Amending a slight to the Studebaker Champ: it was a ‘handy, husky-built beauty’

Yes, I sure did put my foot in my mouth last week when writing about the 1960 Ford F-100 and never being a fan of pickups with carlike styling. Chevys and Dodges of the latter 1950s were too fussy. Studebaker Champs that looked like Larks were also off-putting.

Oops! In response, from Bob Merlis, I received a photo of his pickup doing the hard work of hauling landscaping material. The photo came with a caption: “Have owned this 1960 Studebaker Champ pickup for the past 17 years. It’s rough but it works … if I remember to put gas in it.”

He may be referring to the time I helped out by shuttling him to his stranded truck with a gas can. Or was it his Studebaker Avanti that was stranded?

Bob’s Champ–what a great name for a truck!–is seen above (his photo) in MFH Merlis for Hire livery. The logo represents his music publicity firm in Los Angeles.

Studebaker had made trucks as early as 1914 but not in large volumes. The company’s pickups emerged in 1937. The Champ was new in 1960. My reference source, Standard Catalog of Light-Duty Trucks, gives this interpretation:

“Borrowing from the concept of the original 1937-39 Coupe-Express, Studebaker took the Lark body and converted it to a truck front end and cab. Except for being chopped off behind the front door and featuring a brawnier grille and bumper, the styling, including the instrument panel, was identical to a 1959-60 Lark four-door sedan. The new cab was called the ‘T’ cab.”

Two models were available: the standard T4 and Deluxe T6. Distinguishing the T6 is easy: look for the gaudy touches like chromed instead of painted hubcaps. Other luxuries were the bright metal windshield trim, sliding rear glass, and dome light.

In worthy original condition, Bob’s Champ is a rare beast: 8,294 units were produced for 1960. To blame for the low volume was the steelworkers’ strike from July to November of 1959, leading to model-year production being delayed into the spring of 1960 (and to the importation of steel that would nearly wipe out the domestic industry).

“No matter what Studebaker did, they had no luck in increasing truck sales,” Standard Catalog says.

Four engines were available: 170-cubic-inch flathead six, 245-c.i. flathead six, overhead-valve 259-c.i. V-8, and overhead-valve 289-c.i. V-8.

Like the Ford, which came with the Lifeguard steering wheel, the Champ also featured a “safety steering wheel.”

Bob’s Champ scampers around its home base of Palm Springs with the small six. Fitted with the single-barrel Carter carb, it generates a “whopping”–says he–90 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque.

“Yes,” he says, “it was the Raptor of its day.”

The small-six SE5 variant fetched $1,875 in standard T4 trim and $1,912 in deluxe T6 get-up.

A poetic ad campaign supported “America’s Lowest Priced Pickup–Bar None!”

Brand New Champ by Studebaker

handy, husky-built beauty–

yours for thrift and rugged duty

How interesting to see the sign painter at work (and the Merrick & Son title) in the pictorial. Note the Lark lurking in the background. Doesn’t it looks like a two-door?

The ad copy suggested that, like my friend Bob, “You’ll be mighty proud to take the wheel of this husky, handsome Champ.”

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