Junkyard Classic: 1958 Studebaker Champion – The Last Full Size Studebaker Sedan

1958 Studebaker Junkyard 1

Last week, a friend of mine told me there was a Mustang II at a Pomona Valley junkyard. To check it out, I needed to spend an hour behind the wheel (each way), but Mustang IIs are getting rarer and rarer on the ground, so I figured it was worth the effort. Sadly, the Mustang II was stripped down to the bones, but there were several interesting hulks in the same row, including this Studebaker Champion–a car so unusual, I broke out my rarely used cell phone camera and snapped away.

1958 Studebaker headlight bubble

In 1958, Studebaker added quad headlights to the existing fenders using these bizarre fiberglass nacelles. Whoever decided these cars needed quad headlights at any cost must have accelerated Studebaker’s slide down to Endsville–it’s a cheap and cobbled-up look. These cars pre-date my arrival on the scene, but the peals of laughter generated by these blisters must still echo in some of the more isolated corners of the Midwest.

1958 Studebaker Junkyard 2

As the article title indicates, this is the last of the full size Studebaker sedans. Studebaker sales in 1957 and 1958 dipped well below 100,000 a year, and foreshadowed the end of auto production in South Bend.  Still, this car wasn’t the final Studebaker sedan–engineers would use the center section of this car as the foundation of the Lark in 1959.  This new compact sparked a brief sales rally in 59 and 60, but by 61 the downward trend returned and continued until the end in 1966.

1958 Studebaker Junkyard 3

This rear view shows another patchwork styling addition to the original ’53 model. If you look at the bottom edge on the driver’s side tailfin, you can spot a squared off joint where a fiberglass cap attached to the steel fenders used in ’55 and ’56. Just like every other manufacturer, Studebaker found itself behind Chrysler in the tailfin war of 1957. This fiberglass solution may have been ingenious, but based on the sales numbers, consumers may have recognized that it was a desperate ploy done on the cheap. This patchwork approach also forced designers to place a strip of chrome on the inside of the tailfin. While the trim hid the seam between the fin and fender, the placement hid the expensive bright work out of sight.

1958 Studebaker Junkyard 4

It’s a bit odd to see a Studebaker here in LA–I’ve got roots extending back to Southern Michigan and still have a sister residing in South Bend, so I know Studebaker sightings are not unusual in that region. In contrast, I can only recall one or two sightings here in LA and even if I encountered one here, I’d expect it to be a Golden Hawk or perhaps an Avanti. This lower trim-level sedan represents the antithesis of California car culture, but it appears it may have been running up until recently–the sheet metal is all straight, the glass remains in place, and the tires may still hold air.

Oddly enough, Curbside Classic has multiple articles on the Studebaker-Packard offerings from 1958. If you’re interested in a full boat two door, you can check out Tom Klockau’s article on the 1958 Packard Coupe, while Jeff Nelson has an extensive article on the bottom feeding, but somewhat successful Scotsman trim package.