Part 1 – The First Generation Lark
Studebaker was one of the earliest automobile manufacturers. They were founded in 1852 and initially produced wagons for the military, farmers and other industries. In 1904 they began manufacturing their first gasoline vehicles under the brand name of “Studebaker Auto Company”. Over the next half century, Studebaker established a reputation for creating top-of-the-line, reliable automobiles that looked good and performed even better. Unfortunately, Studebaker was unable to recover from years of financial problems and ultimately went out of business in 1966. It’s quite possible that if they had been able to survive then that they could be one of the largest car makers in America today, and could potentially have rivaled companies like GM and Ford.
The Studebaker Lark was a compact car, which debuted in 1959. At its inception, it was sold under the Studebaker-Packard Corporation, a company that resulted from Studebaker merging with Packard Motor Car Company due to financial problems. This lasted a short time before the company reverted back to the Studebaker name, although they were still merged with Packard.
First Generation Lark
Studebaker was one of the earliest automakers to offer a compact car, which gave them a huge competitive advantage. They were able to negotiate a deal with dealerships that allowed them to be sold at dealerships that had been controlled by the Big Three manufacturers.
Initially the Lark was offered as a two-door sedan, coupe or station wagon, although a four-door sedan was also available. Only two trim levels were offered: Regal and Deluxe. Still, Studebaker had one of the most diverse compact cars on the market. The car was available in a 2.8L straight six or a 4.2L V8 engine, making it one of the earliest compact cars available with a V8. OEM wheels had a wheelbase of 110 inches.
In 1960 the company released a convertible edition as well as a four-door station wagon. They also released a taxicab edition called the “Econ-O-Miler” which utilized the longer wheelbase of the station wagon to provide extra legroom for passengers in the backseat.
A V8 Lark could go from 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds, which was more than twice as fast as most of the competing compact cars. None of the Big Three compacts – the Ford Falcon, Mercury Comet or Chevrolet Corvair – were capable of breaking the 20 second mark, except for the Plymouth Valiant. By 1961, the Big Three began offering compacts with V8 engines to compete with the quick and powerful V8 Lark.
Studebaker answered with the Cruiser, a four-door Lark based on the taxicab design with a more luxurious interior.
Studebaker was still working with an outdated flathead mill six cylinder engine, which had gone largely unchanged since 1939, and was becoming more and more obsolete every day. Unfortunately for Studebaker, they did not have the capital available to invest in a completely new engine design. Remarkably, Studebaker engineers were able to convert the 170 cu six-cylinder to overhead valves, improving horsepower from 90 hp to 112 hp without losing any fuel efficiency. This redesigned engine is known as the Skybolt Six – and was heavily marketed by Studebaker in 1961. If you’re in the market for a six cylinder Studebaker Lark, you should definitely check out the Skybolt Six engines.
Studebaker had many engineering and aesthetic improvement to the Lark but ultimately there was just too much competition for Studebaker to handle. New compact cars from Dodge, Buck, Oldsmobile and Pontiac had saturated the market with powerful compact options. Detroit manufacturers pressured the dealerships that were carrying Studebaker to drop the brand completely.
Still, the Studebaker Lark holds a special place in automobile history, and they are really nice collectors pieces. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will spotlight the 2nd and 3rd generation Studebaker Lark.
If you’re looking to get your feet wet with an affordable collector’s car that packs some punch under the hood, check out the Studebaker Lark. You can find nice condition Larks in the 15K range, and much less if you’re looking for a fixer upper. When you do buy your first classic car, don’t forget to check out our selection of antique hubcaps. You’d be amazed the difference a good condition vintage hubcap can make on a classic car.