A Study in Studebaker

May 17, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt

While the Studebaker story begins with the production of wagons that carried families across America in the 18th and 19th Centuries, this toy car review only covers 13 years. A brief history of Studebaker follows before we get to the discussion of the miniature versions. There are plenty of online sources for a more detailed review of Studebaker.

The first Studebaker wagons were built in Maryland, beginning in 1740, and the famous Prairie Schooner and Conestoga wagons came out of the family factory in South Bend, Indiana. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was formed by three of the Studebaker brothers in 1868. In 1902, the first automobile, an electric car, was built. The first half of the 20th Century found Studebaker producing many different cars, trucks, and even locomotives. Profits from WWII military production led to Studebaker being, “First by far with a post-war car”. This is where the toy car story begins.

One small diversion before we get to the cars is worthwhile. In 1982, a Corgi Junior Wild West series was offered that included a steam locomotive with rolling stock and a covered wagon. That wagon could easily be considered a Conestoga Wagon, made by Studebaker. I do not have an example of the Corgi wagon at present but have included an online image from a well-known auction site. Studebaker built a station wagon named the Conestoga in the 1950’s, although I know of none produced in small-scale.

Corgi Junior Covered Wagon (Studebaker-built Conestoga)
Three Studebaker Starlight Coupe models circa 1950 from Racing Champions, Johnny Lightning, and Hot Wheels.

Small-scale Studebaker cars begin with those that came out immediately following WWII. While most other automakers simply offered warmed-up pre-war models, Studebaker had something completely new. In 1950, the Starlight Coupe received a bullet nose and was offered in the Champion or Commander series. The best Starlight Coupe available is a Mint Edition example from Racing Champions. It is in stock form with an opening hood and engine detail. The period green color looks just right. Both Johnny Lightning and Hot Wheels have produced custom versions of the Starlight Coupe. While they have been chopped, shaved, and lowered, the essential shape remains. You can see why it was asked if they were ‘coming or going’.

Studebaker Starliner Coupes by Greenlight, Hot Wheels, Maisto, and Goodee Toys.

In 1953, the Starlight became the Starliner and a new coupe design debuted. The fresh design originated from Robert Bourke of Raymond Loewy’s studio and is often called the Loewy Coupe. I recently added a lovely stock example in light blue from Greenlight. This one represents a car seen on the Home Improvement TV show. It joins a drag racing version from Hot Wheels. This heavily modified racer represents actual Starliners that were quite successful in quarter mile competition. I particularly like the green ‘El Segundo Special’ variation. Maisto did a custom Starliner – it is one of their basic castings without an interior, but the unique shape is easy to recognize. I also found an unbranded Starliner some years back that has no indication of the make or production company. It has been identified as a product of Goodee Toys.

The Studebaker Hawk, Silver Hawk and Golden Hawk by Hubley and Johnny Lightning.

Studebaker joined the fin wars in 1956 by adding these appendages to the Starliner. A new Mercedes-like grill (Studebaker sold Mercedes-Benz models in the U.S.) and a new name, the Hawk, were also added. Fancier versions called the Silver Hawk and Golden Hawk were produced through 1961. Hubley offered toy cars in the U.S. and Canada. They included a rather nice Studebaker Hawk in about 1:55 scale. Johnny Lightning did an excellent Hawk casting and included a Golden Hawk variation.

Studebaker Lark Convertible and Wagonaire models by Tootsietoy, Husky, and Matchbox.

By 1959, American Automakers had decided to offer some competition to compact models coming from Europe. Studebaker built the Lark in coupe, sedan, convertible and wagon form through 1966. The Tootsietoy Lark Convertible is a first generation model and has been re-painted. In 1963, a re-designed Lark line included the Wagonaire with a sliding top for ease in loading. The concept proved problematic with leaking, but was unique. Both Husky (from Corgi) and Matchbox found the Wagonaire irresistible and offered examples. The Husky model could be had as an ambulance complete with a patient on a stretcher. The roof sections slid in on each of these castings.

Studebaker Avanti by Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning.

For years, toy car collectors called for anyone to produce the Avanti, Studebaker’s amazingly modern sport coupe of the early 1960’s. A Loewy Design Studio team penned the Avanti and it was put into production in 1962. The fiberglass body was powered by a V8 that could include a Paxton Supercharger option. It was the first American production model with front disc brakes. Unfortunately, Studebaker’s financial failure forced the end of their Avanti production after the 1963 models.

Johnny Lightning was first to offer a small-scale die-cast Avanti. They included an opening hood and authentic colors. Hot Wheels soon followed but I have only seen their Avanti as a collector model. After the Avanti ended production with Studebaker, the tooling, spares, and rights to produce it were sold to a pair of South Bend auto dealers. It became the Avanti II with a Chevy 350 and continued with various owners and design changes until 2006. None of the later Avanti models are available as toy cars to my knowledge.

(Hot Wheels Studebaker on ebay)

Studebaker pickup trucks by M2 and Hot Wheels

Studebaker had a long history of producing trucks. Two have been made in small-scale. The 1950 Studebaker 2R pickup is shown from M2 and includes an opening hood, engine detail, and a bed canopy. Hot Wheels currently offers the 1963 Studebaker Champ. It comes in slightly modified form as a stock or racing model. Both mainline and collector versions have been included.

By 1963, Studebaker was forced to close their South Bend, Indiana factories. Automotive production continued in Ontario, Canada, until 1966, and then it was all over for Studebaker. After more than 200 years of wagons, cars and trucks, this storied name no longer made vehicles.

There are certainly additional variations of the Studebaker models shown here. There may be more examples not in my collection. There are certainly more Studebaker models that deserve to be made. I have yet to see any sedans. The last Studebaker, a 1966 Daytona sedan built in Ontario, Canada, should be considered. I would also like to see the GT Hawk that was available from 1962-64. Even so, we have a decent selection of Studebaker models that cover the years 1950-63.

2 Replies to “A Study in Studebaker”

  1. The first studebaker champ pick ups in my collection are from JL, and scale well with a more stock stance than the hw racing versions.

    1. Somehow, I missed this one for the story. I think I have it in blue. It is a very nice example of the Champ.

Leave a Reply