Vintage Review (and TV Commercials): 1964 Studebaker Super Lark – A Better GTO? Its Inspiration?

The GTO has become universally acclaimed as the first of the “muscle cars”, a smaller sedan/coupe packing the punch of a hot V8 along with a four-on-the-floor and a full complement of suspension and brake upgrades. It arrived in the spring of 1964, to universal acclaim and quickly became a hot seller.

But already one year earlier, in the spring of 1963 as a late model year addition, Studebaker offered something almost identical in concept and performance, never mind the disc brakes that weren’t even available on the GTO. Thanks to CC reader Mike Hayes, who uploaded this Motor Trend review at the Cohort, you can now shoot down those folks that claim that the GTO was the first of its kind.

The Super Lark was part of a big performance push at Studebaker, thanks to the youthful (but soon to be ailing) President Sherwood Egbert, who also fathered the Avanti. Bringing in Andy Granatelli and his Paxton supercharger into the mix was a key ingredient, as the Studebaker V8 was not inherently a well-breathing engine. Blowing in air at some 5-6 lbs of pressure, the 289 CID mill made 290 hp. That was good for a very brisk 7.3 second 0-60 sprint, and a 90 mph trap speed in the 1/4 mile run. The ET of 15.8 seconds was hampered by a balky shifter for the Warner T-10 four speed.

In addition to the supercharged R2, there were also two specially-prepared 304.5 cubic inch engines available; the 335 hp supercharged R3 and the 280 hp naturally-aspirated (with two four barrel carbs) R4. How many of those were ever sold? But a 335hp R3 Super Lark was quite the bomb.

The performance package also included substantial suspension upgrades, including radius rods at the rear axle to eliminate axle hop during acceleration. Springs were stiffer, and there were adjustable shocks. The one big deficit was the very slow steering with 4.7 turns lock-to-lock. This car really deserved quicker steering, as the handling was praised highly. The Super Lark’s braking was in a whole other league compared to all other American cars at the time; even the Corvette still had drums in ’64. The Lark stopped straight without any fuss repeatedly from its 123 mph top speed. Try that, GTO!

And the Lark was praised for its exceptional roominess given its rather modest 109″ wheelbase (four doors and wagons had 113″). And the dash was padded and there was full instrumentation. Build quality was also considered very good.

With the minor exceptions of the slow steering and balky shifter (Hello Hurst!), this was a shockingly competent car for 1964. Of course its target younger buyers never showed up, and along with other disappointments in 1964, Studebaker’s last hurrah ended within a year. The 1965s, built in Canada, resorted to using Chevy engines, a 194 inch six and a mild 283 V8. The Super Lark party was over, in more ways than one.

The quality of this vintage commercial is terrible, but it does give one a picture (albeit fuzzy) of how Studebaker was trying to reposition itself.

Here’s another one that’s clearer.

And finally, a ’63 R3 Super Lark shutting down a ’69 GTO, in the Pure Stock class.