Car Show Classic: 1964 Studebaker Daytona Convertible – Studebaker’s Last Gasp Of Fresh Air

It is well known hereabouts that I suffer from a fetish – I just cannot get enough of the 1964 Studebaker.  In the company’s last burst of creativity it got an “A” for effort in trying to make a thoroughly obsolete platform relevant in the fast-moving market as the early 1960s morphed into the mid 1960’s.  This car may have been the most competitive convertible the company had offered since the year it paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1952.  But as we have all known from an early age, effort alone does not guarantee success.

Studebaker had a long and odd relationship with convertibles as the 1960’s dawned.  Other than the 1938 convertible sedan, the company was a purveyor of closed cars only from 1936 until shortly after the war.  After jumping back into the market with the long-lived 1947-52 body the convertible went away again as the new 1953 cars hit showrooms.  The sexy Loewy coupes would have made for a knockout convertible, but never saw a soft top variant at any point during its long life.

Interestingly though, it would be the “regular” Studebaker that would provide the raw material for the company’s last open car.

The Starlight hardtop of 1958 was a curious single-year car that was a teeny bright spot in a terribly dismal year.  Although there were many awkward design features on the ’58 Stude (and Packard) the basic proportions of the hardtop body’s central section came off quite well.

All of the engineering that went into that hardtop body was not, as commonly believed, wasted effort.  With some revisions to the C pillar and rear window area the 1958 Starlight hardtop became the 1959 Lark hardtop.

And as the company had cobbled a hardtop out a convertible in 1952, they would do the opposite in 1960 when the Lark convertible joined the lineup.

As the Lark body was updated by Brooks Stevens in 1962 the convertible remained in the line.  A 62 Lark ragtop would be the final Studebaker Pace Car at Indy.

The windshield and A pillars were finally modernized for 1963 and much of the lower sheetmetal was changed again for ’64.  We have covered the ’64 Stude in some detail but in the context of the low-end Challenger.  This Daytona was the creme’ de la lineup for someone who wanted an open car.

“Everybody knows” that Studebaker ended production at the mother ship in South Bend in December of 1963 and that for the rest of its life the company offered only sedans and wagons built in Canada, which came equipped with engines sourced from GM.  This is not completely true, as the entire rest of the 1964 model year was “business as usual” for all models not named Hawk or Avanti.

Studebaker engines continued to come from the South Bend foundry and all body styles of the Lark line continued to be built in Hamilton, Ontario.  Including the Daytona hardtops and convertibles.

I love coming across really rare cars and I believe that this one qualifies.  In fact I have been chasing this one for a few years now. Perhaps five or six years ago a friend shared a couple of low-res shots of a metallic blue ’64 convertible that was parked outside of a sporting goods store in an area I frequent.  Since that day I have looked in that parking lot every time I passed it, but I never saw the car for myself.  Until last summer at a local show.  The wheelcovers from a white 1963 Stude confirm that it’s the same car.

How rare is this car?  There is a registry for 1964 convertiBakers, which can account for 166 out of the 702 originally built.  Which makes for a nearly 25% survival rate, a rate that is fairly impressive.  Of that 702 car total, 286 of them originated from the Hamilton, Ontario plant that year between September, 1963 and July of 1964 when 1964 model year production concluded.  With sales numbers like these is it any wonder that the company elected to drop the droptop from the 1965 model lineup?

Incidentally, only seventeen of those 166 cars accounted for were coated in this Strato Blue paint when built.  And if I had to take a guess from this car’s current location, I would call this one a 259 V8/automatic car built November 8, 1963 in South Bend.  I love registries.

If I am right, this would mean this car has the very mildest of the V8 powertrains.  A rip-snorting R3 or R4 “Avanti-Powered” engine coupled to the Borg-Warner 4 speed would have made this a real unicorn, but let’s not get greedy.  Let’s just say that for the buyer so inclined, Studebaker would build a formidable car even in the final weeks of South Bend production.  Or a car for the buyer who cared more about “show” than “go” as would have been the case here.

This car was always an interesting size.  Beginning in 1962 the Lark sedans jumped from a wheelbase of 108.5 to 113.  In fact, I would argue that this was the platform that invented the American mid-sized car.  The The two-door bodies, however, were on a shorter 109 inch span beginning in 1962, which was more compact than mid sized.

From 1953-58 the shorter Champion series (both two doors and four) used a 116.5 inch wheelbase which was only barely longer than many American mid-sizers of the following two decades.  Even these shorter two doors would be a reasonable size matchup with GM’s 112 inch wheelbase A body coupes of 1968-72.  It is a shame that Studebaker could not see that all along it was selling the “Goldilocks car”, one that was neither too big nor too small, but just right.  Oh well.

The interior of this convertible takes me back to my childhood.  Every neighborhood had that one house where kids tended to congregate, and in my neighborhood that house belonged to my best friend Tim.  Whose family drove nothing but Studebakers. The whole clan must have taken advantage of a “Going Out Of Business Sale” because 1964 models outrepresented every other year.  The model relevant to today’s story was the Daytona hardtop owned by Tim’s grandma.

That Daytona was the lighter “Laguna Blue” outside, but its matching silver-blue vinyl interior was a dead ringer for the one in this convertible.  Looking at this car now, I think I can be forgiven for wondering as an 8 or 9 year old kid just why Studebaker had gone out of business.  It was true that the proportions were a bit different from those of our ’64 Cutlass hardtop, but the Daytona was finished off inside every bit as nicely as our Oldsmobile.  OK, except for the blue and white steering wheel that seemed a touch old fashioned.

In a less guarded moment I will admit that this car could never have captured the public imagination as the Mustang or GTO convertibles did.  Or, for that matter, the Falcon or Tempest convertibles.  Studebaker surely knew as much as they barely acknowledged the droptops in their advertising – Avantis and Hawks had more charisma and the sedans or hardtops offered more opportunities for desperately needed volume.  Fortunately, there was the exception here or there.  And for what it’s worth, the disc brakes really were quite good in their time.

The Canadian operation offered some nicely trimmed sedans and wagons in 1965 and 66 but by then the Daytona hardtop and convertible was as dead as the South Bend factory in the quest to keep the Hamilton plant’s break even point as low as possible.  But this is too bad, because the ’64 Daytona convertible (along with its hardtop companion) was a nicely turned out car that should have hung around for another couple of years.  And I suspect that Miss Dominion Of Canada from 1964 would agree.

Further reading:

1964 Studebaker Challenger – This Challenger Never Had A Chance (J P Cavanaugh)