Having just arrived back in the QC from Indiana at the time of this writing, but not yet having loaded my pictures from the amazing day yesterday (Oct. 4) at the CC Meet at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum, I nevertheless have Indiana on my mind. We passed within twenty miles of South Bend on the way home, and as much as I want to visit Studebaker Central and its amazing museum, we were all too tired to consider stopping. So time for a Studebaker break!
Studebaker’s a heartbreaker. So many amazing cars, but at the same time so many dumb decisions made. For better or worse, Studebaker was about half-past irrelevancy by the 1958 recession, and only the compact Lark’s success bought them a few more years.
Just before Christmas of 1963, the historic, amazing, but ancient and inefficient factory complex in South Bend was shut down. Daytona hardtops and convertibles were axed, as was the unforgettable Avanti (at least until Nate Altman saved the day with the Avanti II) and beautiful Brooks Stevens-designed Gran Turismo Hawk.
And so was it that the final Studebakers were technically imports, coming as they were from Studebaker’s satellite plant in Canada. Only two-door sedans, four-door sedans and station wagons remained in the lineup, in Daytona, Commander and Cruiser flavors. In addition, all 1965-66 Studebakers sported Chevrolet V8s, as the Stude engine plant–the lone operating part of South Bend after December of ’63–was shuttered after the 1964 MY run had completed.
Yet there was still a spark of ingenuity at work, for the swan-song 1966 Studebakers received an attractive facelift. Minor changes, certainly, but appealing nonetheless. And the Cruiser sedan remained top of the line, with a very attractively updated interior.
Studebaker interiors for 1966 were far more luxuriously appointed for the year, with upholstery choices being very Cadillac or Imperial-like. It makes one wonder what could have happened if Studebaker had held on just a few more years…
This gold example was the first ’66 Cruiser I’d seen in the metal, and I was impressed with the junior-Cadillac interior. Just look at those seats! Nice. And woodgrain also appeared–in tasteful fashion–on both the instrument panel and door panels. The effect was very much that of a luxury car, though still Studebaker Sensible with wind-up windows, simple armrests and no Automatic Climate Control. However, not bad at all for what was basically a compact car, sized much like–and priced within a couple hundred dollars of–the contemporary Valiant Signet.
At the same time, the very clean and functional instrument panel introduced for 1963 remained much the same–save the woodtone trim. I love the design. The Cruiser was the second best selling model of the year, but that only amounted to 2,901 of the top-tier sedans, at $2,610 a pop.
But Studebaker’s last champion of the auto division, Sherwood Egbert, had to step down from his position due to his declining health. Shortly after his exit from the company, the remaining corporate drones unanimously decided to kill the car division and focus on STP, Paxton, Gravely Tractors, and their other assorted recently-purchased divisions.
Too bad, to be sure, but who can, even today, be sure whether it was for the best or not? Sure, it would have been great to see Stude around a few more years, but no one can say whether it would have turned things around or not. All I can do is shake my head and say, Studebaker, I miss you, and I’m glad you were around–at least for a time.