A Brief Discussion of Postwar Studebaker Engines

A Brief Discussion of Studebaker Postwar Engines

By Bill Jackameit

Studebaker used a number of different engines in the cars and trucks it manufactured. Most were manufactured by Studebaker, but some were built built other companies.

Six Cylinder Engines

Champion Six. A flathead design originally displacing 170 cubic inches, it was increased to 185 cubic inches in 1955, only to be downsized again to 170 cubic inches when the Lark was introduced in 1959. Horsepower ranges from 80 to 101. Used in both cars and trucks, it was built in large numbers and parts are readily available. I personally like this engine, and have owned two Larks and a Silver Hawk (185 version) which were powered by it. Most desirable with stick and overdrive. Not a particularly good choice for heavier cars such as convertibles and station wagons, but satisfactory in trucks since in that application the gearing is usually of the stump pulling variety. In the early 50's, a variety of speed equipment was available for this engine including dual carb setups and split exhaust manifolds. These items are not easy to find today. One advantage over Studebaker V-8 powered cars is that the Champion engined cars do not feel noticibly front end heavy.

Commander Six. A larger displacement flathead engine which was, like the Champion Six, a prewar design. The original displacement was 226 cubic inches which was increased to 245 cubic inches in 1948. Horsepower ranges from 94 to 102, so torque is its major advantage over the Champion engine. It was replaced by the new Studebaker V-8 for automobile use in 1951, but continued to be available in light trucks through 1960. Strong and durable, parts are generally harder to come by than for the Champion Six. A good engine in both car and truck applications. Also desirable with stick and overdrive.

Skybolt Six. An overhead valve adaptation of the 170 Champion six produced from 1961 to 1964. Rated at 112 horsepower, it was used in both cars and light trucks. It has noticeably more pep than the engine it replaced, but it is prone to cracked heads and is not particularly smooth running. Adequate for car and light truck use with either stick or automatic transmission. As with the flathead version, it is typically geared to pull stumps in truck use. I should know, since I owned a 62 Champ pickup with this engine. Parts are available but, due to its relatively short production run, not as easy to find as for the flathead, at least insofar as parts unique to the overhead valve design are concerned.

General Motors (Chevrolet) Six. An overhead valve design used in Canadian produced Studebakers in 1965 and 1966. Available in 194 (both years) and 230 cubic inch (1966 only) versions rated at 120 and 140 horsepower, respectively. This is a solid engine with easy parts availability. Works well with automatic or stick, and overdrive was available.

Eight Cylinder Engines

Studebaker V-Eight. An overhead valve engine introduced in 1951 replacing the Commander Six in automotive use. Originally displacing 232 cubic inches, it was progressively enlarged to 259 and then to 289 cubic inches. Early 1955 Commanders used a reduced displacement 224 cubic inch version which was also available in trucks in 1955-56. Dual exhausts and both two and four barrel carburetors were available depending upon the year and model of vehicle. For 1957 and 1958, Golden Hawks used the 289 version with a supercharger installed. 1957 Packard Clippers also used the supercharged 289. Horsepower ranges from 120 for the early version to 275 for the supercharged Hawks. Relatively heavy for its displacement, it is a strong and reasonably powerful engine with good parts availability. It was built in large numbers and used extensively in both cars and trucks. While it does well with an automatic transmission, it is great fun with stick and overdrive. I like this engine, having owned a Lark with a 259 and stick with overdrive, a Silver Hawk with a 289 and straight stick, and a GT Hawk with a 289 and four-speed stick. My experience is that most any Studebaker equipped with this engine is going to feel front end heavy.

Avanti V-Eight. Avanti engines were developments of the basic Studebaker V-8 engine. The R1 was a 289 cubic inch carbureted version with a 4 barrel and R2 was a 289 cubic inch version equipped with a supercharger. Most Avantis were equipped with these two engines, although only the R1 could be had with air condtioning. The R3 was a special performance supercharged variation displacing 304 cubic inches of which very few were built. There were also R4 and R5 performance variatrions, but none of these were sold to the public. In 1963 and 1964, Larks and Hawks could be ordered with Avanti engines, and a relatively small number were so equipped. Avanti engines are powerful and reasonably durable, although the supercharger (as with the 1957 and 1958 Golden Hawks) can be a troublesome. As would be expected, parts for R Series engines are harder to find and more expensive than for standard Studebaker V-8's.

Packard V-Eight. Used only one year in the 1956 Golden Hawk. This large 352 cubic inch overhead valve engine produced 275 horsepower and was available with either the Packard Ultramatic automatic or stick with overdrive. Even heavier than the Studebaker V-8, so the front end heavy feeling is even more pronounced. Parts availability and cost are as for postwar Packards, which means generally harder to find and more expensive.

General Motors (Chevrolet) V-Eight. Basically the standard 283 cubic inch Chevrolet engine used in Canadian produced Studebakers in 1965 and 1966. It is lighter than the Studebaker V-8 so cars equipped with this engine do not feel front heavy. Only available from the factory with a 2 barrel carburetor and single exhaust rated at 195 horsepower. A solid engine that works well with automatic, straight stick, or stick with overdrive. As with the Chevy six, parts for the V-8 are readily available, as is a broad range of performance equipment.

Other Engines

Studebaker also produced a limited number of vehicles with engines purchased from other companies. These include diesel Lark taxis and medium and heavy duty diesel trucks. Also, the Avanti II used various Chevrolet V-8's dispacing 327, 350, 400, and 305 cubic inches. Parts are readily available for the all of the Chevy V-8's.

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