In March, 1961 Studebaker released a
sketch of a sub-compact car planned for future introduction. It called for a
four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear engine of 65-75 horsepower. Wheelbase was about 100
inches, much shorter than the Lark of the time. Seating was for four or five
passengers. Studebaker hoped to get the car to market by the fall of 1962 at a price
under $2000. The car never made it to production, but there was more to it
than just an artist's sketch. It was known as a Porsche Type 633, the result of an
association with Porsche that started in 1952.
Porsche built a car for Studebaker in August, 1952 with a 120-degree V-6 engine .
This was the Porsche Type 542, also known as the Z-87 car at Studebaker. Though it
was looked at then, it didn't get serious review until 1956 when Studebaker's director of
experimental engineering tested the car and reported on it. The director's name:
John Z. DeLorean, who later went on to other cars and other activities. He didn't
like the Porsche effort and compared it unfavorably to the comfort and ride of the 1956
Champion and Commander. Interestingly, this appears to have been the only 4-door
Porsche until the Cayenne SUV was introduced for 2003.
|In later years, a Lark was modified to have a Porsche
engine and transaxle installed in the trunk area. Curtis-Wright Corporation owned
nearly half of the Studebaker stock in the late 1950's and took over management of the
company. Development efforts were conducted at their New Jersey facility.
In February, 1959 Curtis-Wright bought a new Lark with a Champ 6 engine from a local
dealer and modified it. A used engine from a 1953 Porsche was rebuilt by Porsche and
installed along with the torsion-bar rear suspension and transaxle. Wheels and gear
reduction boxes from a VW bus were used to optimize the drive line. This engine was
placed in what had been the trunk of the Lark after removing the Champ 6 and automatic
transmission from the front of the car. In addition, since Curtis-Wright had taken
out a license to build Wankel rotary engines, an adapter was prepared to install a small
Wankel engine in place of the Porsche engine. This car may have been the prototype
for the sub-compact touted two years later.
Before the car could be fully tested and the rotary engine installed, the relationship
between Curtis-Wright and Studebaker ended. The Lark was sold to a local New Jersey
garage, then quickly resold twice more to car collectors. The car still survives and
has occasionally appeared at car shows in New England. It retains the 1500 cc, 70 hp
Porsche engine in the trunk. While the horsepower rating is less than the Champ 6 it
replaced, the much lower weight of the Porsche engine and transmission help, but it is not
a high-performance car. The engine produces peak horsepower at 5,000 rpm.