My Car Quest

April 23, 2019

The Strange Romance Between Studebaker & Porsche

by Wallace Wyss –

Y’know, when my publisher at Enthusiast Books asked me to revive my out-of-print book Porsche 356 Photo Album, I thought hey “How hard could it be?” with only four models, the pre-A, the A, the B and the C.

But the more I dig into Porsche 356 history the more I keep coming across models that don’t fit. Take the Type 542: a Porsche Studebaker.

Porsche Studebaker

Now I am a Studebaker fan, turns out. I like the Hawk, and the GT, even the ugly Lark convertible. Not enough to buy one, mind you, but I admired them for what they achieved.

I didn’t know why they failed, other than dark rumors of the Big Three sabotaging them by discouraging suppliers from giving Studebaker a break (hey, maybe there’s a movie there…where’s Jimmy Stewart when we need him?).

But basically by about ’56, they were in deep horse picky, selling models that were old fashioned in styling (the Big Three had conditioned the public to want an all new car every three years), and they had huge quality control problems.

Plus they were trying to be relevant to new events like the experimentation with fuel injection. They tried that too, working with a Bosch and Simmonds system.

Then somebody tried a “Hail Mary” pass—going to a company renowned for engineering; Porsche. So it was, in 1952, Porsche built a prototype, the Type 542, called by Studebaker the “Z-87.”

Now the reason this car won’t make my Porsche book is that it didn’t have a flat four, but it’s still an interesting insight into the failure of an American automaker. This prototype used a 120-degree V6 designed to be either air or water-cooled, with air-cooled cylinder heads and water-cooled cylinders.

Well, it was a good idea on paper but later they did one version that was air-cooled, like the 356, and another that was water-cooled.

A running car, I don’t know if it was the air-cooled or water-cooled, was built in Germany and shipped to Studebaker which, amazingly, didn’t get around to examining it until 1956. And guess what engineer worked on it? A tall good looking guy named John Z. DeLorean.

Now as we all know, by his later career, DeLorean was complemented for bringing European ideas to American cars but back then he was toeing the line, on an “America was Best” theme and wrote a report that tore apart the prototype sent from Germany, pointing out its tendency to oversteer, and critiquing the design that it didn’t look American.

Well, that was a big crime back then. And, horrors he said it looked “short and buglike.” Well, la de da, the guy never heard of the VW bug?

He concluded his report praising the 1956 Champion or Commander in comparison to the Porsche for American driving…

Even though Studebaker spurned that model, they weren’t entirely turned off by Porsche. They even entertained another prototype proposal, a car that looked like the “square-back” Volkswagen that was built by VW in the late 1960s.

Porsche Studebaker

Well, we all know what happened to Studebaker. Oh, they built some high performance V8-powered cars like the supercharged Avanti, but mostly their product line became totally irrelevant to the American market and they skulked off to Canada.

Now the question is: did the Studebaker prototype built by Porsche survive? I think it did because I found a picture of this Porsche Studebaker on a Google search with the caption Greater Michiana Auto Auctions.

Which means at some point it was for sale. Also on Google is a magazine picture of the car in blue, on a cobblestone street, a picture that looks “modern day.” But I can’t open up the website picture to read what magazine it’s in. I am betting the car survived but don’t know if 356 fans will take this car to heart.

I am wondering, does this Porsche Studebaker have Porsche SN? What would it be worth, since its styling is so ugly that it contravenes all the accumulated love built up for the 356; it is as if it were an ugly stepsister kept in the attic.

At this point, with the book scheduled for 2017 publication, I’m still at the fact-gathering stage. I am passing on this Studebaker/Porsche but meanwhile discovered the existence of yet another Porsche prototype built in the 356 era that is not quite so ugly, a model called the 530; like to hear anything about that, if it survived, who it was built for and will entertain offers of pictures of it. I can be reached at Photojournalistpro@gmail.com.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss reports his newly published fourth volume in the Incredible Barn Finds series can be purchased direct from the publisher Enthusiast Books (715 381 9755)

 

 

Studebaker Logo by Raymond Loewy

Porsche logo

Summary
The Strange Romance Between Studebaker And Porsche
Article Name
The Strange Romance Between Studebaker And Porsche
Description
The Porsche Studebaker Type 542 did not make it to production.
Author

Comments

  1. Rob Krantz says

    I like it……very cool car!

  2. I agree with Rob. It’s very cool looking. But what do I know I think Porches all look the same and are very boring. Great engineering but they needed an Italian on their design team.

  3. steve snyder says

    Along with the Porsche-Studebaker endeavor, Studebaker invited the SCCA Chicago Region to their proving ground in South Bend, Ind. in the Spring of 1953 or 1954. Not sure of the year..Probably to check out the then new sports car scene. Interesting group of cars including Jim Kimberly’s Ferrari (s) and a Porsche or two. In addition to the sports car display, the hot shots had a run at the proving ground high speed track. Having toured Europe by motorcycle and been at the Porsche factory in 1951, I knew Ed Von Trego who had a Porsche dealership in Hoopeston, Il. When I noticed Kimberly was wearing a silk shirt inscribed with GP car components, I asked Ed if he knew where the shirt originated. Ed hauls me over to Kimberly and says “This young man would like to know where you got your shirt”. At this point, I am about four inches tall. Kimberly kindly gave me his business card with the shirt makers name and NYC address. $20.00 which in 1953/54 was serious money. I recall the shirt as much as the cars.

  4. Glenn Krasner says

    Besides Max Hoffman Motors in NYC, Mercedes automobiles were first sold here in the US through Studebaker dealerships, before they established their own independent dealership network. Allegedly, I have read repeatedly over the years that the true death knell for Studebaker and Packard was when they both merged in about 1957. It successfully destroyed first the Packard name, and then the combined company.

  5. Mike Bucala says

    The book “Porsche in America” discusses this car as “Project Type 542”, which was a 1952 consulting project arranged by Max Hoffmann. It was Ferry Porsche’s unsuccessful attempt to design a lighter, faster, and more powerful version of the Champion. The book is published by the Porsche museum in Stuttgart.

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