I will be attending the Studebaker Drivers’ Club Ohio Region meet at Summit Racing in Tallmadge, Ohio on August 27. This meet attracts Studebakers of course, but also Packards, Ramblers, AMCs, Kaisers, Hudsons, Auburns, Facel Vegas, street-rodded Australian “Utes,” and even the occasional Ford or Chevy–and you’ll be able to read all about it right here at It Rolls.
To give you a sense of what this meet is like, here’s an old Car Lust post of mine taking a look at the Lark convertibles that were on display in 2013.
It’s the new convertible, seats five adults in style. It’s so pert and perky! Runs on pennies per mile. —Studebaker Lark radio jingle, 1960 model year
There seemed to be something of a run on Studebaker Lark convertibles at [the 2013] SDC meet in Tallmadge. A Lark is a fundamentally happy car, and that goes double for the drop-tops.
Studebaker had stopped building convertibles after the 1952 model year. Though designer Bob Bourke sketched a folding-top version of the 1953 “Loewy Coupe,” and a running prototype was constructed, it never made it into production–the Loewys had problems enough with structural stiffness before you took the roof off. After the disastrous 1954 model year, Studebaker-Packard didn’t have the development capital to even consider working up a new convertible.
Faced with declining sales of its full-size cars, and also taking notice of the fact that compact Ramblers were selling well in the 1958 recession, Studebaker re-engineered its big sedans into compacts. Take the 1953-58 sedan passenger compartment, drop it onto a much shorter frame, give it a new front clip (styled by Duncan McRae) and trunk section (styled by Car Lust contributor Virgil M. Exner, Jr) with a lot less overhang, and dress the whole thing up with styling cues “adapted” from Chrysler’s work-in-progress Valiant (styled by Virgil M. Exner Sr.) and the contemporary “Fintail” Mercedes, and you have the Lark, a “compact” with the interior room of a full-sized Detroit battleship. It made its debut in the fall of 1958 as a 1959 model, available as a two- or four-door sedan, two-door hardtop, or two-door wagon. It was called a “Lark VI” when powered by a flathead straight six, and a “Lark VIII” with an OHV V-8 in the engine bay.
Studebaker’s total sales for 1959 were triple what they were in 1958, and it was all the Lark’s doing. The automotive division made a profit for the first time in years, meaning that there was now something more than a pittance available for product development.
For 1960, the Lark model line expanded with the addition of a four-door wagon and a convertible. The convertible required a stiffer frame (which ended up underneath the fiberglass-bodied Avanti three years later) and beefier lower body to make up for the structural rigidity lost by deleting the steel roof. Though two or three hundred pounds heavier than its sedan and hardtop siblings on account of all that structural reinforcement, a ’60 Lark drop-top was still a fairly peppy little car. It was light, maneuverable, and simultaneously cute and rakish, especially when painted in one of the brighter colors.
For 1961, the Larks got quad headlamps, cowl ventilation, and a revised brake system. The Lark VI got a further upgrade in the form of an improved VI-cylinder engine: the “Skybolt Six,” a re-engineering of the 1939-vintage flathead into an overhead valve engine. The Skybolt gave the Lark VI a 25% increase in horsepower and better gas mileage.
Here’s a ’61 Lark VIII. The chrome side trim on the ’61s was moved up off the embossed character line, supposedly because it made the car look lower. I think it makes it look like they put the trim on wrong.
The 1962-63 Lark had a revised windshield and greenhouse with thinner pillars, and could be had with the “Daytona” trim package, which featured front bucket seats and a center console.
For 1964, designer Brooks Stevens gave the Larks a new grille, hood, and tail light assembly that modernized the car’s appearance–and really brought out the resemblance to the Valiant. While Studebaker fans still consider the 1964s to be Larks, the Lark nameplate was de-emphasized, then completely dispensed with. The Lark had three distinct trim levels in 1963; these were now badged as separate models: Challenger (base model), Commander (one notch up), and Daytona (fully tricked out). Convertibles were only available as Daytonas.
This pretty white one rolled in to the meet just as my last pair of camera batteries were starting to go wobbly.
In a just and rational world, they would have sold a half million of them, but the world is neither just nor rational. There were only 700 or so ’64 Daytona drop-tops made. Studebaker convertibles were discontinued forever at the end of the ’64 model year.
–Mike (Cookie the Dog’s Owner)