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When Studebaker introduced the compact Lark for 1959, the company was in serious trouble. The 1954 Studebaker-Packard merger had failed. Packard did not survive the badge-engineered Studebaker-based 1957 and 1958 models. Studebaker could not compete in the big-car market of the late 1950’s; sales fell from 170,000 cars in 1953 to 53,000 cars the recession year of 1958.
American Motors, the product of the 1954 Hudson-Nash merger, was in much better condition. After 1957 they dropped their slow-selling big Nashes and Hudsons to focus entirely on their American, Rambler and Ambassador compacts. Between 1957 and 1958,
American Motors nearly doubled their production to more than 162,000 cars. Studebaker’s management realized that the only way for the company to survive was to follow American Motors and downsize its cars, but the company lacked the resources for an all-new vehicle. Teams headed by designer Duncan McRae and Chief Engineer Gene Hardig found a clever solution. The Lark retained the inner shell and drive train of the 1953-1958 sedans and wagons, but had a shorter (108.5 vs. 116.8 inches) wheelbase, plus reduced front and rear overhang (175 vs. 202 inches total length). They created an entire line of compact six- and eight cylinder Larks: hardtops, two- and four-door sedans, and two-door station wagons. Larks had nearly the same interior room as their full-size predecessors, good performance (V8 0-60 mph time less than 10 seconds) and high (for that year) 22-mpg fuel economy. The result for 1959 was 131,078 Larks plus 7,788 Silver Hawk coupes, Studebaker’s best year since 1953.
The 1960 Larks only had minor trim and grille changes. Four-door station wagons and a convertible were added. The 1960 Lark Regal convertible’s prices started at $2,621 with a 90 hp 169.6 cid I6 (3,107 built) or $2,756 with a 180 hp 259 cid V8 (5,464 built). A four-barrel 195 hp 259 cid V8 was optional. Transmissions were a 3-speed manual with optional overdrive or an automatic.
Too much competition plus too few resources ultimately doomed Studebaker. For 1960 the Big Three introduced the compact Corvair, Falcon and Valiant. Lark’s 1960’s production dropped to 106,000 cars. After 1960, annual production continued to fall. In December 1963, production moved to Hamilton, Ontario. All engines had been made in South Bend, so Studebaker had to use Chevrolet-Canada’s 194 cid I6 and 283 cid V-8 engines. Another 19,748 1964 cars were built in Canada. In 1965, production was only 18,588 cars. After 8,947 1966 cars, Studebaker production ended forever in March 1966.