Studebakers that never were


 1961 studebaker prototype

In March, 1961 Studebaker released a sketch of a sub-compact car planned for future introduction.  It called for a four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear engine of 65-75 horsepower.  Wheelbase was about 100 inches, much shorter than the Lark of the time.  Seating was for four or five passengers.  Studebaker hoped to get the car to market by the fall of 1962 at a price under $2000.   The car never made it to production, but there was more to it than just an artist's sketch.   It was known as a Porsche Type 633, the result of an association with Porsche that started in 1952.

studebaker porsche type 633
Porsche built a car for Studebaker in August, 1952 with a 120-degree V-6 engine .   This was the Porsche Type 542, also known as the Z-87 car at Studebaker.   Though it was looked at then, it didn't get serious review until 1956 when Studebaker's director of experimental engineering tested the car and reported on it.   The director's name: John Z. DeLorean, who later went on to other cars and other activities.  He didn't like the Porsche effort and compared it unfavorably to the comfort and ride of the 1956 Champion and Commander.  Interestingly, this appears to have been the only 4-door Porsche until the Cayenne SUV was introduced for 2003.

In later years, a Lark was modified to have a Porsche engine and transaxle installed in the trunk area.  Curtis-Wright Corporation owned nearly half of the Studebaker stock in the late 1950's and took over management of the company.   Development efforts were conducted at their New Jersey facility.

1959 Studebaker Lark w Porsche engine 
In February, 1959 Curtis-Wright bought a new Lark with a Champ 6 engine from a local dealer and modified it.  A used engine from a 1953 Porsche was rebuilt by Porsche and installed along with the torsion-bar rear suspension and transaxle.  Wheels and gear reduction boxes from a VW bus were used to optimize the drive line.  This engine was placed in what had been the trunk of the Lark after removing the Champ 6 and automatic transmission from the front of the car.  In addition, since Curtis-Wright had taken out a license to build Wankel rotary engines, an adapter was prepared to install a small Wankel engine in place of the Porsche engine.  This car may have been the prototype for the sub-compact touted two years later.

Before the car could be fully tested and the rotary engine installed, the relationship between Curtis-Wright and Studebaker ended.  The Lark was sold to a local New Jersey garage, then quickly resold twice more to car collectors.  The car still survives and has occasionally appeared at car shows in New England.  It retains the 1500 cc, 70 hp Porsche engine in the trunk.  While the horsepower rating is less than the Champ 6 it replaced, the much lower weight of the Porsche engine and transmission help, but it is not a high-performance car.  The engine produces peak horsepower at 5,000 rpm.

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