1902-1954: Studebaker Corporation
1954-1966: Studebaker-Packard Corporation
IIn 1852, brothers Henry and Clem Studebaker opened a blacksmith and wagon building shop in South Bend, Indiana where they built horse drawn vehicles. The Studebaker family experimented with motor vehicles as early as 1897 choosing electric over gasoline powered engines and produced them in modest numbers from 1902 to 1912. The company entered into a distribution agreement with Everett-Metzger-Flanders (EMF) Company of Detroit. EMF would manufacture the automobiles and the Studebaker brothers would distribute them through there wagon dealers.
Problems soon arose due to EMF's poor quality and the Studebaker's gained control of the assets and plant facilities in 1910. In 1911 the company re-organized as the Studebaker Corporation and discontinued their electric vehicles.
Models produced in 1913 featured mono-bloc engines, dual ignition plus electric lighting and the 6-cylinder version was claimed to be the first such car to retail for less than $2,000 in the United States. In addition to cars, Studebaker also added a truck line to replace the horse-drawn wagons. 45,000 Studebakers were sold in 1915 and they took 6th place in sales by 1916 and down to 7th place by 1920. Models were available with 4.7 liter and 5.8 liter 6-cylinders, the latter surviving until 1928. By 1921 the 3.3 liter Light 6 joined the line-up and in 1923 Studebakers had all metal bodies with welded steel pressings. In addition to the 6-cylinder ‘Dictator’ and ‘Commander’, straight-eights were launched in 1929 with 4 and 5.5 liter capacity. Studebaker went on to stock-car records in the late 1920s with an outstanding performance of 25,000 miles in 25,000 minutes. Supped up versions of the ‘President Eight’ were presented in the Indianapolis 500-Mile race by 1932 in which Cliff Bergere’s finished third. A year later 6th to 12th place finishes were filled again with Studebakers.
Studebaker continued to build models that appealed to the American public in addition to their need for transportation. 1934 fashioned three model ranges – the Dictator Six, Commander Eight and President Eight all with synchromesh, free wheel, and X-braced frames and a few minor changes transpired until 1939 when Raymond Lowey became responsible for styling. Coincidentally, this was also the year that one of America’s longest-lived modern economy cars was produced, the 13 liter 6-cylinder ‘Champion’ selling for $765. Lowey was also responsible for the revolutionary “coming or going” style with wrap around windows on the post-WWII 1946-1947 models which helped sales climb to 239,000 by 1949. However, soon rising labor costs and new models produced by Ford and General Motors spelled disaster for Studebaker’s financial sector.
Hoping to ease their losses and perhaps gain better position in the market, Studebaker was purchased by Packard motor Car Company of Detroit in 1954. The new merged division was called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Due to financial difficulties not revealed by Studebaker, new models such as the Lark and Avanti had to be based on old designs. While the goal was to produce well built motor vehicles, instead, the company became the American importer for Mercedes-Benz. The merger wasn’t enough to save Studebaker and the company slowly pulled away from producing vehicles and altogether ceased its operations in the U.S. on December of 1963. The South Bend plant was closed and cars were built at the Hamilton, Ontario plant until 1966. The last car off the line was a Lark cruiser on March 16, 1966.