Automotive History: The Studebaker V8 Engine – Punching Below Its Weight

Studebaker V8 engine

(updated 11/9/2023)  In 1951, plucky little Studebaker introduced its new ohv V8 engine, only two years behind the groundbreaking 1949 Cadillac and Oldsmobile V8s, and several years ahead of other competitors. Except for some fairly minor teething issues and a few inherent weak spots, it soon earned a reputation for durability and developed a loyal following among Studebaker fans. It certainly gave Studebaker a competitive edge at the time.

Although it looked fairly modern at the time of its birth, Studebaker’s conservative engineering and their limitations in casting technology resulted in a physically large and heavy engine for its displacement, and one whose performance potential was intrinsically limited due to its small valves and ports. That served older and conservative Studebaker buyers just fine, but it was a missed opportunity, as other brands took advantage of the rapidly growing interest in performance and its positive image to expand their sales, especially to younger buyers.

Much of the more recent literature available online about the Studebaker V8 tends to be written by its near-fanatic fans, including this one at Hemmings modestly titled “America’s Best V8 Engine”.  We’re going to take a more objective look at this engine, including its strengths and weaknesses, its origins, and the various versions built over its fairly short fourteen-year lifespan (1951 – 1964), including the last-ditch attempt to inject some life into it. The Studebaker V8 may have come into the world a bit meekly, but it went out with a bang.


Studebaker V8 engine 1951

The creation of the Studebaker V8 had a clearly defined brief, which was laid out along with its engineering and design details in an SAE paper by company engineers Gene Hardig, T.A. Scherger and S.W. Sparrow:

The introduction of this engine was prompted by a desire to benefit humanity in general and Studebaker stockholders in particular. Specifically, the aim was to increase sales and profits by replacing a six-cylinder car with an eight that would cost less and yet have equal or better performance.

Once we get past the tongue-in-cheek desire to benefit humanity in general, there’s some useful information that helps explain the resulting engine, especially the last few words: yet have equal or better performance. That was a somewhat modest goal, to merely equal or better the performance of an aged flathead six engine (the Commander 245.6 CID six) that was a product of 1920s engineering.

And here’s another detail from that report that’s a bit surprising:

Hence a long look forward was in order. In that look we seemed to see what other observers have reported – the possibility of higher compression ratios and hence, smaller combustion chambers…the threat of small combustion chambers led us, somewhat reluctantly, to overhead valves.

“Somewhat reluctantly”? So presumably the first preference for an all new V8 engine was another flathead? Reluctant or not, it’s a good thing they went that route of ohv, otherwise it would have truly been a dismal dead end.

Realistically what happened was that Studebaker’s engineers saw the light when the 1949 Cadillac and Olds V8s appeared, with their compact wedge-shaped combustion chambers, overhead valves, hydraulic valve lifters, generous valve and port size, compact and lighter blocks thanks to shorter strokes and “slipper” pistons, and a slew of other advanced engineering elements. Eventually all American V8s came to adopt these key design aspects of the Cadillac and Olds engines; some sooner than later. Those that didn’t, like the Chrysler hemi and the Ford Y block, did so at their peril, and both were soon replaced by engines (Chrysler B/RB; Ford FE) that more closely followed the GM approach.

Studebaker wisely avoided such a major detour, as they wouldn’t have had the engineering budgets to fix it later like Ford and Chrysler. So they just picked the Cadillac V8 as the starting point for their new engine, which had benefited from extensive research from GM’s Kettering Labs. The evidence that the Studebaker V8 (right) was very deeply influenced by the 1949 Cadillac V8 (left) is all-too obvious. There are some differences of course, but the basic architectural similarities start right from nearly identical bore center spacing (Cad: 4.5625″, Stude: 4.50″) , physical size (these two images are not corrected for size), and even weight, with the much larger displacement (331 CID) Cadillac weighing 695 lbs to the Studebaker’s 650 lbs.

Cadillac even allowed a contingent of Studebaker engineers to visit and essentially copy its production facilities for the V8 engine, as Studebaker had no experience in that.

But although Studebaker largely copied the basic architecture, they failed to copy certain key elements that specifically gave the Cadillac many of its inherent qualities. So instead of scaling down the Cadillac in size to their intended smaller displacement (232 cubic inches), they kept the block the same size. They chose not to use Cadillac-type slipper pistons, where part of the lower piston’s skirt is cut away allowing it to “hug” the counterweights of the crankshaft. This was a key design element that enabled a more compact and lighter block and reduce reciprocating weight. If Studebaker had used them, they would have been able to reduce the deck height of their block, save weight, and create a more compact engine. The Cadillac had a significantly longer stroke (3.63″ vs. 3.25″), and would eventually accommodate a 4.0″ stroke thanks to its slipper pistons, despite using the exact same rod length (6.625″) as the Studebaker.

The biggest obvious difference above the block are the significantly smaller valves and ports in the Studebaker heads. This would become the defining feature of their cylinder heads right to the end, and inherently limit their performance potential.

Without going into all the technical details of their similarities (and differences), let’s just say that a Cadillac V8 intake manifold (and valley cover) will bolt directly to a Studebaker V8. That’s not just merely a coincidence. The ports don’t match up perfectly, but that can be fixed. It’s mainly done for show, such as this Cadillac Eldorado dual quad manifold (above) in a Studebaker pickup, since a stock or even moderately warmed up Stude V8 simply can’t use more than one modest size (∼500 cfm max) four barrel carburetor, due to the limited flow of its heads. But given the dearth of aftermarket manifolds (and other performance parts) for the Studebaker V8, it’s one solution if looks take precedence over actual function.

So despite being essentially the same size externally and weighing almost the same, the Cadillac had 50% more displacement to start with, and that was readily increased up to 429 cubic inches in its final form. The Studebaker would top out at 289 cubic inches, except for the specially selected blocks bored out to 304.5 cubic inches for the few R3/R4 engines. As to the decision of its initial displacement (232.6 cubic inches), here’s what the Studebaker engineers said in that SAE paper:

Eventually the conflict of desires was resolved by the selection of a piston displacement (232.6 cubic inches) approximately 5% less than that of the six cylinder engine that was to be replaced. Later, when the car was found to weigh about 6% less than its predecessor (due largely to using a shorter front end), we felt confident of meeting our goal of equal performance without sacrifice in fuel economy.

As Richard Langworth wrote in his excellent book “Studebaker 1946-1966”, “economy, in this exercise was taking precedence over performance”. Which is of course consistent with the image Studebaker had cultivated for some time; its cars were smaller and lighter than those of the Big Three, primarily for the resultant economy.

But the Studebaker V8’s weight (650 lbs dry/695 as installed) was not exactly in keeping with Raymond Loewy’s design mantra at Studebaker: Weight is the Enemy. The result is somewhat unfortunate, as every Studebaker V8 tends to feel nose heavy, given that the cars were inherently more compact and lighter than average. For example, a ’55 Commander sedan and a ’64 Lark V8 both had a rather unfortunate 60/40 F/R weight distribution; the longer wheelbase coupes improved that a bit, to about 57/43. That impacted traction as well as handling adversely.

The combination of the decision to use a Cadillac size block and the obsolete state of Studebaker’s foundry technology resulted in a big-block engine with small-block displacement. Undoubtedly it resulted in a very stout block, although that’s not inherently a requirement for durability. Studebaker did give its rotating parts generous bearing areas, which contributed to its reputation for a stout bottom end. The camshaft was driven by gears, not the typical timing chain. And Studebaker kept mechanical lifters, another conservative change, which meant a noisier engine and regular valve lash adjustment.

And contrary to popular myth, Studebaker’s forged crankshaft was hardly unique or exceptional. In fact, that was what everyone (including Chevrolet) used at the time, except Ford, who were the inventors of nodular cast iron crankshafts.

Despite the conservative engineering, the Studebaker V8 was far from perfect. It didn’t have a full flow oil filter until partway through 1962. Previous to that, it only used a bypass or partial flow filter. This was the same setup that the new Chevrolet V8 had in 1955 before it added a full flow filter in 1956. The lack of hydraulic valve lifters may be why Studebaker kept this system for so long, as mechanical lifters are not quite as finicky in this regard. There was a tendency of the oiling system to send too much oil to the rocker arm shafts as they wore, which could lead to oil starvation on the bottom end and low oil pressure problems. This rocker arm shaft wear was often the result of extended higher RPM usage, like high speed highway driving. The engine would pump too much oil to the top end of the motor and it couldn’t drain back to the pan fast enough. In mid-1961 Studebaker made some modifications to attempt to correct this problem. They used a smaller oil passage in the rocker arm shafts to restrict the oil to the top end and a large drain hole in the cylinder heads to get it back to the pan more quickly.

According to an interview with Studebaker designer Bob Bourke, the V8 had considerable teething issues when new, and cost the company considerable expense ($4 million), and impacted Studebaker’s decision to delay a new body from 1952 to 1953. From that interview:

1951 was the first time that Studebaker had a V-8 engine, and it was a catastrophe. They had a terrible time. They kept eating up camshafts and millions of dollars. Studebaker never ever gave any of the customers any problem. If they had made a mistake, they’d carry it to the ground and replace it forever. So, I think, it cost them, at the time, about 4 million dollars to get it straightened out, and they repaired the cars all over the country. There’s a couple of big, long stories about it, and I have a complete one, and that’s another story completely: what was wrong with it and how they corrected it, and that they had a hell of a time straightening the thing out.

One of the problems was that they could not get the particular metal that they wanted to grind the camshafts. They treat the metal after they’ve ground them. It was a hairline fine thing of a different grind, a different type of heat treating and also the spring tensions on the valves. Anyway, they finally got it ironed out, and it turned out to be a real good engine, but it cost them an awful lot of money.

Studebaker V8s were also notorious for leaking oil in various places.


Let’s look at the various versions, chronologically:

1951 – 1954: 232.6 CID 120hp

The initial 232.6 CID version starting in 1951 and built through 1954 had a bore of 3.38″ and a 3.25″ stroke. Its valve sizes were a very modest 1.4″ for the intakes and 1.28″ for the exhausts, and the ports were correspondingly small too. The center exhaust ports were siamesed. It had a rating of 120hp @ 4000rpm (note: all hp and torque ratings in this article are gross), and 190 ft/lbs of torque at 2000 rpm (the outgoing six had a 102hp rating).

There’s two ways of looking at those specs. It was a fairly small displacement engine for the times, but for 1951, its output of .52 hp/ci was very competitive; somewhat above the initial 1949 version of Cadillac (.48), Olds (.46) and only slightly below the new 1951 Chrysler 331 hemi (.54).

But in terms of hp/pound, an important metric of efficiency, the Studebaker comes in last, with .18 hp/lb. The Chrysler hemi had .25, the Cadillac .23 and the Olds, .21.

But performance in the relatively light (3,065 lbs) Commander was considered good for 1951. Tom McCahill managed to flog a new Commander from 0-60 in 12.8 seconds with the manual transmission, and with Studebaker’s almost new Automatic Drive, 16.2 seconds when manually engaging Low and 18.5 seconds in Drive. Quite respectable for the time. McCahill was impressed (as he invariably tended to be), and incorrectly predicted that the Studebaker V8 would be the terror of stock car tracks. Not so.

In the 1951 NASCAR series of 41 races, the Olds 88 dominated with 20 wins and Hudson with 12 wins. But there was one competitor in 1951 driving a Studebaker, Frank Mundy, and he managed one win at Mobile, AL. But there were no further wins in subsequent seasons for any Studebakers, and Mundy later switched to an Olds. NASCAR continued to be dominated by Olds and Hudson until 1955, when Chevrolet’s new V8 made immediate inroads. Why was the big flathead Hudson so successful against the ohv V8 Olds? Its optional Twin-H power (dual carb) engine was rated at 170 hp. If the Olds V8 had been available with dual carbs or a four barrel carb, it undoubtedly would have been even more dominant. Stock cars then really were essentially stock.

If the Olds only made 135hp initially, only 15hp more than the Studebaker, why was it so immediately embraced by the hot rod crowd?

The same applies to the Cadillac, seen here in a 1952 Allard K2. The answer in both cases, as well as the Chrysler hemi, is that although their initial production versions were tuned very mildly, their inherent potential due to their better-breathing heads was recognized instantly. That is the critical key to unleashing higher performance, and it took no time at all for tuners and racers to realize that. Already in 1952, this Cadillac-powered Allard K2 was making 250hp, and in 1953, 300hp.

And the production versions of the Cadillac and Olds engines quickly shot up in their power output too. By 1952, one year after the Studebaker V8 came out, the Cadillac 331 was rated at 190 hp, and by 1955, it was up to 270 hp, or .82hp/ci. And power increased further in subsequent years for both the Cadillac and Olds.  And of course the Chrysler 331 hemi quickly increased its power too, to 300 in 1955, for .91 hp/ci. The 1950s horsepower war was on, and by increasing carburation with dual quads or tri-power, the inherent potential in the better breathing heads of these engines quickly left the Studebaker V8 in the dust.

This was brought home with the superbly styled 1953 Studebaker coupes, a revolutionary, a “European style” low-slung sporty coupe shepherded by Raymond Loewy. It could have been America’s first personal sports coupe a lá Thunderbird, but its performance was blunted by the little 120 hp 232 V8, which failed to live up to the coupes’ racy looks. The ’53 coupes weighed 100lbs more than its tall predecessor, the result being that it was slower:  R&T got a manual-equipped version from 0-60 in 14.9 seconds (two seconds slower than the ’51), and MT’s test of an automatic yielded a best time of 16.9 seconds. Top speed was 95.7 mph, also a bit less than the 98.36 mph McCahill managed with the ’51 sedan. Even the venerable Chevy 235 six was making 115hp in ’53 and 125 hp in ’54.

No wonder Studillacs were the hot thing: swapping in a same-sized but almost twice as powerful Cadillac V8 was relatively easy and highly satisfying, yielding a genuine American high performance coupe the likes of which had never been seen before. Several outfits made them, Bill Frick being the most prominent one. A CC vintage review of one by Tom McCahill is here. The lack of a higher-output V8 in the “Loewy Coupes” was a great missed opportunity, as they could have been priced significantly higher and bolstered Studebaker’s image and profit margins. Studebaker design consultant Raymond Loewy repeatedly pushed Studebaker to recognize the growing size and value of the youth market, and his 1953 coupe reflected that in its design but not under its long sleek hood.


1955: 224 CID 140 hp

By far the rarest Studebaker V8 (other than the R3/R4) is the 1955 224 CID “Pace-setter” engine. It was only offered for the first half of the 1955 model year as the base engine in the Commander series, before being dropped mid-year along with the old-style windshield. It is essentially a short-stroke 259 (below), sharing the same 3.56″ bore, but with a quite short 2.81″ stroke. Studebaker had been toying with the idea of reducing the V8’s displacement down to some 200 cubic inches in order to replace the aging flathead Champion six, and apparently this was the compromise solution. Thanks to the somewhat bigger valves and ports of the heads it shared with the 259, volumetric efficiency was improved and output was up, to 140 hp at a higher 4500 rpm; torque was up a bit too, to 202 ft.lbs @2800 rpm. And thanks to its short stroke, this is the smoothest-running of all of the Studebaker V8s. Compression ratio: 7.5:1.

Performance appears to roughly comparable to the 232; one test of an automatic sedan yielded a 0-60 run of 17.40 seconds, with manually holding Low until 32 mph. The 224 was dropped when it was determined that a 259 with a higher (lower numerical) rear axle gearing achieved essentially the same mileage.


1955 – 1964 259 CID,  162 hp , 170hp, 180 hp, 185 hp, 195 hp:

For 1955, Studebaker made the first significant changes to its V8, resulting in the long-lived 259 CID version and the very short-lived 224 (previous section). The biggest changes were an increase in bore to 3.56″. Perhaps more importantly, the heads were revised, with somewhat larger (but still small) valves and ports. Intake valves were now 1.67″ and exhausts were 1.53″. This improved volumetric efficiency, resulting in higher torque and horsepower output. These heads would be used essentially unchanged through the rest of Studebaker V8 production, including the upcoming 289 version, except for variation in combustion chamber size to increase compression ratios.

Power ratings started at 162 hp for the “Bearcat”, the base V8 in the Commander starting mid-year 1955, and replacing the 224. This was a two-barrel, single exhaust version with 7.5:1 compression ratio. Hp: 162 @ 4500 rpm; torque: 250 @2800 rpm.

The President started ’55 with a 175 hp version (“Wildcat”), which had a four barrel carb. Hp: 175 @4500 rpm; torque: 260 @ 2800 rpm. CR: 7.80:1.

At mid-year, in addition to the new semi-wraparound windshield, the President series got a slightly more powerful 185 hp version, now called “Passmaster”. Studebaker’s naming department was keeping busy. Presumably it got dual exhausts to account for the additional 10hp.

Possibly the bump to 185 hp was to stay ahead of Chevy’s brand new V8, which arrived in 1955 in 162 and 180 hp trims, although a 195 hp version could be ordered later in the year. A comparison of the Studebaker V8 with the Chevy small block (SBC) is of course inevitable, as there were two similar sized versions (259/265; 289/283) and there are such decided differences.

Here’s a quick look at the two in cross section (not size corrected), with the SBC on the left. The SBC was the beneficiary of a few more years of advancement in both design and engineering as well as foundry techniques compared to the Olds and Cadillac V8s, but their influence can be readily seen. It is significantly more compact than the Studebaker, and weighs some 75 lbs less, thanks to thin-wall casting. But the most important difference is in the heads; it’s quite obvious from looking at these two that the Chevy’s valves are larger, and more significantly, its ports are substantially larger and designed to flow air with less resistance. This was the key reason the SBC was instantly adopted in the performance world as it required very little to unleash its vastly greater potential.

Already the very first ’55 SBC had bigger valves than the Studebaker (intakes 1.72″ vs. 1.65″), and that was just the starting point. SBC heads soon sprouted ever larger valves, the intakes growing to 1.82″, 1.94″ and topping out at 2.02″ in 1963. Even the very limited production Studebaker R3/R4 heads could only fit 1.875″ intakes, due to the inherent architecture of the Studebaker engine. There just wasn’t more room, in part because of the relatively small 3.56″ bore.

This difference in head flow capacity, which is the single biggest determinant in an engine’s power potential, resulted in explosive power increases for the SBC: 240 hp in 1956 (265 CID), and 270 hp (carbs) or 283 hp (FI) in the ’57 283 CID version. And they continued to increase in subsequent years, to 375 hp from the 1964 327.

In 1956, the Commander and Power Hawk’s standard 259 engine was rated at 170 hp @4500 rpm, and torque was 260 @2800. That small increase was due to an increased compression ratio to 7.8:1.  The optional 185 hp version had a four barrel carb and dual exhausts.

In 1957, compression ratio on the 259 was increased again, to 8.3:1, resulting in a bump to 180 hp for the two barrel version, and 195 hp 4 barrel version, whose torque increased to 260 ft.lbs at a higher 3000 rpm.

These two versions (180/195hp) were built through to the end of engine production in 1964, and were used exclusively in 1959, in the new Lark and Silver Hawk. In the compact and light Lark, the only V8 compact until 1961, they gave good performance; 0-60 times were in the 11-12 second range for the 180 hp version, and 9-10 seconds with 195 hp (with manual transmissions).


1956 – 1964 289 CID, 195hp, 210 hp, 225 hp, 240 hp, 275 hp, 290 hp:


Studebaker may have been behind the horsepower curve a bit, but with the increased competition from the low-priced three as well the mid-priced brands its V8 models competed with, it had to hustle to justify its pricing premium. After just one year, displacement went up again, to 289 cubic inches, thanks to a longer 3.63″ stroke. Other than the longer stroke, it was essentially identical to the 259, including the heads. This would be the final iteration, except for the very limited production 304 inch R3/R4.

There were three versions of the 289 in 1956 (195/210/225hp). The 195 hp (@4500 rpm) version had a 7.8:1 CR and its torque was 286 @2800 rpm. The 210 hp version had 8.3:1 CR, a two barrel carb and made its peak power also at 4500 rpm, and max torque of 300 @2800 rpm. The 225 hp version also had the 8.3:1 CR, a four barrel carb and its torque peaked at 305 @3000 rpm.  The 195 hp version was discontinued after 1956, and the 210/225 hp versions (two/four barrel carbs) continued on through the end of production.

In 1957, Studebaker replaced the 275 hp 352 CID Packard engine in the ’56 Golden Hawk (“Studickard”?) with a supercharged version of the 289, rated at 275hp. The big Packard engine, which actually weighed only 44lbs more than the Studebaker, was going out of production, so it was necessary to come up with an expedient solution. Since the Studebaker’s heads did not facilitate any further power increases (more carburation would have been counter-productive), the obvious solution was forced induction. Supercharging is very effective in overcoming the limitations of poorly-breathing heads, and is the reason Kaiser-Frazer used it on their flathead six and Ford on its 312 Y block (in very limited quantities), which briefly made it the terror of NASCAR in early 1957 until supercharging was banned.

The McCulloch/Paxton supercharger was essentially the same type as used on the Ford 312, a belt-driven variable-speed centrifugal unit that peaked at about 5 psi, in the 3,000 – 4,000 rpm range. It fed a Stromberg WW6-121 two barrel carb that was enclosed in a pressure chamber. Compression ratio was lowered to 7.8:1 to reduce pre-detonation. Boost came on at about 2500 rpm, meaning that below that, it was a bit more sluggish than a non-supercharged 289.

There’s a very comprehensive test of a ’57 Golden Hawk by Hot Rod here. They tested an automatic with Twin-Traction rear differential. 0-60 runs averaged 8.8 seconds; 0-80 in 16 seconds. The 1/4 mile was achieved in 16.72 seconds @82.3 mph. Top speed at El Mirage lake was 122.7 one way and 119.5 the return trip. Good performance, but then a significantly cheaper 205 hp ’56 Chevy 265 cubic inch sedan was almost identically quick in the 0-60, 0-80 and a bit quicker in the 1/4 mile.

The supercharged Golden Hawk was made through 1958. The Golden hawk was expensive ($3,182 in ’57), and only a few thousand were built. The Paxton supercharger was not without some vices; reliability issues were recurring, and there were a number of major revisions over the years to address them, primarily with the bearings. The specific reason Chevrolet gave for deciding on fuel injection and a supercharger for the 1957 283 was the supercharger’s poor reliability record. Chevy’s fuel injected 1957 283 V8 was rated at 283 hp, and 290 in 1958.

Through 1962, the 210 and 225 hp 289 engines continued to be the top engines in Studebaker’s line-up, including the Gran Turismo Hawk. There’s a car Life review here, of a ’62, with the newly-available BW T-10 four speed manual and the 225 hp four barrel version. Other than the brakes being unable to complete a single stop from 80mph due to extreme fade, they generally liked it quite a bit. Performance was far from spectacular though, with a 0-60 time of 11.4 sec., and 0-80 in 21.0 seconds. The 1/4 mile was absolved in 18.2 seconds @75 mph. For the $3,788 as tested price, that was adequate but hardly in tune with the times for a rather pricey sporty coupe with such a promising name.

None of this is to say that the Studebaker V8 couldn’t or didn’t provide excellent performance in typical every-day use, the way the great majority of owners drove their cars. Their design favored low rpm torque, which made them feel responsive in the lower-mid rpm band. They could make perfectly reasonable power outputs, but they simply were more constrained in ultimate hp potential. That had obviously not been part of their design brief.

But the times they were ‘a changing, and Studebaker made on last glorious effort to not be left behind in the golden performance era of the ’60s.


1963-1964 289 CID   R1/ R2,  240hp/290hp:


In 1961, Sherwood Egbert (on right, with Raymond Loewy) was hired from McCulloch (makers of the Paxton supercharger, among other products) to be Studebaker’s new President. He was young and ambitious, and determined to give Studebaker’s stodgy image a major make over, starting with a bold new sporty coupe (the Avanti, above) and more performance from its V8.

Loewy designed the coupe Egbert wanted, but to get the performance, he hired Andy Granatelli, who with his brothers had been active in racing and had a successful high performance parts company, Grancor. Granatelli had bought the Paxton Products Co. from McCulloch in 1958. In 1962, Studebaker bought the Paxton supercharger business, and Andy was now the President of Studebaker’s STP Division. And in addition to promoting STP, he quickly went to work not only adapting the Paxton unit to the 289 (for a second time), but also in applying other performance mods, resulting in the R-series of engines.

The first order of business were the “Jet Thrust” R1 and R2 versions of the 289, for 1963. The R1 was the base engine in the Avanti, and optional in the Lark and Hawk. A somewhat more aggressive camshaft, 10.25:1 compression ratio, dual point distributor, dual valve springs, a heavier crank damper and a larger Carter AFB four barrel carb increased power from 225 to 240 hp, still at 4500 rpm. Max. torque was 305 @3000 rpm.

The supercharged R2 was essentially the same, but with a lower 9.0:1 CR, and of course the Paxton supercharger. Initially, Studebaker did not publish output numbers for the R2/3/4, but due to issues with sanctioning bodies they were later. The R2’s published hp rating was 290 @5200 rpm.

We posted a vintage review of a ’64 R2 Lark here at CC; performance was brisk: 0-60 in 7.3; 1/4 mile in 15.8 @90mph. An Avanti R2 tested by Cars managed a 6.1 second run to 60, but an almost identical 1/4 mile result (16.0 @90.45mph). A heavier R2 GT Hawk with automatic was a bit slower, with 0-60 in 7.4 seconds. More details on the R2 here.


1964 304.5 CID – 280hp, 335 hp (R4/R3)

The R3 and R4 engines play a very outsize role in Studebaker lore, considering that only a handful of R3 and R4 equipped cars were ever actually sold to the public. Some 20 more R3s were probably built by swapping in R3 or R4 crate motors. There’s no definitive accounting but a total of some 140 R3/R4 engines were perhaps ever built; some used by Granatelli in the Bonneville record runs and the rest sold as complete crate engines, blocks or parts until the part supply ran out. After Studebaker shut down, Granatelli was stuck with extra engines that were eventually sold off over the years. It’s important to know that the R3/R4 were not production engines; they were hand-built at STP/Paxton in Santa Monica and the few that were sold installed in cars were shipped to South Bend.

The specially selected 289 blocks for straight cores were bored out to 3.65″, making 304.5 cubic inches. Almost all of the internal components were different, from various performance suppliers or custom made. The pistons (slippers, for less friction) and connecting rods had to be redesigned, as the stock units could not handle the higher stresses and engine speeds. Forged-True supplied the pistons. The assembled engines were balanced at Edelbrock. Weiand made the intake manifolds. A semi-wild 276° cam was standard; an even wilder 288° version was optional. The block had scallops at the ends of the bores in order to accommodate the larger valves of the custom cylinder heads.

The cylinder heads were completely unique castings, with room for larger valves (1.875 intakes; 1.625 exhaust). That intake size is still well below even the very common 1.92″ intake SBC head, never mind the 2.02″ version. But that’s the biggest size that was possible given the Studebaker engine’s architecture. Here’s more details on the R3. The unique heads required their own unique intake and exhaust manifolds, so there was essentially no interchangeability with the R1/R2 or the lesser Studebaker V8s.

Given that this was a custom, hand built engine, the cost was going to be reflected in its price: $1,031, in the Avanti, or almost a 25% increase over the Avanti’s base price. The result was that all of nine customers ponied up for an R3 Avanti.

This reflects the reality of these R3/R4 engines: they were never going to be widely available, and were limited to a handful of enthusiasts that could afford them as well as for their presumed PR value in attracting attention to Studebaker. But realistically that was never going to actually drive sales of bread and butter Studebakers when there was no easy or cheap way to improve a regular 289’s performance, unlike the SBC or other popular V8s.

In the supercharged R3, compression was 9.75:1. Output is pegged at 335 hp @5,350 rpm. With a higher ratio pulley for the supercharger to increase boost, 400 hp was possible. Motor Trend’s test of an R3 Avanti prototype yielded a 0-60 in 6.7 seconds.

Granatelli wasted no time in sending the R3 Avanti and other Studebakers to Bonneville, where in August of 1962 he shattered 29 records in various classes, including a flying kilometer at 168.24 mph. He and even more Studebakers would return the following year.

The R4 is essentially a normally aspirated R3, with an ultra-high 12.0:1 compression ratio and two Carter AFB four barrel carbs. It was rated at 280 hp @5,500 rpm. As noted previously, only some eight (or less) R4-equipped cars were ever sold new, and some 10 or so additional genuine R4 engines are documented and made their way eventually into other cars. 280 hp from 305 cubic inches was hardly that impressive, given that regular production Chevy small blocks were making well more than that per cubic inch back in 1957, and were now making 375 hp from 327 cubic inches. Ford’s brand new 289 K-code was already making 271 hp. Chevrolet’s 302 in the ’67-’69 Z-28 was rated at 290 hp, but was widely accepted to actually make closer to 400 hp.

The 1964 R4 Daytona Convertible, which had been run at Bonneville that summer, was tested by Cars magazine. Its performance was good, but not really that impressive in the era of GTOs, 409 Chevys, 426 Mopars and such. Its 0-60 time was 6.7 sec., and the 1/4 mile came in 16.0 @90 mph. The really impressive number was its price: the R4 package, which included HD suspension, disc brakes and other bits and the mandatory T-10 four speed resulted in a sticker price right at $5,000. That’s more than a Corvette, Shelby Cobra or an XK-E. And it was some 33% more than several of the hottest cars from the Big Three, and essentially double of a new Chevelle with a 327. CARS suggested that $5k would be better spent on two new Chevelles; one to race and one to tow it!

Car Life also tested an R4 Daytona coupe, priced a bit more modestly at a mere $4550. It wasn’t as fast, despite being lighter, and its 0-60 time was 7.8, and the 1/4 mile came in 15.8 @88mph.

The whole R2/R3/R4 saga makes for interesting reading, but the actual impact on Studebaker sales was essentially nil. Studebaker was dying, and what loyal Studebaker buyers were left in 1964 were old and very conservative. These engines were simply way too expensive for the typical performance-oriented younger buyer at the time. And buying a regular 289 powered Studebaker had no appeal to them either, as there were no readily available or affordable performance parts to be had, either from the factory or vendors. A 283 Chevy II (for some $2200, or less than half the price of an R4) could readily make some 300 hp with a cheap Duntov cam and four barrel carb and manifold. And a $2600 Chevelle 327 could take that up another 50 or so hp.

Long-terms Studebaker owners interested in improving the performance of their V8s have found ways to make some progress over the decades. There is still essentially no commercial aftermarket parts for them, but individuals are modifying heads with modern CNC machines to improve flow as best as possible, and for a price, one can buy custom made intake manifolds and such. There has been talk on the forums for years about someone casting R3/4 heads, but it’s not happened yet. And as some have pointed out, one might as well design a much better flowing head than that from scratch, as has been done in the aftermarket for a number of other old V8s, including the Ford Y block. But due to the very limited numbers, no one has been able to justify the investment.

So except for the couple of genuine R3/R4s still out there, some of them performing impressive feats on the drag strip, Studebaker V8s are best appreciated for what they are, and not in trying to make them into something they were never designed to be.


Vintage Review: Tom McCahill tests the 125 mph Studillac

CC 1953-1954 Studebaker Starliner Coupe

CC 1957 Studebaker Commander

CC 1959 Studebaker Lark VIII Coupe

CC 1960 Studebaker Hawk

CC 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk

CC Studebaker Avanti

Vintage Review: 1964 Super Lark

CC 1962 Studebaker Daytona