Studebaker’s Basement: The Sceptre

1962 Sceptre

Studebaker Sceptre

This is the car that might have saved Studebaker — but it never got the chance.  It is the Sceptre, referred to variously as a 1962, 1963 or 1966, depending on the reference you consult.  The sign sitting in front of it in the Studebaker National Museum says 1962 so let’s go with that.

Brooks Stevens had been hired to do design work for Studebaker in its waning days and even though the company had few resources to devote to product development, Stevens managed to come up with some extremely innovative concepts.  The Sceptre could have been Studebaker’s flagship car had it been introduced in 1966 as Stevens envisioned.  It boasted a bevy of advanced features including full-width lighting in front using a system developed by Sylvania and fully adjustable instrumentation that could be configured almost any way the driver wished.

Think about the state of auto design in the early 1960s and you get a feel for just how advanced the Sceptre would have been with its clean, spare lines and handsome proportions that still look modern even today.

1962 Sceptre2

Could this car have saved Studebaker?

When Stevens designed the Sceptre he was quite confident that Studebaker would bring it to market as a 1966 model (which is why he always referred to it as a 1966).  Unfortunately, about the time the Sceptre was finished it became clear that the company couldn’t afford anything more than a mild facelift of its existing Lark and Wagonaire models.  Stevens managed to finish this running prototype but, of course, it was all for naught.

(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.)

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One Response to Studebaker’s Basement: The Sceptre

  1. Dr Lemming says:

    Of Brooks Stevens’ three concept cars, the Sceptre was his best take on a new-generation Studebaker . . . even if it completely disavowed the Avanti look. Some of Stevens’ design ideas anticipated major late-60s American trends such as Chrysler’s fuselage styling.

    But would this car have “saved” Studebaker if it had been built? Probably not. Cutting-edge styling has rarely saved any independent for very long. It’s no accident that the biggest-selling American independent brand of all time was the Rambler in the early 1960s, when AMC offered an old, stodgy and narrow range of family and economy cars.

    If Studebaker were to survive as an automaker, it needed to focus on market niches where it could get away with minimal redesigns for exceptionally long periods of time. The sporty coupe market, in contrast, has tended to be pretty fashion conscious. Look how fast the classic Loewy coupes lost their luster.

    Stevens’ sedan and wagon concepts had more potential staying power but they weren’t as well styled as the Sceptre. Perhaps most importantly, the basic cowl design — which was shared by all three body styles — strikes me as being too low. It was fine on the coupe but gave the sedan and wagon a “toy car” look . . . and cut into trunk space for the coupe and sedan.

    That said, it would have been interesting to see a sedan that ditched the interchangeable doors in favor of Sceptre-like wedge styling.

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