Studebaker was a scrappy company from Indiana, which found several lifelines after several missteps in the 1950s. The company almost succeeded, but problems with the production of the Avanti in 1962-63, along with the health problems and resignation of the company president, were the final nail in the coffin. During this time, Studebaker broke speed records across the country, most notably at Bonneville.
The Studebaker Legends Invitational at the 2022 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) was created to give the small South Bend company a forum to showcase its wares. The 1963-64 Avanti is the most notable effort, but the R-series engines—especially those equipped with the Paxton supercharger—competed well against the burgeoning powerhouses coming out of Detroit. Here’s a look at the history of Studebaker.
This 1963 Studebaker Avanti bears the serial number 63R-1001, meaning it was the very first one built. It was ordered on April 26, 1962 and built the following June. Powered by the R2 engine, a supercharged 289 with one horsepower per cubic inch, this Avanti lived an interesting life, starting out as a mule for Studebaker’s technical training centers before suffering a sweet-apple green paint job by 2001. unique touches before the LeMay Museum acquired it for its collection.
This 1963 Avanti is the 16thth one was produced, serial number 63R-1016, but its significance lies in its equipment and subsequent history. Originally built with an R2 engine, it was shipped to Paxton Products, then converted to an R3, then a supercharged 299 (the class limit at Bonneville), but by the time the engine reached production, the 304.5 ci measured and delivered 335 horsepower. Both Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines tested this vehicle, which Paxton sold to its first owner in December 1963 along with the R4 engine. He eventually ended up in South Bend, where he lived until recently.
None of Studebaker’s Bonneville exploits is more legendary than the Due Cento, named after Studebaker’s attempt at the 200 mph speed record at Bonneville. The car featured an experimental twin-supercharged R3 (later known as the R5) with 550 horsepower and a top speed of 198 mph.
This car bears the same name but is a latter-day creation that set a speed record of 223.238 mph at Bonneville during Speed Week 2009.
This 1963 Lark Custom two-door sedan features the Jet-Thrust Supercharged V8, also known as the R2 289. Yes, this placid looking thing was capable of causing damage to more serious machinery. There was also the Super Lark package, which incorporated key components beyond the R-series engines, such as a limited-slip differential, high-performance cooling, upgraded suspension, front disc brakes and a 160 mph speedometer.
The Lark series was revamped in 1964 thanks to industrial designer Brooks Stevens. Studebaker also began to downplay the Lark name. This Daytona was the top model since 1962, an early offering from Studebaker with the sporty buckets and consoles. It also has R2 289.
Known as the 1963 Studebaker SS, this vehicle is Brooks Stevens’ first prototype of the Excalibur, a neoclassic that was popular with the wealthy in the 1970s and 80s. The Studebaker SS originally started out as a Studebaker concept, created for the New York International Auto Show and other shows “to attract people to the booth. They would walk right past them without any real eye contact and not even look in the right direction.” Stevens set out to build a “contemporary classic” and sourced a Studebaker Daytona convertible chassis to create a vehicle inspired by the Mercedes SSK, although when Studebaker found out, the company tried to distance itself from the “old car”. Power came from a R2,289. It was nicknamed “Mercebaker”, but the car was called a Studebaker SS. The response was enthusiastic, and Stevens quickly began production of the neoclassic, albeit with a small-block Chevrolet.