1963 Studebaker Lark Daytona: Late in Life, But Early in the Game
With all the news about deadly viruses and lethal food choices on TV, it might be surprising to hear that Americans are living longer. These days it’s common to hear about people in their 60s, 70s, and beyond participating in sports, starting companies, and finishing college degrees. More and more it sees that a person’s greatest accomplishments often occur in the later years of his life, rather than the sound and fury of his youth. Sometimes this is true of companies as well. For example, the 1963 Studebaker R2 Lark is an example of what we would call today visionary thinking. Yet the business that built it was in its twilight at the time. Like the Appalachian mountains, those ancient hills that display their greatest beauty in the fall, the automaker saved its best work for the end of its season. PHOTOS: See More of the Original 1963 Studebaker Lark
By 1963, the Studebaker company was in its death throes, having suffered a series of devastating setbacks since the early 1950s. Competition from the Big Three, along with poor management, had eroded its sales base, and a merger with Packard had failed to revive the firm’s sagging fortunes. Strange, then, that the business would respond by entering the fledgling muscle car market years before it started booming. Yet it’s version of the hyper-powered vehicles, the R2 Lark, remains one of the best examples of the breed.
At the heart of the Lark is a simple but superbly crafted 289 ci V8 engine. The motor is wedded to low compression, high capacity truck-style cylinders and a Paxton SN-60 centrifuge-style supercharger. The charger hovers in the background as the engine builds RPMs, only making its presence known as the motor starts to top out. At that point, it kicks like the proverbial mule, slamming passengers into their seats as it leaps forward like the Hulk on steroids.
PHOTOS: See More of the Supercharged Studebaker Golden Hawk
This is exactly the opposite of how most other muscle car engines perform, allowing Lark racers to sneak up on their fast-out-of-the-gate competitors. Also, the R2 lacks the usual muscle car ornamentation, like hood scoops and racing stripes. This makes it a novel twist on the idea of a “sleeper car,” as drivers of better-known performance machines have found out to their embarrassment.
This YouTube video below shows the “Tomato,” a racing R2 owned by Ted Harkin, in action back in 2012. Note the sounds coming from under the hood; they form an odd contrast to the vehicle’s mild-mannered looks. With its grill and hood ornament, the Lark looks like a refined Mercedes sedan Yet it runs faster than a preacher with a paternity suit after him.
PHOTOS: See More of the Stunning Studebaker President Speedster
Alas, even the groundbreaking R2 Lark wasn’t enough to save Studebaker. Its flagship South Bend, Indiana plant shut its doors the same year the early muscle car was released, followed by the firm’s Canadian facility in 1966. But the Lark is proof that a company can do great work in its last years as well as its first. For those who think that newer is always better, there’s a lesson in there that’s well worth learning.
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