Studebaker Lark (Generation 1)

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Studebaker Lark

Studebaker Lark (Generation 1)

1959 - 1961
L6 or V8
170 cu in (2.8 Litre)
259 cu in (4.2 Litre)
see article
3 speed auto
Top Speed:
100+ mph
Number Built:
3 star
When the Lark was first developed the Studebaker-Packard Corporation had been losing money for some time. Company president Harold Churchill came up with the idea of abandoning full-size car production in favor of building a new compact car that he hoped would save the company.

The Lark was ingeniously designed around the core bodyshell of the full-sized 1953-1958 Studebakers. By reducing the front and rear overhangs and shortening the wheelbase, the car could still seat six people comfortably and hold a surprising amount of luggage. It was hoped that the vehicle would save America's oldest vehicle manufacturer when it was launched, much like the 1939 Studebaker Champion had saved the company in the years prior to World War 2.

The Lark featured a simple grille, minimal use of chrome and clean lines, it being somewhat of a radical departure from the established "longer, lower and wider" styling norms fostered by Detroit's "Big Three" automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). The Lark's compact nature meant it used a considerably smaller wheelbase, only 2,790 mm (109.8 in) for the sedan and 2,900 mm (114.2 in) for the wagon.

Due to Studebaker obtaining “dual” dealerships with dealers of the Big Three, sales of the Lark were good for the 1959 and 1960 model. What really worked in the Lark's favor was that Ford, GM and Chrysler were yet to develop their own compacts cars, so the Lark did not have any serious competition.

Initial body styles included two and four-door sedans, a two-door hardtop coupe and a two-door station wagon, with two levels of trim (Deluxe and Regal) offered on most. Apart from American Motors Corporation's Rambler line, the Lark offered the broadest line of compacts on the U.S. market and the Lark was actually the first car of its size to offer a V-8 engine - the similarly-sized Rambler American offered only an inline six.

The lineup increased in 1960, when the company released a convertible (Studebaker's first since 1952) and a four-door station wagon. Two-door wagons were fast losing favor throughout the industry, despite a minor redesign that made the two-door Lark wagon's tailgate and rear side windows more user-friendly, and the four-door quickly proved the more popular of the two available wagons from Studebaker.

A taxi version of the Lark, originally called the "Econ-O-Miler," was built on the station wagon's longer 113-inch (2,900 mm) wheelbase. The extra 4.5 inches (110 mm) of wheelbase translated into extra rear seat legroom, which was important in the taxi trade. For 1959 and 1960, Larks were available with either an L-head (flathead) 170 cu in (2.8 Litre) six-cylinder engine or the company's 259 cu in (4.2 Litre) V-8. Testers gave were impressed with the V-8's performance. A V-8 Lark could do 0 to 60 mph time of around 10 seconds, which was on par with much larger cars.

By comparison, among the early Big Three compacts (Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvair and Plymouth Valiant) that arrived on the scene in 1960, only the Valiant could break the 20-second mark from 0-60 mph. None of the Big Three compacts offered a V-8 until the second editions of such cars that arrived in 1961 and referred to as the so-called "senior compacts".

To meet the challenge of those new cars head-on, for 1961 Studebaker created a new four-door sedan, the Cruiser, using the Econ-O-Miler taxicab body with an upgraded, more luxurious interior. The resulting car seemed to go back to the long-wheelbase Studebaker Land Cruiser sedans of the late Forties and early Fifties. These cars could be distinguished from their lesser four-door counterparts by the 1959-60-style roofline and operational vent windows in the rear doors, while other sedans used one-piece glass in the rear doors.

A new option, a canvas-covered folding sunroof dubbed the "Skytop" was introduced as an extra-cost feature for sedans and the two-door hardtop. A mild restyling, too, was carried also out. Non-Cruiser sedans and the two-door hardtop had a squared-off roofline.  A new front end design gave the Lark a broader grille with the availability of quad headlamps (as standard equipment on Regal and Cruiser models, optional on Deluxes).

The Compact With Performability

Although styling was modified, engineering enhancements in 1961 resulted in the Lark receiving a performance boost. Studebaker advertised as "The Compact With Performability," and this was assisted by the addition of the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8 from the Hawk family sports car as an option, although this was mainly for Larks intended for police pursuit packages. The bigger news involved the six-cylinder engine. Studebaker's engineers had long known that their little flathead mill, which dated in its basic form to 1939, was falling further behind the competition in both power and fuel economy.

Without the budget to design a completely new engine, the engineering staff converted the 170 engine to overhead valves whilst retaining much of the basic design. The "new" six, which displaced the same 170 cu. in. as before, went from 90 horsepower (67 kW) to 112 horsepower (84 kW), all without a loss in fuel economy. Most road testers of the day found the new engine to be more economical than the flathead, and cars were able to shave nearly four seconds off the all-important 0-60 mph time. The redesigned six, known as the "Skybolt Six," was marketed by Studebaker extensively in 1961.

Other engineering improvements that modernized the 1961 Larks included the introduction of cowl ventilation, suspended brake and clutch pedals (accompanied by a firewall-mounted brake master cylinder) and revamped steering systems. Unfortunately, for all of its new engineering and the mild restyling, sales of the Lark dropped off a great deal in 1961. Even more new competitors were squeezing their way into the marketplace, as Dodge brought out the Lancer, and General Motors issued the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest. These new "senior compacts," in addition to their very presence in the market, caused other problems for Studebaker. Most of the Big Three dealers who had signed on with the independent when the Lark debuted dropped the smaller company under pressure from the Detroit manufacturers once the new cars broke cover. Those who did not drop Studebaker outright often put more effort to selling their other product lines.

From 1959 to 1961, six-cylinder Larks were identified as "Lark VI" models, while V8-powered cars bore nameplates identifying them as "Lark VIII" models. Novices in the Studebaker hobby sometimes referred to these cars as "Mark VI" and "Mark VIII" Larks (not to be confused with the Lincolns of the same names).

Engines for the 1959 - 1962 Studebaker's:

170 cu in (2.8 Litre)
90 (67 kW)
1959 - 1961
L6 "Skybolt"
170 cu in (2.8 Litre)
112 (84 kW)
1961 - 1962
259 cu in (4.2 Litre)
1959 - 1962
OHV V-8 (optional)
289 cu in (4.7 Litre)
1961 - 1962
Studebaker Lark Wagon

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