In its waning years, as Studebaker was limping along toward its inevitable demise, the South Bend car maker hired Milwaukee designer Brooks Stevens to create a series of prototypes for future models, one of which was this handsome little sedan. If Studebaker had survived long enough to produce it, this might have been the most modern compact car on the road.
The Cruiser was brimming with design and engineering features that were years ahead of its time such as curved side windows and rectangular headlights. Stevens designed the Cruiser to be less expensive to manufacture by making some body stampings interchangeable from side to side or front to back. The right front/left rear and left front/right doors were the same stampings, for example, as were the hood and trunk lid. (AMC tried this very same idea with its 1966 Cavalier concept car.) Of course, such a scheme requires the use of suicide doors which might have dampened public enthusiasm a bit.
Look carefully at the two photos and you will also note that Stevens gave the Cruiser slightly different trim treatments on the left side versus the right side and different wheel covers, as well. The wider, bolder trim on the driver’s side makes a strong statement but the simple, thin chrome strip on the passenger side lends a certain elegance to the car. We will never know, of course, which version Studebaker’s management might have chosen.
The Cruiser was created in 1962 and would have lead to a production version in 1965 if Studebaker had had the resources available to develop it. Unfortunately, there was barely enough money to do minor facelifts on the Lark, let alone bring out an entirely new car with radically different design and manufacturing features. It is fun to imagine, though, how the Cruiser might have changed Studebaker’s fortunes. It no doubt would have made quite a splash if it had come out in 1965, even in the face of GM and Ford’s all-new full size cars.
(If you go to the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, be sure to wander downstairs to look at the collections stored in the basement. The basement is not part of the museum’s main displays but it is open the public.)