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55 Years Ago

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  • 55 Years Ago

    Hard to believe, but it was 55 years ago today that thousands of South Bend souls were given the worst Christmas present imaginable. Studebaker would no longer build cars and trucks in the United States. After 111 years, America's transportation pioneer was finished.

    While lives in the U.S. were being shattered that day, those of us in Canada were being encouraged to continue the Studebaker name, not knowing in reality that we didn't have a chance. The die had already been cast and less than 3 years later I was assigned the sad distinction of telling the media that Studebaker was finally finished.

    There never is a good time to disrupt an industry but certainly Christmas is the worst time. We never seem to learn. GM is doing it again.

    Stu Chapman

  • #2
    I lived through that "Black Friday" in 1963.
    Being born in South Bend and raised in Mishawaka, next city east, many of my family were employed by Studebaker during their lives before, during, or after WWII. My grandfather worked in the foundry. My dad delivered trucks to dealers, 2 stacked on the back of the one he drove. My uncles worked in the assembly and my mom was an office worker. I was still in high school when that day came.
    Studebaker was down to one shift a day and my uncle went to work as normal, a very dedicated Studebaker employee. I remember him well and any family member that bought something other then a Studebaker had to answer to him. That shift worked as normal and took their lunch break, when the supervisor came into the lunch room to announce that upon the completion of their shift, they were to drop their ID tags in a box next to the time clock.
    Studebaker was done in South Bend.
    Christmas was slim that year and of course the main topic was the shutdown.
    South Bend, and the surrounding areas were devastated and have not totally recovered to this day. The trickle down effect hurt about everyone in the area since the economy tightened up dramatically. The area is still financially depressed to this day but moving forward.
    I'm sure your experience in Canada was similar, but at least it was March and there were other manufacturing jobs in the area to help with re-employment.
    Studebaker in Hamilton was more of a bit player in the economy, where in South Bend, it was the economy.
    It's truly sad that the once grand producer of wagons, cars, trucks, military vehicles, airplane engines and many more side products was taken down by bean counters with no concern for the people or cities.
    You would think that GM and the other car companies would study history and learn from it, but so far, it looks like GM isn't even looking at it's own very recent history, the government bailout in 2009 and changing it's programs. Upper management, making upwards of $22,500,000 a year continue to do the same thing year after year and expect different results.
    Merry Christmas to those employees too.
    sigpic1966 Daytona (The First One)
    1950 Champion Convertible
    1950 Champion 4Dr
    1955 President 2 Dr Hardtop
    1957 Thunderbird


    • #3
      I was 13 years old on that fateful day. My parents had moved from Indianapolis to California years earlier. I was blissfully unaware that Studebaker shut down. Even though we were a Studebaker family my parents never mentioned it. I do remember my dad suddenly buying several used Studebakers around that time. He must have known.
      Years later when I was taking college courses in business administration I was surprised that one of the lessons involved the Studebaker shut down. It was a course on accounting and it was clear the course authors were holding Studebaker up as an example of poor accounting practices but also the results of the shut down on employees retirement plans. I asked my dad about this later and he confirmed that he was aware of and disappointed at what happened at Studebaker. His brand loyalty, however, never wavered.
      It is good there are people still alive who remember and can remind us of the personal anguish of those who lived through this. As for the companies today? They, like financial institutions have short memories and continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
      Ed Sallia
      Dundee, OR

      Sol Lucet Omnibus


      • #4
        I was 19 and had a 53 coupe. My Dad has a 55 sedan and a 47 m15 wrecker. He also had a salvage yard for parts. I didn't even know what happened at the time.


        • #5
          Cathy and I were newly married then (1963). We bought Studebakers before and after that date.
          Gary L.
          Wappinger, NY

          SDC member since 1968
          Studebaker enthusiast much longer


          • #6
            I was a senior in college, driving a 53 K, driving Studes since I was 16. I naively assumed things would continue in Canada for years.
            Don Wilson, Centralia, WA

            40 Champion 4 door*
            50 Champion 2 door*
            53 Commander K Auto*
            53 Commander K overdrive*
            55 President Speedster
            62 GT 4Speed*
            63 Avanti R1*
            64 Champ 1/2 ton

            * Formerly owned


            • #7
              I was about 40 miles north visiting my relatives in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and I remember them discussing how devastating it would be for South Bend if Studebaker shut down. I was only 15 then and was thinking Studebaker would never close.


              • #8
                I had a 1953 Commander Starliner, dark green bottom, light green top, was a junior in college, had a girlfriend who looked pretty good sitting on the front fender. I remember thinking, "Now what do I do for parts and service?"

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                Gary Ash
                Dartmouth, Mass.

                '32 Indy car replica (in progress)
                ’41 Commander Land Cruiser
                '48 M5
                '65 Wagonaire Commander
                '63 Wagonaire Standard
                web site at


                • #9
                  I was working for Newman & Altman, servicing and selling Gravely tractors when it happened. Was driving a 54 Coupe. Married a year and 8 months.


                  • #10
                    Carol and I were living in Gary. I was teaching and working at USSteel in the summers. In '65 we moved to Buchanan/Niles area NW of South Bend. I was fortunate to be able to work two summers at Bendix and then I had year around responsibilities in education. The Michiana area was becoming quite depressed and we moved to Florida in 1988, as while I would have a job it was likely to be one I wouldn't enjoy. In 2017 I returned to the area. The area appears to functioning economically much better and I am impressed with the growth on both sides of the border. I have had many conversations with people who worked for Studebaker or had family members who did. The years prior to the closing were good times for the area. Notre Dame is the largest employer and the community appears to be doing well, as compared to others. Some of this is off topic.
                    "Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional." author unknown


                    • #11
                      Gary is that Jane on the fender?
                      Originally posted by garyash View Post
                      I had a 1953 Commander Starliner, dark green bottom, light green top, was a junior in college, had a girlfriend who looked pretty good sitting on the front fender. I remember thinking, "Now what do I do for parts and service?"



                      • #12
                        I was a high school senior and driving a '56 Flight Hawk with overdrive, coral bottom, white top. When I stopped by the local garage, the owner, Bo Fields, who was also my mentor and helped install my first floor shifter conversion, said, "I thought you'd be in mourning tonight. Studebaker closed down today."

                        Yes, it was inevitable. Yes, the last days could have been handled better. Yes, but against all odds, we got the '53K, the '56J, the GT, the Avanti R3 out of those last days. Can anyone name an auto manufacturer who went out in a greater blaze of glory?

                        jack vines


                        • #13
                          Always enjoy your posts Jack. When we are young and don't have much money, you drive the cars you car choices can be limited by what is available and what you afford but I'm surprised that you had a six cylinder car. Had you made an engine swap? My first car was a 1960 Hawk with a 289 and I've had numerous GT's, Avantis and find it ironic that the two Studebakers I have are sixes - a 1938 Commander Coupe and a 1960 Lark hardtop.


                          • #14
                            Sometimes things get better with age, certainly with modern materials dealing with rust, oils, hoses, brakes and tires a well cared for Studebaker is a better car than it
                            was 55 years ago. Here at the forum I'm sure we all feel that we started with a better car 55 years ago also.


                            • #15
                              I was a auto mechanic for the Studebaker Assembly Plant here in Melbourne when each of us received a cablegram which had some relative impact on us also as we were active with Cruisers, Hawks & Champs along the line. I kept my copy to this day.

                              \"QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER\"