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Manufacturers / U.S.A. / Studebaker

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Studebaker vehicles


Studebaker experimented with motor vehicles as early as 1897, choosing electric over gasoline powered engines. The company entered into a distribution agreement with Everett-Metzger-Flanders (E-M-F) Company of Detroit; E-M-F would manufacture vehicles and the Studebakers would distribute them through their wagon dealers. Problems with E-M-F made the cars unreliable leading the public to say that E-M-F stood for "Every Morning Fix-it". J.M. Studebaker, unhappy with E-M-F's poor quality, gained control of the assets and plant facilities in 1910. To remedy the damage done by E-M-F, Studebaker paid mechanics to visit each unsatisfied owner and replace the defective parts in their vehicles at a cost of US$1 million to the company.

Studebaker also began putting its name on new automobiles produced at the former E-M-F facilities, both as an assurance that the vehicles were well-built, and as its commitment to making automobile production and sales a success. In 1911 the company reorganized as the Studebaker Corporation.


Studebaker Big Six   (1922)

In addition to cars, Studebaker also added a truck line, which in time, replaced the horse drawn wagon business started in 1851. In 1926, Studebaker became the first automobile manufacturer in the United States to open a controlled outdoor proving ground; in 1937 the company planted 5,000 pine trees in a pattern that when viewed from the air spelled "STUDEBAKER."

From the 1920s to the 1960s, the South Bend company originated many style and engineering milestones, including the classic 1929-1932 Studebaker President and the 1939 Studebaker Champion. Studebaker continued to build models that appealed to the average American and their need for transportation and mobility.


Studebaker Champion   (1950)

However, ballooning labor costs (the company had never had an official United Auto Workers (UAW) strike and Studebaker workers and retirees were among the highest paid in the industry), quality control issues and the new car sales war between Ford and General Motors in the early 1950s wreaked havoc on Studebaker's balance sheet. Professional financial managers stressed short term earnings rather than long term vision. There was enough momentum to keep going for another ten years, but stiff competition and price cutting by the Big Three doomed the enterprise.

Hoping to stem the tide of losses and bolster its market position, Studebaker allowed itself to be acquired by Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit; the merged entity was called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Studebaker's cash position was far worse than it led Packard to believe and in 1956 the nearly bankrupt automaker brought in a management team from aircraft maker Curtiss-Wright to help get it back on its feet. At the behest of C-W's president Roy T. Hurley, the company became the American importer for Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and DKW automobiles and many Studebaker dealers sold those brands as well. In 1958, the Packard name was discontinued, although the company continued to bear the Studebaker-Packard name through 1962.

With an abundance of tax credits in hand from the years of financial losses, at the insistence of the company's banks and some members of the board of directors, Studebaker-Packard began diversifying away from automobiles in the late 1950s. While this was good for the corporate bottom line, it virtually guaranteed there would be little spending on Studebaker's mainstay products, its automobiles.

Studebaker Champion Regal convertible concept (1950)

The automobiles which came after the diversification process began, including the ingeniously-designed compact Lark (1959) and even the "Avanti" sports car (1963) were based on old chassis and engine designs. The Lark, in particular, was based on existing parts to the degree that it even utilized the central body section of the company's 1953 cars, but was a clever enough design to be quite popular in its first year, selling over 150,000 units and delivering an unexpected $28 million profit to the automaker.


Studebaker Lark  concept (1960)

Sadly, everything that was tried in the years following the Lark's debut proved to be not enough to stop the financial bleeding. The company closed its operations in South Bend in December 1963, selling its Avanti brand to Nate Altman who continued to produce the car in South Bend under the brand name Avanti II. Automotive production was consolidated at the company's last remaining production facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where Studebaker produced cars until April, 1966, when it left the automobile business to focus on its profitable wholly-owned subsidiaries. The last car manufactured was a turquoise-and-white Cruiser four-door sedan.

Even as financial difficulties continued to mount in 1963, Studebaker offered a full range of models including the Avanti, Hawk, Wagonaire and Lark based Cruiser, Commander, and Daytona convertible.Many of Studebaker's dealers converted to Mercedes-Benz dealerships following the closure of the Canadian plant.

Studebaker's proving grounds were acquired by its former supplier Bendix Corporation, which later donated the grounds for use as a park to the St. Joseph County, Indiana parks department. As a condition of the donation, the new park was named park Bendix Woods. Today, the former proving ground is owned by Robert Bosch GmbH, and it continues to be active some 80 years after it was first built. Its General Products Divsion, which handled defence contracts, was acquired by Kaiser Industries, and continues to this day as AM General.

Studebaker Avanti  concept (1963)

After 1966, Studebaker continued to exist as a closed investment group, with income derived from its numerous diversified units including STP, Gravely Tractor, Onan Electric Generators, and Clarke Floor Machine. Studebaker was acquired by Wagner Electric in 1967. Subsequently, Studebaker was then merged with the Worthington Corporation to form Studebaker-Worthington. The Studebaker name disappeared from the American business scene in 1979 when McGraw-Edison acquired Studebaker-Worthington. McGraw-Edison, was itself purchased in 1985 by Cooper Industries, which sold off all its auto-parts divisions to Federal-Mogul some years later.

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