“Connie…is that a Studebaker?”, asking like I expected her to know. “Damn, I think it is and it’s a later one too…a 1964 or 1965 maybe.” “I’ve got to get a picture of this.” So here are and without even trying we come across a seldom seen car. Not a noteworthy one, or one that brings big excitement to mind, but a rare one none the less.
Yes, it’s a Studebaker! A black four door Commander.
It’s a sensible car, some might even say boring. Yup a plain old Studebaker, words often heard when people spoke of that firm’s designs. There are no bold statements to be made, just simple lines, but it’s a real beauty to me. And this one looks to complete and probably drivable, something the owner confirmed after he came out on seeing me hovering around it. He told me it would start right up. It is original and unrestored and the same as when it left the factory almost fifty years ago.
Seen here in Coleman Alberta on the last day of 2012 is a 1964 Studebaker Commander. A base line car, this example has an underpowered but economical six cylinder engine, a column shift automatic transmission and plain cloth bench seats. As plain as it gets – actually the Commander was NOT the base line for 64 – the Challenger was – I wonder how they make it any more plain?
At the time this car was originally purchased the writing was on the wall for Studebaker, only those associated with the company in Canada didn’t yet know it.
This car, according to the current owner, was purchased in Coleman from its original owner and it cost the grand sum of $450. It’s held it’s value well (haha), since in 1964 a car like this could be had for a couple thousand dollars. I wish I had seen it for sale.
While hardly in perfect shape, there is some rust and corrosion, and other small flaws, this car is in otherwise remarkable condition for its age. It’s complete and solid and as the owner mentioned is drivable. Apparently it’s tight and everything works pretty well. The original owner obviously took reasonable car of it.
Some people have written that this car may be a ’65 – I am only going by what the owner said. The two years seem almost indistinguishable on the outside (to an amateur like me) so that theory may be possible. Under the hood 64’s and 65’s are easily dated – 64’s use Studebaker engine – 65’s a GM Canada sourced engine. I noticed some 64’s have dual instead of quad headlights – an option I am told. The 1964/65 Commander came in two door, four door, and wagon versions. The Studebaker logo then in use looks much like some recent ones from Pepsi, only turned on its side.
It’s not clear if there was a Studebaker dealership in the Crowsnest Pass in the 1960s, but this invites more research. In the 1920s however there was and this author has seen a Studebaker advertisement from that era naming a company called Crow’s Nest Pass Motors in Blairmore as the local dealer.
Interestingly, parts for this car can still be easily found at outlets like NAPA or Canadian Tire.
Studebaker can trace its history back to the middle of the nineteenth century and it was a well know maker of waggons and carriages. Transitioning into autos, although they continued to make horse drawn vehicles long after, they produced a line of well respected if not unremarkable cars. Something your father or a businessman might drive. Sales were good, enough so that after world war two, they opened a satellite plant in Hamilton Ontario.
Making essentially the same models as the US plant – in South Bend Indiana – the Canadian factory hummed along through the years. Then in late 1963 Studebaker unexpectedly announced it was shutting down US production as sales had been faltering in the proceeding years. It was assumed the Canadian plant would follow suit, however surprisingly it was announced that production here would continue. A miracle!
And the factory would supply not only the Canadian market, but the US market as well. You see, while the huge US plant was a poster child of inefficiency, the Canadian operation was small, modern, productive and it made money. That’s something the main factory had not done for a number of years.
So Studebaker became “Canada’s Own Car”. In the US, “The Common-Sense Car”.
However it was for naught and and by the early part of 1966 it was announced the Hamilton plant would close, a sad day for this brave experiment. In the end, it’s been learned that Studebaker had no intentions of continuing car production after 1963 anyway and Hamilton factory was kept on as a way to appease dealers while the company formulated plans on how to leave the market completely.
Hamilton never knew that and at the time of closing it was in the process of designing cars for the 1967 model year. What a brave face. At the time of it’s closing the factory was one of the larger employers in the city with some seven hundred dedicated workers.
The Hamilton Studebaker plant survived into 2012. After car production it was later used by an elevator firm and at other times sat essentially empty and almost abandoned and until recently the faded Studebaker sign could be seen on it walls. At the time of this report it’s in the process of being torn down. It’s not clear what’s going to be built in its place but one can assume condos. They often seem to pop up in old industrial sites like this.
A Studebaker in 2012 is a rare thing and one that’s original and running and as-built even more so. The boys from Hamilton would be proud of their little Commander.
We spotted this car while photographing the Coleman Polish Hall. To see the report on this, follow this link…
Coleman then and now (2).
If you wish more information on this, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2012.
Location: Coleman, Alberta.