The Studebaker Scotsman has already gotten a thorough CC treatment, so if you are not familiar with the full history of the Scotsman, I suggest you read the linked post. Unfortunately, that post had to make do with Googled photos and period advertisements, so I’ve been looking to augment this site with an actual example for a while. At the auction of famed Studebaker hoarder Ron Hackenberger last summer, I finally got to study a Scotsman in person, so lets take a closer look at the preferred ride of late 1950’s skinflint buyers.
So what did a Studebaker Scotsman buyer get for their $1,995, the lowest priced wagon available at time? For starters, you got only two doors. While other manufacturers were still selling two-door wagons, the body style was on its way out as the four-door wagon was in its ascendancy. If you wanted your Studebaker wagon with four doors, you had to step up to the Champion Deluxe or the even more expensive Commander wagon. You also got a three on the tree, the only transmission choice for the Scotsman. Shoppers looking for an automatic again had to step up to a higher model. Vacuum operated wipers were standard, although electric wipers were optional. You also got your choice of just five drab colors: Midnight Black, Parchment White, Glasgow Grey, Glen Green, or the Loch Blue of our featured car. All the colors were pretty much as dour and dreary as their names suggest.
It may be more accurate to describe what the Scotsman buyer didn’t get. For starters, you didn’t get a dome light or a passenger side sun visor. You also didn’t get outside mirrors (the fender mounted mirror on the feature car is an aftermarket unit). The Scotsman sedan had no load floor in the trunk – just a naked spare tire. Luckily, the Scotsman wagon at least got a load floor, given its anticipated hauling duties.
A heater was standard (not necessarily a given in vehicles of this era), although it was just a basic waterbox located in the passenger footwell, and not the integrated Climatizer heater used on most other Studebaker models. Also standard was was a “short” 4.10 rear axle. Advertisements claimed “up to 29 mpg”, but that was undoubtedly with overdrive. And if that gearing wasn’t short enough for you, you could bring that gearing all the way up to 4.56 with the optional overdrive. Beyond that, options were few, with a rear facing third row seat being the most notable available option.
But perhaps what stands out most about the Scotsman is how little of the car actually stands out. Other than the front and rear bumpers, the Scotsman is completely bereft of chrome trim. The taillamp surrounds (chromed on other Studebaker models) are painted silver.
The grille is just a flat sheet of perforated steel, again painted silver. The headlight bezels, like much of the rest of the trim, is painted body color. And one could have the bumpers painted instead of chrome too, for a small credit.
Buyers also got just about the plainest interior ever to grace a modern car. The seat covers were completely devoid of any quilting or tufting – just a vast expanse of flat vinyl. The door cards were literally just vinyl covered cardboard, and didn’t even include an armrest. It almost goes without saying, but there was no carpeting: just a rubber floor covering.
Under the hood, the themes of economy and thrift continue. The 185 cu. in. flat-head “Sweepstakes Six,” which can trace its origins back to the 1939 Champion, was the only available engine. Putting out all of 101 HP, at least it was understressed and had a decent reputation for reliability and economy.
At some point, a previous owner must have found this particular Scotsman a bit too austere, and attempted to perform some upgrades on the otherwise basic accommodations. In addition to the previously mentioned exterior mirror, An AM radio appears to have been sourced from a contemporary Studebaker (one was not available in the Scotsman, even as an option). The unevenly applied side trim was another “mod.” (the Scotsman had no side trim from the factory). Also, the original body-colored hubcaps appear to have been replaced with chromed units somewhere along the line, greatly improving the appearance.
If I had been alive in 1957 and you had told me that Studebaker was going to after a market below the Entry-Level three (Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth), I would have thought it was a foolish endeavor, on par with Homer Simpson’s quest to find a new meal between breakfast and brunch. Much to my surprise (and probably to more than a few at Studebaker-Packard), the Scotsman ended up being Studebaker’s best selling model in 1958. Of course that doesn’t say much for Studebaker’s other models, which were hardly attractive or competitive that year.
Studebaker’s discovery that there was a sizable untapped market for no-frills, basic transportation autos in the US did not go unnoticed by other manufacturers. The imports had been selling to that segment of the market successfully for some years already, although they were generally nicely trimmed. By 1958, imports were closing in on 10% of the market. And Rambler was also doing well during this period. And of course the Big Three were developing their compacts for 1960.
The success of the Scotsman was critical in Studebaker’s decision to ditch their attempts at competing against the Big Three’s big cars, and created the compact Lark for 1959, which was of course just a shortened Studebaker body. The Lark was a big hit in 1959, but by 1960 there was increasing competition from the Big Three, so within a couple of years, Studebaker started pushing the Lark upmarket again, as the low end and compact market was over saturated. Studebaker’s attempt at finding success at the bottom of the market was fairly short-lived.
Given its lack of mechanical complexity and proven underpinnings, these Scotsman models likely provided years of trouble-free, low-cost operation for their owners, exactly what this previously undeserved market was looking for. Unfortunately, Studebaker’s marketers were never able to spin simplicity and frugality into lasting marketing gold.
This example ended up selling at auction for $1,925, just a few dollars less than what it sold for when new (not adjusted for inflation, of course). Still frugal after all these years!