The Studebaker Story
What It's All About . . .

by Fred K. Fox
Studebaker & Automotive Historian

The Studebaker story is an epic adventure in American history. It began in 1736 and continues to this day. No other manufacturer of transportation vehicles has such a glorious heritage.

About us...

The Studebaker Drivers Club
     The final element in the Studebaker Story is the Studebaker Drivers Club (SDC). Founded in 1962 by Harry Barnes, SDC is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and use of Studebaker vehicles. With more than 12,500 members worldwide, it is one of the largest single-marque old car clubs in the world. Members of SDC restore their cars and trucks so they can be used as functioning vehicles, not just show pieces. It is a DRIVERS club.

    The annual SDC International Meets often attract a thousand or more members and almost as many Studebaker vehicles. Many members in Canada and the U.S. drive their Studebakers thousands of miles to attend these meets, held in a different location each summer. Smaller zone meets are also held each year in various parts of the U.S. and Canada. SDC members own everything from horse-drawn Studebaker wagons to late-model Avantis.

    SDC has more than 100 chapters around the world with substantial memberships in Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Norwar, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Most of the chapters sponsor local meets, publish newsletters and provide assistance in obtaining parts, service and technical assistance in the local area.

     In contrast with many old car associations, SDC has a Board of Directors that is elected directly by the membership. Each Board member represents a certain geographical area (zone) and serves a two-year term. Members also directly elect a number of other national SDC officers, called Zone Coordinators and Regional (i.e., state or province) Managers, who serve to facilitate communication between SDC and individual members. The National President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer serve one-year terms and are elected by the Board of Directors at a meeting that is held as a part of the annual International Meet.

Turning Wheels, official publication of SDC
     SDC publishes Turning Wheels, an award-winning monthly magazine that includes full-color covers and 68 pages of photos, feature articles, technical tips, meet reports, hundreds of classified ads for Studebaker vehicles, parts and literature, and display ads by Studebaker vendors for parts and services.

Join Us Now!
    For more information or to join SDC, call toll free (763-420-7829 or visit the Studebaker Drivers Club's web site at

A History . . .

 1736 - 1750
    Members of the Studebaker family came to America from Solingen, Germany, in 1736. For generations, Studebakers, or Stutenbeckers as they were called in Germany, had been involved in the blacksmithing trade. Many were producers of fine cutlery. The members of the family who came to America brought with them their metal working craft. The ability to form metal was essential in the construction of early Conestoga wagons. One of the immigrants, Clement Studebaker, reportedly built his first wagon in America around 1750.

    In February 1852, two of Clement's great grandchildren, Henry and Clement, opened the H&C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. During their first year of operation, they built two horse-drawn farm wagons.

    In 1853, with the help of younger brother John M., they constructed a sturdy wagon which John provided to a wagon train as his payment for overland passage to the California gold fields.

1853 - 1858
    From 1853 to 1858, John earned a small fortune in "Hangtown" (Placerville) making wheelbarrows and other tools for the gold miners. In 1858 John returned to South Bend with his earnings and invested them in his brothers' business. The Studebaker brothers built hundreds of wagons for the North during the Civil War and by the time the United States was 100 years old, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. By then, brothers Peter and Jacob were also involved in the company.

1902 & 1904
    Studebaker entered the automobile business in 1902, when they introduced an electric car. Two years later, they brought out their first gasoline automobile, a two-cylinder, 16-horsepower touring car.

    In 1911, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company combined with Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Company of Detroit to form the Studebaker Corporation. The Corporation marketed the EMF "30", the Flanders "20", the Studebaker-Garford "40", and Studebaker Electrics.

    By 1913, all of the above models had been discontinued, being replaced by four and six cylinder automobiles, all of which bore just the Studebaker name. During 1913, Studebaker became the third largest producer of automobiles in America, after Ford and Overland. At first, all Studebaker Corporation automobile assembly was carried on in Detroit, but after the discontinuation of horse-drawn vehicle manufacturing in 1920, automobile production was gradually shifted to South Bend.

The ’Teens through the ’20s
    Studebakers marketed during the late 'teens and early twenties used names like Big Six, Special Six, Light Six and Standard Six, but for the 1927 model year, these "generic" names were discontinued and the President, Commander and Dictator model names were introduced. Also introduced in 1927 was a new quality small car called the Erskine. In 1928 Studebaker purchased Pierce-Arrow, a Buffalo, New York company that produced luxury automobiles.

The Great Depression
    Underestimating the impact of the Great Depression, Studebaker's president, Albert Erskine, inadvertently led the corporation into receivership in 1933. Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance saved the company, but much of Studebaker's momentum had been lost. Studebaker would never completely regain the solid footing it had in 1929. Because of the Depression, Studebaker had to sell Pierce-Arrow in 1933. In the same year, they dropped the Rockne, another small car venture that Studebaker had launched the previous year. The Rockne was named in honor of the famous Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne. The Rockne was, in many ways, a better car than the original Erskine, which had been discontinued in 1930.

    For the 1934 model year, Studebaker introduced several advanced body designs, including the streamlined Land Cruiser, a car that was styled after the famous Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow show cars. The Land Cruiser and Cruiser names were used off and on by Studebaker from 1934 to 1966.

Commercial Trucks
    During the thirties, Studebaker made a concerted effort to gain a foothold in the commercial truck field. In 1936 they introduced a line of cabover-engine trucks, and in 1937 the smoothly contoured Coupe-Express pickup premiered. Studebaker built quality trucks continously from 1929 to December 1963. The Champ pickup, Transtar gas jobs, medium-duty Diesels and Postal Zip-Vans were their last commercial products. Studebaker also built bus and fire engine chassis. Studebaker, off and on, assembled postwar military trucks until March 1964.

1939 . . . The Champion is Introduced
    The Champion, a very advanced small car, was introduced by Studebaker in 1939. The six-cylinder Champion proved to be an instant success. It was sold along with the larger eight-cylinder President and six-cylinder Commander. The Dictator name, for obvious reasons, was dropped at the end of the 1937 model year. Popular Studebaker options during this period were overdrive and the Hill Holder.

Studebaker & The War Effort
    During World War II, Studebaker produced military trucks, aircraft engines and the Weasel, a tracked personnel and cargo carrier that was designed by Studebaker engineers. One version of the Weasel was amphibious.

Peace & a Postwar Economy
    After the war, Studebaker was the first established automobile company to come out with an all new styling. The new 1947 Studebakers were nicknamed the "Which-Way-Are-They-Going" cars, since they had similar front and rear stylings.

    Convertibles were again available in 1947. Studebaker had last marketed a convertible in 1939. Postwar convertibles were sold from 1947 to 1952 and from 1960 to 1964. The postwar design was revamped in 1950 with the addition of a bullet-nosed front end. This styling was continued through 1951. Studebaker's Automatic Drive was brought out in mid-1950, and a new modern overhead valve V8 engine was introduced in 1951 for the Commander models.

1952 - 100 Years of Studebaker
 The Studebaker company celebrated its 100th anniversary as a producer of road vehicles in 1952. Oldsmobile, currently America's oldest automobile make, did not reach its 100th birthday until 1997.

The "Loewy Coupes" are Introduced
    In 1953 Studebaker brought out the beautiful low-slung "Loewy Coupes." They were produced in Starliner hardtop and Starlight pillared coupe form, and have many times been listed among the most beautiful cars in the world. Raymond Loewy, who had directed Studebaker styling since the 1938 models, oversaw the development of the Starliner/Starlight design, although the actual styling was created by Robert Bourke.

    In 1955 a sporty version of the "Loewy Coupe," called the Speedster, was produced. The Speedster concept was continued in 1956 with the introduction of the Hawk line of "family sports cars." During 1956-58, the top line Hawk was called the Golden Hawk.

Studebaker-Packard Corporation
     Packard, a highly respected automobile company that produced its first car in 1899, joined forces with Studebaker. The resulting Studebaker-Packard Corporation had a hard time competing with the Big Three (General Motors, Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Corporation). From 1954 to 1958, the Studebaker-Packard Corporation never had a profitable year. Because of this, the Packard line was discontinued in 1958. The 1957 and 1958 Packards were actually Studebakers with special interiors and Packard trim.

   Although Studebaker's sales position took a nose dive after 1950, Studebaker maintained a strong gas economy image throughout the 1950's. Studebaker was a constant standout in the Mobilgas Economy Runs.

 New Models Introduced
   In addition to the Hawks, Studebaker introduced several new models during the 1950s. In 1954 the Conestoga station wagon premiered. In 1955 the President line returned, having been marketed last in 1942. In 1957 a new economy series called the Scotsman was unveiled, and was fairly successful in 1957 and 1958.

1959 - Lark, an All New Compact Line
    Because of the Scotsman's success and the growing demand for practical transportation, in late 1958, Studebaker dropped all its existing automobile models except the Silver Hawk and introduced an all-new compact line called the Lark. The Lark project was directed by Studebaker's president, Harold Churchill. During 1959, the Lark was extremely successful. It produced the highest one-year profit Studebaker had ever had up to that time.

1962 & 1963 - Speed & Sport
    In 1960 the Big Three countered with their own compacts and Studebaker again found itself struggling for survival. In an attempt to create a sportier image, Studebaker brought out the Gran Turismo Hawk in 1962 and introduced the dynamic Avanti for the 1963 model year. The fiberglass-bodied Avanti, when fitted with an optional supercharged R3 engine, was capable of a true 170 miles per hour. (In 1993, Ron Hall drove a Studebaker powered 1963 Avanti 200 mph.) It was the fastest production car that had ever been built in America. The Avanti also sported a wind-cheating aerodynamic design, a built-in roll bar and caliper disc brakes, the first brakes of this type used on a full-sized American production car. The Avanti project was instigated by Studebaker's new president, Sherwood Egbert, and was styled by a team under the direction of Raymond Loewy.

New Lark Models
     The Lark line was given a flashier image with the introduction of the Cruiser in 1961, the Daytona in 1962 and the unique sliding-roof Wagonaire station wagon in 1963. A Lark Commander and Challenger were introduced for the 1964 model year. The 1962-64 Lark stylings and the GT Hawk were designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens, the creator of the Excalibur motor car. Early Excaliburs used Studebaker frames and suspension. The original prototype was fitted with an Avanti engine.

Production in South Bend Discontinued
     Unfortunately, the GT Hawk, the Avanti and the new Lark models did not improve Studebaker's economic position. Because of this, the board of directors voted to close down most of the South Bend plant in December 1963, and concentrate production in their small assembly plant in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (Studebakers had also been assembled in other plants outside North America, and were built in Los Angeles from 1936 to 1956).

Production Continued in Canada
    Only Lark-type vehicles were assembled in the Canadian plant, which meant the discontinuance of Avanti, Hawk and truck production after December 1963. Engines for 1964 Canadian Studebakers were built in South Bend, but beginning with the 1965 model year, General Motors engines, which were assembled in the McKinnon engine plant in St. Catharines, Ontario, were used by Studebaker. Profits from the Hamilton plant were minimal, so it was decided to close it down in March 1966. The last Studebaker was produced on March 17, 1966.

Studebaker Subsidiaries
   The production of the last Studebaker did not mark a definite end of the company or its products. The Studebaker Corporation (the Packard name was officially dropped from the corporate title in 1962) had acquired numerous subsidiaries, such as STP, Gravely, Clarke and Onan, so although it did not build cars after March 1966, the company carried on. In mid-1967 Studebaker purchased the Wagner Electric Corporation and in November 1967 it combined with the Worthington Corporation to form the Studebaker-Worthington Corporation. In the fall 1979, the Studebaker-Worthington Corporation was absorbed by the McGraw-Edison Company. In April 1985, the McGraw-Edison Company was acquired by Cooper Industries of Houston, Texas..

The Avanti Continues . . .
    Studebaker's fabulous Avanti, which was so advanced when introduced in April 1962, was  produced by non-Studebaker companies until 1991. In 1965 the Avanti Motor Corporation started producing the Avanti II in South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker's old home town. The Avanti II was not a replica, but was actually a continuation of the original Studebaker model. Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, the gentlemen who formed the Avanti Motor Corporation, purchased from Studebaker buildings and all the fixtures needed to produce the Avanti. Since Studebaker had stopped building engines, the Avanti Motor Corporation decided to use Corvette engines, but the frame, suspension and fiberglass body panels were essentially the same as used on Studebaker's Avanti.

    The Avanti Motor Corporation was sold to Stephen Blake in October 1982. Mr. Blake made a few engineering and styling changes. In 1983 he dropped the "II" from the car's name, and in 1985 introduced an Avanti convertible.

    In April 1986, the Avanti Motor Corporation was sold to Mike Kelly. Kelly renamed the company The New Avanti Motor Corporation. For the 1987 model year, Kelly introduced a long wheelbase coupe and started using GM chassis. In September 1987, he moved production to Youngstown, Ohio.

    In September 1988, Kelly sold his remaining interest in the company to John J. Cafaro. Cafaro renamed the company again, calling it the Avanti Automotive Corporation. The long wheelbase coupe was discountinued, but before ending production in 1991, Cafaro built coupe, convertible and four-door Touring Sedan models.

     In 1997, Jim Bunting of Millersville, Pennsylvania, introduced the AVX, an Avanti inspired sports model that utilized existing Pontiac Firebird models. In 1999, Bunting introduced a convertible version of the AVX. The AVX styling was directed by Tom Kellogg, one of the original Studebaker Avanti designers.

    In late 1999, the interest of Jim Bunting and John Cafaro were obtained by John Seaton, John Hull, and Michael Kelly, and a new Avanti Motor Corporation was established in Villa Rica, Georgia. In late 2000, the company launched the production of a new 2001 "Avanti" based on the Bunting/Kellogg design. In November 2001, Michael Kelly obtained 100% ownership of the Avanti Motor Corporation. Currently the new company is producing Avanti coupe and convertible models. 

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