The Studebaker Champ: The 1960s American Hyundai Santa Cruz
The upcoming Hyundai Santa Cruz, being a car-based pickup, will potentially cause some confusion and consternation amongst potential buyers. It’s been a similar case with the Honda Ridgeline, despite its genuine on-pavement capability and its off-road performance. However, the idea of taking a car platform and making it into a truck isn’t new. Chevrolet did it with the Corvair. And Ford might do it again with its compact truck. And in the 60s, another American vehicle was built on the same principles: the Studebaker Champ.
The Studebaker Champ was built on a Lark…literally
Technically, Indiana-based Studebaker wasn’t the first American automaker to build a pickup truck off a car platform. All early trucks, including the first one, the Reo Speedwagon, were built off the same platforms the cars used. However, by the 1940s, when Hudson made its car-based trucks, the vehicle types had split.
Regardless, by the end of the 1950s, Studebaker was in dire financial straits, Hemmings reports. So much so, it couldn’t exactly design and build all-new vehicles. Instead, its designers and engineers modified an existing car platform to create the 1959 Studebaker Lark. Which, luckily, was extremely successful.
The Lark was subsequently spun-off into several other models. There was a convertible, multiple sedans, and even a station wagon, the Wagonaire. Automobile describes it as “the first crossover.” There’s even a Daytona model with the Avanti muscle car’s 300-hp 4.7-liter supercharged V8.
And then, in 1960, came the Studebaker Champ pickup truck.
What was the Studebaker Champ like?
The Studebaker Champ offered a few notable features, Hemmings reports. The 1961 model was the first truck with a sliding rear window. And in 1964, A/C was a factory option, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
However, in many ways, the Studebaker Champ was a bit behind the pickup truck times. While the Detroit automakers offered their trucks with independent front suspension, the Champ had a solid front axle. Plus, to save money, the tooling for the bed actually comes from Dodge—it’s the same bed found on the contemporary ‘Sweptline,’ Hagerty reports. And it didn’t help that the cheapest Studebaker Champs’ six-cylinder engines were old-school flatheads. Though there were 2 V8 options available as well.
However, the Studebaker Champ did have at a few advantages over trucks like the Ford F-Series. Firstly, because it has the same cabin as the Lark, it’s comfortable to sit in than contemporary trucks. Also, the Studebaker Champ was cheaper. The base ½-ton Champ cost the modern equivalent of $16,400. And starting in 1961, more-modern six-cylinder engines joined the lineup.
Pricing and availability today
Unfortunately, the Champ wasn’t enough to save Studebaker. The Ford F-Series and Chevrolet’s C/K series both out-sold it, and the company folded in 1966.
However, like a few other classic trucks, Studebaker Champs have risen in value, along with the company’s other pickups. But they’re still relatively affordable, especially compared to vintage F-Series models. As of this writing, there’s a 1962 example listed on Bring a Trailer for $6000. And even the best-condition ones haven’t sold for more than $13,750 on BaT. There are Studebaker Lark Wagonaires that have commanded higher prices, BaT reports.
As a vintage truck, the Studebaker Champ isn’t as advanced as the Hyundai Santa Cruz. But as unconventional, affordable pickups, the two are something like kindred spirits.
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