Curbside Classic: 1959 Studebaker 3/4 ton Pickup – A Hoosier in King Twain’s Court

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Ah, a Studebaker pickup, a true piece of Americana.  Does anything say apple pie, Coca-Cola and South Bend, Indiana, quite as much?

In this case, however, this ’59 Studebaker 3/4-ton pickup, says Blue Bunny ice cream, Anton’s soda and Hannibal, Missouri.  Americana?  Yes–and in droves, as this pickup was found directly across the street from a poster child for Americana, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.  It all seems so appropriate, does it not?

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There are times when identifying a car or pickup found in the wild isn’t very straightforward.  Not so this time.  The owner, who is strongly suspected of being the owner of “Becky Thatcher’s Ice Cream Store and Emporium”, was kind enough to do the footwork.  Odds are he got tired of tourists constantly asking about the truck, and has announced it for the whole world to see.  Sometimes the smallest things mean the most.

It seems that while Studebakers are a staple of the old car community, the frequency of sighting one is generally limited to automobiles.  Honestly, now, when was the last time you saw a Studebaker pickup?  While a two-ton version was covered here (coincidentally, it was found in the same town), it was lacking a drivetrain and sat in a salvage yard.  Simply put, Studebaker pickups aren’t commonly found.

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Studebaker did have a checkered experience with its pickups.  With production in the 60,000-unit range during the early  1950s, production sank like a brick in a pond by the end of the decade.  While production numbers for Studebaker’s 4E series are not definitive, examples like this one are seen about as frequently as chicken’s teeth, regardless of the source on which one relies.

According to one source, 9,385 Studebaker trucks were produced in 1959, while another source states that 8,890 were manufactured, of which 7,255 were sold in the United States.  This is comparable to Mercury Marauder production in 1963; compared with current production levels of, say, Ford’s F-150, this Studebaker is so rare that if it were a steak it might still be mooing.

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Despite the hyper-modest production numbers, Studebaker was still striving to give customers everything they wanted.  Half-tons, 3/4-tons, one-tons and heavier, with nearly all of them available on multiple wheelbases. Despite their meager truck sales for 1959, Studebaker was still trying to remain competitive in every truck market segment.  They even ventured into the then-novel 4WD arena, producing a mere 86 units for model year 1959.  The bulk of these 4×4’s were earmarked for export.

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While the model year of this CC was rapidly identified, the actual series is still uncertain and cannot be determined without opening the hood.  In their 3/4-ton pickups, Studebaker offered the 4E11, which was propelled by a six-cylinder engine; the 4E12, which was also a 3/4-ton, but powered by a 289 cu in V8 in either 210 hp (with a two-barrel carburetor) or 225 hp (four-barrel) guises, or an optional 259 cu in V8.  As your author has little love for six cylinder engines, this fine Studebaker is thus proclaimed an 4E12.

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By 1959, Studebaker could have been accused of taking things easy in their truck department, but that would have been inaccurate.  Granted, the cab of this pickup was a mildly restyled piece dating back to the 1949 introduction of Studebaker’s 2R series of pickups. Nevertheless, don’t conclude that the good folks in South Bend were complacent.  With the offering of the quite basic Scotsman pickup series, Studebaker’s efforts to offer a pickup to meet every need became a very earnest venture.  The Scotsman–if the name sounds familiar, it’s because Studebaker also applied it to one of the most basic automobiles of all time–is quite different than the Deluxe pickup seen here.

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In 1959, the term “financially broken” would have been the most apt description of Studebaker’s pickup line.  At the time, Ford and Chevrolet were beginning to venture upmarket with available options for their pickups, while Studebaker was viewed as woefully antiquated.  A prime example of this is the optional radio: Available directly from the factory, there was simply no place in the rustic cab to mount it; when bolted beneath the dash, it resulted in an aftermarket appearance.  Often, a lack of funds can translate into bad fortune in the automobile industry.

As an epilogue, Studebaker introduced the Champ 1/2-ton pickup for 1960 (CC here), but sales never really rebounded.  While we all know about Studebaker’s inglorious end in 1966, this particular 4E12 could also be viewed as an end of the line, since only 1/2-tons would receive the Champ name and styling and the 3/4-ton and heavier trucks were never updated.  For a truly beautiful pickup, dripping with Americana, it was the coldest and loneliest of deaths.

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