Even though the Studebaker Corp.'s roots go back to 1852, things were looking bleak when this 1962 Studebaker Lark Convertible was built.
But wait -- there was excitement and expectation when, in February 1961, company leaders hired a new president who they hoped would be their knight in shining armor. National news magazines covered much about Sherwood Egbert and his plans to save what was once America's oldest and largest transportation company.
Studebaker had been the largest wagon and carriage maker in the world. Its famous Conestoga wagons brought many families across the Great Plains to the West. It built and sold electric cars in 1902 but switched to gas-powered vehicles two years later.
Livermore resident Jeff Westcott's love of Studebaker goes back a lifetime.
"I came home from the hospital in a Studebaker," he said. "My dad owned Studebakers." He remembers his father getting a new 1962 Studebaker Cruiser four-door that stayed in the family until 1996. The family lived in rural New York, and rust became a major problem.
On the Westcott family farm, old Studebaker cars were used as trucks by cutting the body off behind the front seat. "In the early 1970s, the family didn't have money for cars, so we had to figure out how to do things," Westcott said. "For example, when a fan belt broke, we would just take a section of rope, long splice it and put it on."
The family went through 10 or 12 Studebaker "field cars."
"We liked the Studebakers because, no matter what, they would keep going."
Westcott had Studebaker in his blood, the 1962 models in particular. He was in the process of trying to restore the family's last new Studebaker, the 1962 Cruiser, but there was competition for his time and money between this rusted out Studebaker and raising a family. He ended up selling it for parts.
"It was kind of like selling my dream," he said. "I told my wife that someday I will have another one. She came out with two famous words that are positives that mean a negative -- 'yeah, right.' "
At the end of 2010, a small inheritance came Westcott's way and put him back in the Studebaker market. "I wanted a 1962 red convertible with a white interior and top." He didn't get exactly what he wanted, but this white car met his needs.
The 75-year-old owner lived just outside South Bend, Ind. (the home of Studebaker), and had been using the car for weddings.
Satisfied that the Studebaker was in good shape from photos and the fact it was being driven for weddings, Westcott bought the car for $14,000. How many owners this 1962 Studebaker has had is a complete mystery, but Westcott learned from the Studebaker Museum that the convertible's front end had been replaced with the front end from a four-door Studebaker sedan as a result of an accident. He also learned that the 289 cubic-inch V-8 engine was originally in a 1962 Studebaker Hawk.
"So, after all of this, I'm going to call her Annie, after little Orphan Annie, because this really is an orphan." The owner estimates he has invested an additional $5,000 and believes the true market value to be about $28,000.
The last completely new Studebakers were the 1953 models. All Studebakers (except Avanti) since then were face lifts, including the 1962 models, but with the 1962 models the front had more of a Mercedes-Benz look. Studebaker was the Mercedes-Benz distributor for the country at that time.
Studebaker offered Lark station wagons, sedans and convertibles. All Lark models had a 109-inch wheelbase and offered three different engines. The straight six was 170 cubic inches and rated at 90 HP; the 259 cubic-inch V-8 was rated at 180 HP, and the 289 cubic-inch V-8 was rated at 210 HP (or supercharged to 335 HP).
Total production for Studebaker in 1962 was 102,387, including 2,681 convertibles. The base list price of a convertible was $2,308, or about $18,000 in today's dollars. Westcott's convertible has a white and turquoise leather interior, power steering, power brakes, an electric clock (which still works) and an automatic transmission. It was the first year Studebaker offered a transistor AM radio. Unlike today's cars, standard with this Studebaker were four ashtrays and a cigar lighter.
Pride oozes out as Westcott talks about his Studebaker convertible. "I still enjoy driving the Studebaker. The car gets such looks, and people are just fascinated when they see it. At car shows, people will come up and tell me things like his grandmother drove him cross country in her Studebaker. People get a smile that says they, too, have some kind of relationship with Studebaker."
When you love Studebaker like Westcott does and believe everyone should know at least something about this once-great car and company, it almost brings a tear to his eye when someone looks the car over and asks, "who made Studebaker?"
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com