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From Horses to Horsepower: History and Interesting Facts about the Studebaker
Champion, Bullet Nose and Avanti
Occasionally you’ll see one of these classic Studebaker automobiles, which may bring back memories for many. During its 114 years in business, Studebaker went through some trying times, but manufactured some of the most popular and unusual vehicles. We love classic cars here at Carstar Black Hills Autobody of Cottonwood, and the Studebaker definitely fits that mold.
The Studebaker story begins in 1852. With just $68 (today’s equivalent of $1,994), two sets of tools and a lot of determination, brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. They named it H&C Studebaker and specialized in horse-drawn wagons and carriages.
Although business started slowly, it soon grew, and they were asked to manufacture wagons for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Eventually, brothers Peter, John and Jacob joined the firm, known as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of horse-drawn vehicles. In 1868, the business was incorporated as Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company.
Studebaker’s first electric car, the Electric Runabout, debuted in 1902. Thomas Edison is thought to have purchased the second one manufactured. Two years later, a gas-powered vehicle was introduced – Studebaker-Garford. The company merged with Everitt-Metzger-Flanders in 1911, and became The Studebaker Corporation. It continued to manufacture horse-drawn vehicles until 1920.
Although the American automaker was prosperous during the 1920s, it went into receivership in 1933 due to the effects of the Great Depression.
After a reorganization, the company rebounded. In 1936, Raymond Loewy, a French industrial designer, was hired. Loewy’s team oversaw the creation of some of Studebaker’s most iconic vehicles. These included the 1939 Champion, the 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1950 “bullet nose,” the 1953 Starliner Hardtop and the 1963 Avanti Sports Coupe.
The Lark “compact car” was introduced in 1959 and in 1962 Studebaker debuted the Gran Turismo Hawk and the cutting-edge Avanti.
However, the company still had financial problems and its South Bend plant closed in 1963. The Hamilton, Ontario factory continued production for three years until March 17 when the company closed.
Did you know . . .
One of the most distinctive post-war cars was the 1947 Champion Starlight coupe. With wraparound rear windows, many joked it was the “Coming and Going Studebaker” because the front and rear ends looked so similar.
The famous “bullet nose” introduced in the 1950s was incorporated in three different vehicles: Champion, Commander and Land Cruiser. Many thought it was too radical of a design.
The 1962 Avanti was presented at Indianapolis 500. The car set 29 new national stock car records at Bonneville Salt Flats and became known as the “World’s Fastest Production Car.”
Studebaker manufactured ambulances, hearses, busses and even chassis for fire trucks. The Studebaker National Museum in South Bend has a collection of 120 vehicles, including the first and last ones made.
The 52nd Annual Studebaker Drivers Club International Meet is in Warwick, Rhode Island this year. Don’t worry if you can’t make it. There are more than 100 Studebaker Drivers Club chapters and likely one close to us here at Cottonwood, AZ. To find one near you, visit http://www.studebakerdriversclub.com/chapters.asp
Sources: Wikipedia, MSN and Studebaker Drivers Club