Against All Oddities: Wrenching on a Lark

Matthew Anderson

Growing up in the Carolinas, a guy named Chris was one of my more formative influences. Especially when it came to questionable car decisions.

During his summers off from teaching at the trade school in his town, Chris would come out to assist with the many Studebakers we had at the dairy-farm-turned-garage, imparting his wisdom and charisma. His humor, creativity, and stamina for pushing languishing Studebaker projects past the finish line broke open my brain, which made plenty of space for stories about ’41 Champions, post-war Plymouths, Volvos, Checkers, and Hillmans.

Sadly, Chris passed away unexpectedly a few years back. His wife was left to sell off his collection of Studebakers, one of which was a long-stagnant seafoam green ’61 Lark. This was all going down just as I was starting my new life in Germany, so the timing couldn’t have been worse. I bought the car anyway. How could I not finish something Chris started?

Studebaker Lark front end corner
Desperately in need of a transformation.Matthew Anderson

Luckily, my stateside support team showed up for me. Truett, the farm owner, and my dad answered the call by retrieving the Lark, storing it on the cow lot, and collecting parts (and parts cars) for me. I’m a blessed man.

So now that I’m back in America (er, and have been for two years …) it’s time to stop procrastinating and let the Lark wrenching begin. Aside from the sentimental value, in working order this Studebaker would also have utility. Namely, it would be the perfect car for my wife: power steering, power brakes, automatic gearbox, and a flashy color. This rig has it all! Naturally, on the days she doesn’t want to drive it, I gladly will oblige.

At the start of this project, the car was still located two hours away from our current residence in Statesville, North Carolina. Thus, work days had to be planned in advance. My buddy Adam agreed to meet me out at the farm and put in a day of hard labor—just like old times. Prior such days with Adam have included activities such as calling AAA to retrieve an Alfa that had “just broken down,” when it had plainly been sitting in the woods for 20 years. Despite the inherent entertainment of being around Adam, our task was pretty daunting. 

Upon initial assessment, not one of the Lark’s subsystems worked. When things are that bungled up, it can be difficult to decide where to start. I decided that the car must go before it can stop, so I elected we begin with the electrical and fuel systems.

Step 1: Wiring in my magical Balkan RV battery to see if the engine would turn over. (Regular readers know that this batter has made many Against All Oddities appearances.) As luck would have it, the motor did spin although it sounded uneven. At least it wasn’t stuck!

Right, now onto Step 2: fuel system.

Studebaker Lark kids
Matthew Anderson

When I turned the key earlier, I noticed a slight buzzing noise. My suspicion was that the noise was coming from an aftermarket electric fuel pump. The other possibility—angry wasps—was also top of mind.

With the fuel line popped off of the carburetor, I let the pump run. Hmm, nothing. As a last-ditch effort before getting out real tools, I put my lips to the dry, rotted fuel line and tried to pull through it. (Don’t try this at home, kids.) Alas, still nothing.

Once slithered under the car, I was able to locate the source of the buzzing. Dirt dauber nests were all over the place, including inside the pump itself and the disconnected fuel line. Using a Phillips screwdriver, I drilled the nest to smithereens and hollowed out the orifices as best I could. I returned to the key to the ignition, switched it off, reconnected the lines, and switched the key back on.

Again, nothing.

So… no fuel? My dad claimed he put a gallon of fresh ethanol-free gas in there, but nevertheless he returned with 5 gallons and proceeded to dump it in the supposedly dry tank. This time, there was air movement through the lines. The pump caught prime a little bit before I was expecting it to, thereby filling my mouth with a milkshake of crushed-up wasp larvae and ancient gasoline. After clearing out my mouth with pizza, it was time to reconnect the line to the carburetor.

Studebaker Lark fuel suck
Matthew Anderson

Knowing that the car had fuel and it would turn over, I had a quick look at of the ignition system. I filed down the points, cap, rotor button, and made sure all of the leads were going to the right places. One more crank from the trusty RV battery and the 289 road to life—albeit on seven cylinders.

I let it idle for a few seconds and felt each of the ceramic elements of the spark plugs. Number six was definitely cold. Off came the valve cover, which revealed a fully depressed intake valve and a loose rocker arm waving at me. Well, that’s enough for today. The rest would have to wait for my own backyard.

A few weeks later, Truett and my dad popped by with the Lark in tow.

Studebaker Lark front three quarter
Matthew Anderson

One evening after work in the dead of winter, I decided to take a crack at freeing the pesky hanging intake valve. Every trick in my proverbial (non-peer reviewed, self-published) book failed. Tapping it down with a hammer, soaking it for days in penetrating lube, hitting it skyward with a slide hammer. Nothing worked.  

Finally, thanks to a tip from Adam, I filled the cylinder full of nylon rope soaked in PB B’laster and then turned the motor toward top dead center by hand. After the faiure of every other method, my impatient key-turning fingers had run out of patience. (Note: Do not run out of patience.) With a mighty whack, the piston and nylon rope did their best, which was good enough to bend the valve and entrap a whole cylinder’s worth of bow line. Spectacular.

Studebaker Lark engine cylinder rope
Matthew Anderson

Needless to say, I pulled both cylinder heads off and brought them to the machine shop the next morning. Steven Allen Studebaker supplied all of the necessary replacement valves, seals, guides, and gasket sets.

Do your worst, machinists. Lord knows I already have.

The machine shop took a long time on the job, which was something of a boon. It gave me the latitude to get my cosmetic ducks in a row. My flock: long thin strips of stainless steel trim and new-old-stock bumper parts. Before all that, though, I had to deal with the thick canopy of lichen and mold; no one wants to put shiny chrome over the top of a mushroom forest.

Judging by the end result on the Renault GTA and the Scotch-Brite and Comet methods I used there, I employed a similar strategy to the Stude. I didn’t feel the need to be incredibly careful because, after all, the car had a bit of patina anyway. Panel by panel, the vegetation was stripped away, uncovering promising seafoam green and clearcoat finish below. It was starting to look like those pictures from two years ago! (Note: If you are ever going to park for several years underneath a bunch of trees, at least invest in a cover.)

Studebaker Lark part pluck
Matthew Anderson

The trim, bumpers, and grille all joined up in relatively short order, with help from Adam and my dad; they stripped some of the components off of the white parts car, including headlight buckets, and some fasteners, to accompany the hoard of NOS stuff in the trunk.

Chris returned in spirit. He was on my mind as I felt gratitude for his fastidious labeling of all these disassembled components.

Now that my my wife’s Studebaker Lark nearly runs, nearly stops, and darn sure looks good, it seems like this sentimental project is, well, more than a lark.

Studebaker Lark rears
Matthew Anderson


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    That car actually looks pretty doggone good in the pictures. I think even MY wife would drive it! 😉 I probably wouldn’t, but she might…

    I’ve used the rope trick in the past to stop the engine from turning when loosening or tightening parts but I’ve never used it for freeing up stuck valves… and thanks to you I won’t

    I’ve only run across one OHV engine with stuck valves so far, and that is my current 72 F350. They were able to be freed with liberal application of ATF and some mechanical agitation with a brass hammer… with care taken to not unseat the valve keepers.

    Back in the day my Dad would ferry multi engine, piston airplanes with a inoperative engine. They would feed rope into some of the cylinders to prevent the inop engine from windmilling.

    Larks are delightful. I’ve owned a 1960 convertible, a 1962 Daytona convertible, and a plain Jane 1963 four door sedan, all with 259 V8s and automatic transmissions. These cars came and went over the 13 years that I owned a 1964 Gran Turismo Hawk, my first and last Studebaker. Your 1961 car has several single year characteristics, including the stainless trim, tail light assemblies/lenses, deck lid and I am sure some others. Have fun with it.

    I’ve been looking for a 61 affordable Lark for several years. My Dad worked for Studebaker for 25yrs. In the plant in South Bend. In 61 he bought a 61 Cruiser, ugly brown 3spd. o/d with a few added custom things by Studebaker engineering. Not long after buying it he bought a continental kit from Calf. took it in to work, came back a week later on the Cruiser shortened, tire standing straight up, with bumper going out and around the tire. I still have it, car long ago rusted away, Bumper and other parts still in tact, Chrome repaired and redone. Looking for a 61 hard top, conv., or cruiser to put it on, Some day??? I’, still working on Studys doing restorations, A/C, disc brakes, and interiors, just have no connections for OEM materials. So mostly custom interiors, His cruiser had several custom touched inside which have the parts to duplicate? If you hear of any reasonable priced on the market, please advise, Thanks; Chuck Bauer

    Studebaker Driver’s Club.

    Lots of parts sources. Always cars for sale from members in the back of the magazine. You could post a want ad of your needs –Stude fans have been hoarding out of necessity since the 60s, but also are a great community that help each other out.

    Nice work, supporting the car on concrete blocks. Sure I’ll go under the car to work on it, what could possibly go wrong?

    Matthew, congrats and good on you man. My dad was a Studebaker man, when I was born in June 1956, he had a 51, 4 door. In 57 he bought a new 4 door President , red and white. That is the car I remember riding in the first time in my life, and then in 63 he bought a new Wagonaire, the one with the sliding roof. That is the car I learned to drive in. By 1971 it was rusted beyond be safe to drive and with Studes no longer available he bought a 68 Ford Ranch Wagon, I took my drivers test in that car in 1972. There is a shop I deliver parts to here in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada that has a beautiful black 56 Champion that is spectacular. This is the two door one that has the Hawk body style. Not for sale at any price.

    Matthew, as a long-time admirer of the writing of Peter Egan, I can say that you’re the closest thing to him I’ve read. That’s the highest praise I can give. Now that he’s sorta retired, you fill a very significant void in automotive journalism.

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