We have been on an off-and-on low-mile time capsule jag here at the Curbside, thanks to several findings by Poindexter and some other contributors. I have found it a lot of fun to look at cars that are both nearly new and quite old, all at once. I have one that recently crossed my path and found too good to not pass along here: a top-of-the-line ’63 Studebaker Lark Cruiser with what is claimed to be 10,854 documented miles. Let’s take a look at this cream of the Studebaker sedan crop in its last full year of production.
We have examined quite a few ’63 Studebakers by now, almost the entire line – a ragged and well-used Wagonaire, a well-preserved low-to-average trim Lark Custom sedan and Dave Saunders’ current project. We even got a recent taste of a delicious Daytona convertible. We keep coming back to this Blue Mist paint on our Studebaker sedans, but today we get to see it as it looked when JFK was President.
This car was listed for sale awhile back on the San Francisco Bay Area Craigslist, and appears to be the genuine article. The description was, er, economical. However, it did say that it was once owned by a Stude club President. But shouldn’t he have owned a Studebaker President? Maybe this is a question for another day.
This car is notable for more than its condition. Although that should be quite enough. The paint shines, everything is straight and unmolested and just as it was built, or shall we say crafted by South Bend’s seasoned work force.
What really caught my attention, though, is the interior. This car came equipped with the rarely-ordered broadcloth upholstery. I have never seen one so-equipped in person and this is maybe only the third I have seen in photographs.
Broadcloth is a type of fabric with a history that goes back to England. From what I have read, it was a wool fabric loomed much wider than its intended width, then subjected to a milling process which submerged the fabric in hot, soapy water for pounding with hammers to shrink it into a tight weave in which the individual yarns bound themselves together into a felt-like material. The stuff became popular in household and automobile upholsteries in the 1920’s and beyond, and was typically found in high-priced cars into the 50’s. It was reputed to be resistant to moisture and quite durable.
Studebaker offering this as an upholstery option was quite unusual. The Studebaker Lark Cruiser was not an expensive car – with a base price of $2,595, it was roughly $200 less than the cost of a V8-equipped Impala or Galaxie 500 sedan that year. It was, however, advertised as a “Limousette”, promising the luxury of a limousine at a popular price.
At least it was advertised that way in the brochure, if not in the actual ads.
And what better way to convey luxury than to offer seats upholstered in the kind of fabric used in the Cadillac Fleetwood 75 limo. OK, we can agree – apples and oranges. Still, it is a rare treat to see a Cruiser equipped like this at all, let alone in this state of preservation.
It might seem odd to think that the basic Studebaker sedan that appealed to elderly tightwads or conservative engineers could be configured to chase the near-luxury part of the market. But the inside of the car was amazingly credible when trimmed this way. This is one of the few cars where the dash looks right at home in the nicest version. Just don’t ask for fripperies like power windows, seats or locks. This was practical luxury, you understand.
Studebaker tried to identify so many market niches in its last few years, and of course, none of those efforts got any traction because of the company’s shaky condition. This slice of the market, luxury in a small size, would become a hot spot about a decade after this Lark Cruiser found its first buyer. But it was not a hot spot in 1963.
Of course, trying to offer a small luxury car using the same vehicle also sold in skinflint trim with rubber floors and no heater may not have been the best way of giving the luxe version some credibility. Everyone loves a cheap luxury car, but the love is hard to find for a luxurious cheap car.
This one was offering a quiet and conservative sort of luxury with a normally aspirated 289 cid V8, rated at either 210 or 225 gross horsepower, depending on carb choice. Powerful luxury was available with the Avanti-derived R1 and R2 engine options that provided either an improved normally aspirated 240 horsepower or the supercharged version that kept its horsepower rating a secret (but what has been estimated at right around 300). But this car’s first buyer eschewed those silly performance engines (and the 4-speed stick offered along with them). Isn’t “adequate” all the power a luxury-ish buyer needs?
Could the 1963 Studebaker have been the most flexible new car offered that year? I am having a hard time thinking of another single car that attempted to fill the segments from taxi to luxury and from economy to performance the way this one did. Or at least tried to do – the buying public was clearly not as convinced of the Lark’s credibility in most of those niches. This was certainly not the way Cadillac finished the insides of their trunks, though it seems in line with most “normal” cars of the day.
This car’s original buyer was, however, apparently sold on the idea of a Limousette. And I hope this car found another buyer who sees it the same way.