Simanaitis Says

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ON SEPTEMBER 17, 2014, the Orange County, California, Daily Pilot newspaper jogged the memories of automotive enthusiasts. Unknown to many people in the area, a building being renovated in Newport Beach had once been a Studebaker car dealership.


Lido Marina Village, Newport Beach, California. Image from the Daily Pilot, September 17, 2014, by Kevin Chang,

The building in Lido Marina Village, on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, had housed a gym, a karate studio, maybe a restaurant—and Joe Nickertz Studebaker.

The Daily Pilot felt the need to tell its readers, “Studebaker was an automaker that was in its heyday from the 1910s to 1960s.”


In fact, the South Bend, Indiana, manufacturer dates from considerably earlier than the 1910s. Founded in 1852, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company produced wagons, carriages and harnesses in the first half-century of its existence.


The five Studebaker brothers, left to right, Clem, Peter, Henry, Jacob and John M.

The brothers supplied wagons for the Union Army during the Civil War. During the U.S. expansion westward, more than half the wagons used were Studebakers.

In 1889, Studebaker carriages for the White House were ordered by incoming president Benjamin Harrison. Indeed, he became known for federal largesse; it’s one reason he lost the 1892 election to Grover Cleveland, who returned to the presidency for the second of his non-consecutive terms. The carriage deal was not without its problems: During its White House use, a carriage harnesses failed and the horses ran off.

On a brighter note, today’s eight Clydesdales, pride of Budweiser, pull a Studebaker wagon.


Clydesdale facts. Data panel from R&T, April 1981. The wagon is a Studebaker.


Studebaker started its development of automobiles prior to 1900. Its first cars, built between 1902 and 1911, were battery electrics. By 1912, all Studebakers were gasoline-fueled.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Studebaker was preeminent among U.S. automakers in competition at the Bonneville salt flats and race tracks around the country. For example, the company entered five cars in the 1932 Indianapolis 500, with one finishing third.


The Studebaker Indy team, 1932. Image from Automobile Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3 (Third Quarter 1972) which contains an extensive Studebaker history.


Another Studebaker high point, after World War II, came through the hiring of designers Raymond Loewy, Virgil Exner, Robert E. Bourke and Tom Kellogg. The 1947 Studebaker Starlight coupe introduced a flat-back trunk and wraparound rear window. Studebakers of the early 1950s continued to be the most streamlined of their era.


Above, 1954 Studebaker Commander Starliner; below, 1954 Conestoga (aptly named). Images from Automobile Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3.


By 1954, however, Studebaker was losing money. A merger in 1956 created Studebaker-Packard Corporation, though fat lot of good it did either. The last Packard in 1958 was a badge-engineered Studebaker.

The company also linked up with aircraft specialist Curtiss-Wright in 1956. One result was a deal with Mercedes-Benz (up to that point, the importation and sales of which were handled solely by entrepreneur Max Hoffman).


Buy a Mercedes-Benz 190SL from your friendly local Studebaker dealer.

Between 1957 and 1963, Studebaker dealerships carried cars built by Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and DKW. However, by 1963, Daimler-Benz set up its own U.S. operations.


The Studebaker Avanti, 1962 – 1963. Image by Christopher Ziemnowicz.

Studebaker introduced a compact Lark in 1959 and a sporty Avanti in 1962. The latter became something of a cult car with periodic attempts at revival.

Studebaker’s South Bend, Indiana, facility closed down in 1963. The last Studebaker rolled off its Hamilton, Ontario, assembly line in 1966.

There’s a lot of Studebaker history between South Bend, Indiana, 1852, and Newport Beach, California, 2014. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

2 comments on “STUDEBAKER’S 162 YEARS

  1. Spiros Karidis
    October 13, 2014


    This brings back old memories. When I was sixteen and working at a gas station in San Francisco circa 1965 a customer let me drive his Avanti. It was the same color as the one in your article. At the time it was the fastest and coolest (all the space age gauges) that I had ever seen and driven.


  2. Donald C Dorfman
    January 19, 2022

    They sold some of the first Mercedes there in the US and MGs also

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