1966 Studebaker Commander
8-cyl. 283cid/195hp 2bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
By the autumn of 1963, Studebaker was backed into the corner. There wasn’t money for the mainstream prototype cars designed by Brooks Stevens, nor for the smaller Avanti-esque cars designed by Raymond Loewy’s team. Instead, Studebaker’s ailing president Sherwood Egbert instructed Brooks Stevens to do another miracle as he’d done for the 1962 cars. It was another reskin of the basic 1953 derived cars.
These same basic cars were sold in 1964 as Lark Challenger, Commander, Daytona and Cruiser. The Studebaker Commander was the non-fleet basic family trim level. It was the first time this nomenclature was used by Studebaker since 1958, and denoted the attempt by Studebaker to show that their new family oriented cars had grown up a bit from the humble Lark roots.
Looking at the restyle of the 1964 Studebaker Commander in the context of other cars of the year shows a slightly compromised design, but the styling was competitive enough and truly was a nice departure from the prior styling. The boxy theme was not out of place on the roads of the day.
Buyers had a choice of the economical and proven 170 cid six with 112 hp or the sparkling performance of the standard 259 cid V-8 with 180 hp. A four-barrel carburetor option boosted that to 195 hp, while the larger 289 V-8 was available in several forms, including 210, 225, 240, and 290 hp, the last thanks to a Paxton supercharger.
Initial body styles encompassed a two-door sedan, four-door sedan and four-door Wagonaire station wagon. The Studebaker Commander Wagonaire also had something no other car had: a sliding rear roof. This allowed the transport of tall items at will.
Alas, sales collapsed for Studebaker in the fall of 1963. People were shying away from Studebaker dealers, afraid they’d be stuck with an orphan. This became a self-fulfilling prophesy. To make matters worse, Studebaker began to lose their dealer network, which finally began to throw in the towel and take on competitive makes and even imports. By December 1963, Studebaker’s board chose to shutter the South Bend Main plant, and began to import new cars from their Hamilton, Ontario facility in January. A slightly up-market Studebaker Commander Special 2 door sedan, with additional equipment, was the only marked change in the line-up.
By late summer, the engine plant at South Bend also closed down, necessitating an alternate source of powerplants since Studebaker of Canada’s President, Gordon Grundy, was determined to carry on and had the blessings of the board of directors.
The 1965 Studebaker Commander was introduced in six-cylinder form utilizing GM’s 194 cid six of 120hp and GM’s 283 cic V-8 of 195hp. These were manufactured in Ontario by GM’s McKinnon Industries division, and were Chevrolet pattern engines used by that Division as well as Canadian-built Pontiac cars and GMC trucks. The 1965 cars were nearly indistinguishable from 1964, except under the hood. The Commander became the lowest priced line, with the Challenger “fleet specials” disappearing.
1966 cars were introduced in the autumn of 1965 and there was a new plastic grille surrounded by large single headlamps, new side trim, upgraded interiors, a new “Refreshaire” ventilations system and other improvements. A new optional 230 cid six of 140 hp became available, initially with automatic transmission only but later with manual shift or manual plus overdrive. A new aluminized factory rust-proofing treatment was also provided at no extra cost.
The first 1966 car to be built by Studebaker was a Commander V-8 four-door sedan, but by March 1966, after Gordon Grundy had requested a small amount of funds to develop a 1967 car, he was informed that there would be no 1967 Studebaker and was ordered to begin shutting down production. It was a sad end for a transportation manufacturer in business since 1852.