What was Studebaker?
For all that it's now seen as a failed company, Studebaker was actually very successful for over a century. Founded in 1852, Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company incorporated in South Bend, Indiana in 1868. Two massive fires, in 1872 and 1874, nearly destroyed the company's manufacturing facilities, but success returned quickly; the company was achieving over $1 million in annual sales by 1877. The company began experimenting with self-propelled vehicles in 1896, and by 1902, they introduced the Studebaker Electric automobile. Failed partnerships with Garford and E-M-F over the next decade in developing gas-powered vehicles led the company to refinance and change names to the Studebaker Corp.
What were Studebaker's innovations?
The early years of the automobile industry were filled with innovation, and Studebaker was no exception. Where other companies focused on purely technical innovations, Studebaker also brought forward various sales and process innovations as well, including:
- Engine Casting: Studebaker pioneered monobloc casting in 1913, introducing a process where the entire engine block produced as one unit for improved strength and smoothness.
- Testing: Studebaker was the first US company to have an outdoor proving ground in 1926.
- Financing: In 1915, Studebaker also became the first US company to offer retail and wholesale financing in cooperation with Commercial Investment Trust.
What about World War II?
Pre-"Forward Look" Virgil Exner worked in the company's design department prior to WWII, helping on 1939's highly successful Champion model. He helped Studebaker become the first American car company to produce a postwar automobile in 1946. Despite the first on the scene achievement, the company suffered greatly at a price war between Ford and GM in the early 50's. In an attempt to gain market share and financial stability, Packard orchestrated a take-over. In just two short years, the new company was teetering on bankruptcy.
What happened with Studebaker-Packard?
The Hawk line debuted in 1956, offering four models covering a variety of price ranges. The top-of-the-line Golden Hawk, with 275 hp from a Packard 352-ci V8, was dubbed a South Bend Ferrari by some in the press. It wouldn't be enough, as they discontinued the Packard nameplate in 1958 and dropped it from the corporate name in 1962.
How did Studebaker end?
Studebaker's last hurrah came in May 1962. The compact Lark was the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, and they introduced the Avanti. After setting 29 stock car records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, it was dubbed the "world's fastest production car." Production ended at just 3,834 units. The South Bend factory shut down in late 1963. The final Studebaker rolled off the line in the Hamilton, Ontario plant in Canada 1966. Avanti Motors of South Bend introduced the Avanti II, and production would continue until the mid 80's in South Bend.