those “Aliens Built The Pyramids” kind of stories.

    As for Studebaker, what would have happened if they had agreed to be the US distributor for the Volkswagen/Hitlermobile? They passed on multiple occasions. Of course, as the child of Holocaust survivors I loathe Volkswagen, but an association with them might have saved Studebaker.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. As a youngster I never thought of cars of the USA being assembled in other parts of the world. But to me the Car world was in and around Michigan. I actually thought all cars came from Detroit. Many young boys, some family, went to ‘Detroit’ for the $5 & $6 and hour jobs, un believeable when the mills were paying $1 an hour.

    Anyway. Great story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! As a kid, I thought the same thing! As a teenager, I realized that American cars emphasized a marshmallow ride and seats that more resembled a couch in a bordello than something to help the driver engage the road. It wasn’t long before I became fascinated with British sports cars and German cars like Porsche …

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  3. Dave Brownell 03/04/2018 — 09:37

    Among car producers, there is a big difference between “factory” and “assembly plant.” When you look at old West Coast pictures with Studebaker and Nash cars in them (watch some of the earliest Superman TV episodes), most of those 1949-55 cars were actually put together in Los Angeles area assembly plants using parts from South Bend and Kenosha. Nashes were assembled in their El Segundo facility, now a portion of the greater LAX airport. That plant was supposedly obtained from (Howard) Hughes Aircraft. Next time you’re on a LAX layover, give a reflective moment to both Howard’s and Nash’s legacy very nearby. Packard never had a secondary U.S. assembly plant unless you count Henney. But knocked down Packards were built in all sorts of foreign lands, including an assembly plant just a few miles from Detroit in Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew that Packard built cars in Canada, but I didn’t know if those cars were built “organically” in Canada or if they were built from kits – so thank you for answering that question for me.

      While Studebaker is long gone, Studebaker Road in Los Angeles is still there! Studebaker should have shuttered that Vernon plant long before it did. They were shipping bodies from South Bend – they would have been better off shipping completed cars rather than having the overhead of that under-utilized plant. Even in those days, California was an expensive place in which to set up shop. The only remaining car assembly plant is that of Tesla – who took over a closed assembly plant in Fremont that had previously been operated jointly between GM and Toyota.

      Howard Hughes remains – but as a real estate developer rather than as a company involved in aircraft technology and electronics. They are now headquartered – as many former California-based companies now are – in Texas.

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  4. Gary Lindstrom 03/04/2018 — 18:48

    Perhaps I am missing something. This parade car was assembled by April 1964 and new Studebakers were assembled until March 1966. How could this be the last car assembled by Studebaker? Now the fact that the last new Packard assembled was a 1958 pickup is another story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • … hee hee … Yes, Gary – you ARE missing something – but that’s on ME, not YOU! 🙂
      I cobbled this post together out of several sources and didn’t edit it properly. What is missing is that Studebakers were assembled from kits in Israel and South Africa after Hamilton closed.

      You are quite right about the two “Packard” trucks that were sent to Argentina in 1958.

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