Motoring | Features


What was once the world’s biggest ‘vehicle’ maker, is now a nearly forgotten but iconic name

  • By Dejan jovanovic, wheels
  • Published: 12:03 February 11, 2013
  • Wheels

The legendary Studebaker
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • The bold 1962 Avanti coupé was built for just a year and a half and less than 6,000 were made.
Image 1 of 3

In the mid-19th century Toyota Motor Company didn’t exist. Cars didn’t exist. But still the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was the ToMoCo of its day.

Henry and Clement Studebaker founded their blacksmith and wagon building company in February 1852, and by the American Civil War their Indiana-based venture became the world’s largest manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. It later became Toyota.

By the time the horse-less carriage arrived, the enterprising brothers didn’t stand still like many of their competitors and instead embraced the smoking, choking internal combustion engine.

Studebaker quickly established itself as one of the biggest independent carmakers outside of Detroit’s Big Three, but when the US government gave a helping hand in the form of subsidies to GM, Ford and Chrysler after the Second World War, the independent underdogs were too far under to compete.

Studebaker died at 114 years old, in 1966, while many illustrious industry names such as Nissan, Honda, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mini and Porsche were merely in their infant years.

It was good while it lasted, though. Studebaker came up with some iconic models, giving its cars all-American tags such as The President, The Champion and The Commander and attracting red-white-and-blue-blooded customers.

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The company first started dabbling with motor cars in 1896, yet in 1902 its first foray into the business was with a zero-emissions electric vehicle. Two years later Studebaker started producing petrol-powered cars, by 1912 electric cars were totally phased out, and in 1925 the company introduced four-wheel hydraulic brakes maintaining its innovative engineering-driven status in the industry.

In 1946 and after Detroit’s fervent retooling for war arms manufacturing, Studebaker was the first US carmaker to get back to car building and in 1950 the company introduced its iconic ‘bullet nose’ design. Success with the 1956 Hawk and 1959 Lark line-ups couldn’t save the company and neither could the ahead-of-its-time 1962 Avanti sportscar. The final Studebaker rolled off the line in a Canadian factory.

This year America’s oldest carmaker, Buick, celebrates its 114th birthday. Studebaker blew out those candles, one last time, 50 years ago.

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