Studebaker in 1963 was like MySpace in 2013 — on life support. Things had been bad for the South Bend company for a while, and they, like so many of us when things get desperate, fled to Canada. But there was one small ray of hope: a contract from Westinghouse to make a purpose-built truck.
This may seem a strangely specific and humble prospect for the company that had just recently unveiled its Raymond Loewy-designed masterpiece, the achingly beautiful Avanti, but with the Studebaker cafeteria serving Broken Fan Belt casserole and Cream of Armrest soup, the prospect of any deal to keep building vehicles must have seemed like a godsend.
The proposal, which was brought by Westinghouse to Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert personally, called for the development of two vehicles, a van and a pickup, with easy, cheap construction being the hallmark of the design.
What resulted is, to my ridiculous eyes at least, a beautiful example of form following function like a lovestruck teen. The body has so few curves it makes Olive Oyl look like Jessica Rabbit, to be both pervy and cartoony for you. Every panel was designed to be made with simple stampings and no compound curves. It uses corrugated sections for rigidity, and the overall effect is something like an Americanized Citroën H-van.
The layout is a cab-over-engine design, which allows for a long bed on the shortest wheelbase, a crucial element for a vehicle that will be delivering bulky items in urban landscapes where parking and room is at a premium.
In a real middle finger to aerodynamics but a big help to the driver, the windshield has a dramatic forward-rake to allow for very good up-close visibility, like you'd need if you were maneuvering into a tight loading dock or in a snug New York laundromat's alley.
Studebaker's usual 289 V8 was stuck under the driver's butt to power the rear wheels via the Avanti's three-speed auto box. The avanti also donated its indicators to the truck, but in this context they could be any rectangular marker light from a trailer parts-bin.
It seems like only the pickup prototype was actually built, and the only known example was found in a barn in 1982, but happily now rests its square ass in the Studebaker National Museum.
Maybe it's my latent desire to drive airport support vehicles, but I'm really taken by this little ungainly workhorse. I especially love the idea of purpose-built vehicles being made to order for specific companies. Currently, UPS does this, but very few others, unless you count the couple of Red Bull Minis with that big can on the back.
In an alternate universe, used car shopping could be an exciting game of figuring out if the almost spherical Chevy Spark-based delivery vehicle from Spaulding makes a better car than the tall, phone-booth shaped, Subaru-powered ex-Pool Noodle delivery vehicle. It's win-win!