1959 Studebaker Lark
Back in 1958 Studebaker-Packard had just experienced a very poor year in vehicle sales and had to do much better in the 1959 to survive in the competitive American Automotive Industry. It was hard to compete with the "Big Three" back then so Studebaker had to come up with something new and revolutionary to stay afloat. One of the Company's first casualties in 1959 production year was Packard as the decision was made to cease production of this Historic automotive brand. Models such as the Champion, Scotsman and President also were discontinued to make room for Studebaker's radical new model called the "Lark".
The Lark was going to be their main model and would come in the following versions:2 door Hardtop, 2 Door (post), 4 door, & Station wagon. The thing about the Lark was it was around 18 inches shorter then previous 1958 Models. Studebaker Packard had made the decision to go where the Big Three had not ventured and that was with a smaller, more economical car. Only Rambler was selling smaller cars and with the poor economic times it was felt that a bigger market for smaller cars was there. Studebaker Packard were correct in their assessment as 1959 was a turn-around year which saw them sell over 131 Thousand Cars. They were back in the black for a while In 1960 they sold over 127 Thousand Larks while introducing a Convertible. Gradually the "Big Three" caught on to this market and brought out their own models to compete with the Lark. Times got tough and after going into the "Red" it was decided to close the South Bend Factory in Late 1963. The Studebaker factory in Hamilton, Ontario Canada would hold the banner for the next two years but Studebaker Corporation decided to get out of the Automotive Making Industry in spring of 1966. It was a sad day indeed as Studebaker had been in the business of making vehicles for over 114 years.
The last Studebaker off the Line
Our 1959 Lark
Back in 2005 we were informed by Bill Foy, a fellow SDC member, that three Studebakers were for sale in Verona, Ontario which is only afew miles down the road from us. Bill Foy and I went down to view them and see if we could be of any assistance. We were greeted by Donna who had inherited three Studebakers and alot of parts from her brother Darrell who sadly passed away in a Auto Accident. He had been a real Studebaker man for many years and I remember meeting him back in the early 90s in a 1962 GT Hawk at the Inverary annual Fair. The three Studebakers that were for sale were a 1964 GT Hawk, 1950 Land Cruiser and 1959 Lark. The GT Hawk was his favorite car and it was a beauty. The Land Cruiser needed abit of work but was all there and the Lark had been off the road for 18 years and the front end was dented along with a blown motor. All of the body parts were included to fix it but a new motor would be needed if it was ever going to get back on the road.
1959 Lark - " Fixer Upper"
1959 Lark - Cdn Specifications
To give you some background on the Lark, it was originally sold in Pembroke, Ontario to a little old Lady who drove it sparingly as it still has under 15,000 original miles on the car. She got into afew accidents over the years and parked it and that is when Darrell bought this car back in the early 80s. he drove it for awhile but it overheated and the head gasket blew so it was moved into a barn for the next 18 years. I thought that this would be a great project for my son, Eric to sink his teeth into. He was not what you would call mechanically inclined but after he saw it and I agreed to assist him he decided to take the leap into Studebaker Ownership. After we got some help from Russ Carnes to get it home, we proceeded over the next few months on cleaning it up and gradually rebuilding it. The original motor had the head off and water had entered the block to where it was totally shot and another engine had to be used. Now good 4 Door Larks are not expensive cars and only sell for around 5-6 Thousand dollars at best. We were not about to shell out thousands of dollars to rebuild a motor so the hunt was on for a new inexpensive motor.
I searched all of the internet sites and also E-Bay where I noticed a Studebaker flathead 185 Cu in was for sale with a starting bid of $250. I contacted the owner and it had been in his Father's garage for six years and had been rebuild. Now the stock motor was a 170 cu in but the 185 cu in is the same except it has a longer stroke. It was out of a 1955 6 Volt Studebaker but we would only need the engine as all of the electrical parts were OK in the Lark. No one bid on the engine so I contacted the owner to see if I could see the motor as it was down in Toronto just 3 hrs away. I arranged for Eric and I to view it along with Al Jordan who knows Studebakers inside and out. We got to Toronto and looked it over and sure enough it had been rebuilt and for $250 it was a great deal. Al had graciously agreed to rebuild the motor as we were not at that skill level yet. After afew weeks we were told to pick it up as he had found the motor had been reassembled wrong but was able to sort it out. We soon installed the motor and found that the engine would not fit due to the knob on the end of the torque-converter would not got into the hole in the end of the Crankshaft. In 1955 the Borg-Warner "Flightomatic" Transmission was not used and the engine had a 3 speed standard so after we drilled out the hole an additional 1/2in we were to get the motor properly seated to where we could bolt the engine to the transmission. The major part of the rebuild had been completed but more surprises were to greet us over the next couple of years.
We were unable to acquire a starter when we purchased the car and that proved to be a problem as all of the ones I tried would not fit. None would line up with the Flywheel. I had a difficult time finding a starter with the exact model number and it had to be an Autolite, not a Delco-Remy which were used mainly in the South Bend Factory. After some investigation I was able to track one down from Roy Graham but it went in very tight. Unsure if it was because of the motor/transmission combination but I was able to acquire a second starter off a 1960 Lark and sure enough, it fit and we were able to turn over the motor.
Over the next two years we hunted down the parts that were needed to totally rebuild this car. You need a proper Parts book for any Studebaker you wish to rebuild and you biggest source of parts is Studebaker International which hold the biggest supply of Studebaker parts in this region. They also sell these parts books and if you want a part you need to refer to it by the original part number so their is no confusion. E-Bay is also a good source and many parts were acquired here at a cheaper price. You need to ask questions as some persons sell parts but are not exactly as advertised so it's wise to sort this out before you bid on parts, purchase them and find out they do or don't fit. Eric has learned alot over the past 10 years but that is what it's all about. What's left? Need to redo the upholstery and a better paint job to complete this beauty. We will do most ourselves as you never stop learning.