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Drive Life : May 21st 2010
1HERSA1 F014 9431 2333 of the Year!!! YOU COULD SAVE THOUSANDS AT Scotts' Annual Weekend Sale 14 Drive Life May 21, 2010 drive.com.au A long and unravelling road MOTOR HISTORY DAVID BERTHON Studebakers arrived well before the dawn of the auto industry. THE STUDEBAKER STORY 1852 Company founded, made horse-drawn buggies, carts, wagons and military carriages. 1867 With the completio of the transcontinental railroad, starts to ship finished wagons across 1966 Builds its last car. Electric 'runabout' ed, (pictured left) 0 were made. 1921 Became fourth largest carmaker in US. 1850 on the country. 1902 E releas only 2 1970 19 19 19 1960 60 60 60 1950 1962 Avanti coupe launched (pictured below). It was a sales flop. 1904 Twin-cylinder petrol car introduced. World War II benefited the company. It produced a heavy- duty 6 x 6 army personnel carrier called the Weasel (pictured right). 1870 1860 1900 1880 1890 1930 1940 1910 1920 GRAPHIC BY ROBERT PARKINSON Unsatisfied . . . the Studebaker Starliner coupe. The Studebaker brand was so popular in Australia during the late 1950s that the decision was made in 1960 to assemble its Lark model in Melbourne. However, Studebaker, one of the US's most revered nameplates, would close its doors just six years later. And there was no bailout in sight. In many ways, Studebaker was a story of triumph and tragedy -- a company that grew with the new frontier and along the way suffered many of the highs and lows of the country that had adopted its German founders. Studebaker would make a name for itself well before the advent of the automobile. Decades before it produced its first car, Studebaker was able to boast it was the largest wagon producer in the world. Founded as a simple blacksmith's shop in 1852 in South Bend, Indiana, by Henry and Clement Studebaker, the Studebaker Wagon Company quickly grew on the back of the 1848 Californian gold rush. The durability of its wagons was quickly recognised by the Union Army and they were used extensively during the American Civil War. At the time, Studebaker produced every kind of horse-drawn vehicle imaginable, from simple buggies, two-wheel carts, farm wagons and military carriages to sophisticated and elegant carriages fit for royalty, even children's carts to be pulled by adogoragoat. Studebaker quickly became an integral part of the push west to open the new frontier. The building of the transcontinental railroad meant the company could transport finished wagons by rail and by 1867 it had hundreds of agents spread across the country. But by the turn of the century the company had begun to show interest in the new ''horseless carriage''. Despite scepticism that they were merely a passing fad, Studebaker introduced its own electric runabout in 1902. Although far from brilliant, it exhibited sound engineering and rugged construction. After World War I the company thrived and by 1921 had become the fourth-largest car maker in the US, behind Ford, Buick and Chevrolet. In 1926 it launched the small Erskine Six, predominantly for export, and it proved very popular in overseas markets, including Australia. By 1927, Studebaker had introduced what company president Albert Erskine considered was ''the finest car the company had ever offered'', the President Straight Eight. However, Studebaker would face its greatest test in the years after World War II. While most post-war cars were basically freshened up 1942 models, Studebaker came up with two stunning new ones. The Champion and the Commander quickly put Studebaker at the forefront of post-war American design and became instant sellers. The head-turning sedans, convertibles and coupes were the work of the flamboyant French industrial designer Raymond Loewy. The 1950 models introduced the famous bullet-nose styling, while a year later the first of the Studebaker V8s arrived. But by 1952 Studebaker was suffering from low productivity, due mainly to a militant workforce. The war effort in Korea would help, but overproduction in the US car industry and a fierce battle between Ford and General Motors brought reduced prices and slim margins. Quality glitches, poor tooling and low inventory levels created enormous buyer dissatisfaction for its striking 1953 Starlight hardtops and Starliner coupes. By 1954, sales were running 66 per cent behind 1950 levels and profit margins were being squeezed. A merger seemed inevitable and, in late 1954, the smaller Packard Motor Company in Detroit would acquire Studebaker, despite the fact both companies were facing the prospect of insolvency. By now the Starlight hardtop and Starliner Coupe had been revamped to create the Hawk series and these desirable two-door models would prove popular in Australia. Studebaker achieved its best sales year in Australia with the Lark in 1963, retailing 1262 sedans, 152 station wagons and 27 commercial vehicles. By then the Lark was a familiar sight on Australian roads, especially being used as police cars and ambulances. However, by 1962 the ''big three'' US car companies had their own compact models and the Lark was seen as outdated. A striking new two-door Avanti coupe for 1962 with fibreglass body, again the work of Loewy, also did not live up to promise. With production delays and a lack of buyer confidence, it became a sales flop. From here the new Studebaker Corporation began to diversify away from car production in favour of generators, missile parts and refrigeration, contracting its car assembly operations to its Canadian plant. However, by 1966 the Studebaker brand was dead, ending the life of the US's oldest established vehicle manufacturer.
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