Combining Pickup truck utility with passenger car comfort, this innovative vehicle was the first mass-produced station wagon to offer a sliding roof over the cargo area. Fabricated on a convertible frame for maximum rigidity, the Wagonaire featured a standard 259-cubic inch V-8 engine, overdrive, power front-wheel disc brakes and a fold-down, rear-facing third seat. Purchased new by the donor, this Wagonaire was often used for long-distance family camping trips where its reliability and carrying capacity could be fully appreciated.Source - Petersen Museum
The sturdy little Lark was Studebaker's savior in the late 1950s recession, an appealingly styled and sized car that offered plenty of room and numerous engine choices for the frugal buyer. Hiding behind the 1963 Lark's Mercedes-Benz-inspired grille could be anything ranging from an inline six, to a 'Jet Thrust' 289 -cubic inch V-8.
As the badge so proudly proclaims, this striking ermine white Studebaker is home to a 289 horsepower Paxton-supercharged 4.7 liter V8. Keep in mind that the Lark was a compact car similar to the Ford Falcon or Chevy ll and the hot, supercharged engine made a Lark R2 something to be feared at stoplights across America.
Sadly, 1963 marked the beginning of the end for the little Studebaker. America's oldest car company was having trouble selling cars in a world increasingly dominated by the Big Three. For 1964, the Lark line was restyled and the supercharged R2 engines were discontinued. Only 31 R2 convertibles were built in 1963. The current owner chased the ownership of this car for over 25 years; his perseverance paid off.
The Studebaker Wagonaire
The amazing Studebaker Wagonaire was introduced in 1963. Based on the Lark, it was an amazing mix of a wagon, truck, and convertible. It was a station wagon with a rear sliding roof panel so that you could fit tall objects inside when they would normally stick out from the roof. You could also flip out some rear-facing stowaway seats in the back and open the sliding panel so the rear passengers would enjoy the fresh air of a convertible. But bad things can happen to good ideas, and it was soon discovered that the incredible sliding roof was unfortunately prone to water leaks. Without enough funds to retool for a new, improved model, Stude was forced to limp along until its final day with a leak-prone Wagonaire.
Empowered with a great idea, Studebaker introduced a station wagon with a sliding roof panel, the Wagonaire in 1963. This design transformed the vehicle into a closed wagon or a semi-pick up truck with its retractable sliding rear roof section. This featured allowed the vehicle to carry items or parcels that would otherwise be too long for the standard vehicles of the era. Hoping to broaden the appeal of its Lark family vehicles, the Studebaker Wagonaire was a ‘sky's-the-limit' wagon. Though it was a very innovative design with versatile features, the vehicle never really caught on and was not as popular as the company had hoped and it was discontinued in 1966.
The inventor of this innovative roof was industrial designer Brooks Stevens who was given the task by Studebaker to locate as many ways possible to expand the company's limited model range without expending too much capital on retooling. Stevens is also known for designing the Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer; a truck based SUV that continued to be produced until the 1990s.
His inspiration for the Wagonaire came from his German-built 1959 aluminum Scimitar concept vehicle that was based on standard Studebaker Lark station wagon body, though suitably modified above the beltline. The uniqueness of the vehicle lay in the roof over the cargo bay that manually retracted into and then locked into position in the forward section of the roof directly above the rear passenger seat. Steven's patented the sliding-roof design, but later he assigned it to Studebaker once the cars went into production. Studebaker was proud to boast that due to this unique feature, the Wagonaire could haul even a standard size refrigerator upright.
Six passengers could ride quite comfortably in the Wagonaire, or five with the optional front bucket seats or eight when it came with a rear-facing third-row seat (an option available through 1965). If the third seat was ordered with the vehicle, the car was fitted with special 'Captive-Air' or puncture resistant tires since a spare tire and wheel was not able to fit with the additional seat.
The downside of the creative roof was that is leaked water near the front of the sliding section and this didn't spell success for the Wagonaire. The factory attempted to fix this problem, but it was met with limited success and fixed-roof station wagons were rushed into production next to the Wagonaire and were available for sale in January of 1963. They cost $100 less than the sliding-roof wagons but it became a ‘delete option'. If the buyer wanted the fixed roof instead of the slider, it had to be specifically ordered that way by the selling dealing and not as a separate model.
The South Bend, Indiana assembly plant was closed by Studebaker though production continued at its Hamilton, Ontario, Canada plant. Both Wagonaires and Lark-based sedans continued to be produced though the 'halo' models; Avanti and Hawk were deleted from the production line.
After December of 1963, '64 models were constructed only in Canada and were the final to carry Studebaker's own engines. GM began supplying engine at the beginning of the 1965 models based on the Chevy six-cylinder and V8 designs.
The new 1693 models arrived in dealer showrooms in September of 1962 and though they looked very similar to the models of the previous year, there were a variety of differences. The 1963 models eliminated the wraparound windshield by the creation of a new cowl section. Also newly updated was the roof panel and the rear quarters as well as the back glass. An all new fine-mesh grille was placed at the front and was flanked by quad headlights. Also brand new were narrower door pillars that gave the Wagonaire a ‘more airy' look than its predecessors.
1965 models were only available with the sliding roof. For 1966 a fixed-roof option made a comeback for the final model year. The third seat was no longer available though. For this year the Wagonaire was finally made into a model in its own right with a blend of the exterior featured of the Commander and the interior trim grade of the sporty Daytona. For 1966 only 940 Wagonaires were built, which made any fixed-roof model a very rare vehicle.
Studebaker, always the ‘feisty independent' was constantly looking for an edge against its bigger competitors. His hope lay in Stevens' innovative and also very functional sliding-roof might entice the public more than it actually did.
GM came up with a concept of the retractable roof for a model in the Envoy line in 2003 as a 2004 model. Though the ads for the new Envoy XUV claimed that this was the ‘first ever' of its kind, this was obviously false. GMC did feature a power operation of the roof section, something Studebaker had never accomplished. Unfortunately the Envoy XUV fared as unpopular as the Wagonaire, and in 2005 the model was discontinued.By Jessica Donaldson