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Porsche-Studebaker Connection

The Type 542: Porsche's Studebaker

Studebaker-Packard Corporation was in dreadful shape by the start of 1956. Studebaker sales had all but collapsed in the wake of the dramatically different and, alas, disastrous 1953-series models that were still in production. The 1955 model year had been a good one in terms of product acceptance by the public,
at least initially, but the effort had been crippled by manufacturing problems that bred massive quality control lapses. The result was far fewer cars built than could have been sold, a financial loss overall, and car buyers who were beginning to wonder if it was worth considering anything built by the company anymore.

As the cash situation worsened, many interesting engineering ideas fell by the wayside. There was a rush toward fuel injection throughout the industry. Studebaker's engineering staff in South Bend was working on a Bosch and Simmonds system, but the effort was aborted for lack of development money. The same fate befell programs to develop aluminum brake drums, disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering. Increasingly, Studebaker engineers were faced with having to make do with what they already had.

The most intriguing might-have-beens were a couple of engineering proposals from Porsche. The company of Dr. Ing. h.c.F Porsche AG was formed in 1931 as "designers and consultants for land, sea and air vehicles," by Ferdinand Porsche. It was Porsche's son, Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche, though, who steered the company into becoming one of the world's leading automotive engineering design companies and specialist manufacturer of sports cars. From the time he designed the first Porsche, the Type 356 in 1948, it was Ferry's personal involvement that made Porsche the internationally-renowned company it is today. For fifty years, Porsche has been famed with the general public for its sports cars, but, within the industry, it has also been known for its consulting work with other manufacturers, one of which was Studebaker. In 1952, Porsche had undertaken to develop a prototype for a possible Studebaker sedan. Completed in August of that year, the Type 542 was known around South Bend as the "Z-87" car. It used a 120-degree V6 engine and four-wheel-independent suspension. The engine was designed to be either air- or water-cooled, with air-cooled cylinder heads and water-cooled cylinders. This proved to be entirely too complicated in practice, so the 542 was supplanted by two alternatives 542L (luft/air) for air-cooled and 542W (wasser/water) for water-cooled.A running prototype was built in Germany and shipped to South Bend for testing, but met with a decidedly cool reception. It was not until early 1956, in fact, that Studebaker (by then Studebaker-Packard) got around to seriously considering it. A report was prepared by Studebaker-Packard engineering under the aegis of the director of experimental engineering, John Z. DeLorean. Yes, that would be the same John DeLorean who later built his OWN sports car and, whatever his other failings, DeLorean was, by all accounts, a brilliant engineer. He was also an American in an era when American car people tended to give short shrift to ideas that ran contrary to prevailing practices in Detroit. In this vein, DeLorean's report was highly critical of everything about the Porsche prototype that was distinctively European:

"Some excessive vertical shake was noted...There still remains considerable lateral movement and rear-end steering, with undesirable amounts of oversteer noted in moderate to hard cornering. There is uneven tire wear...The car steers quickly, but hard, and requires constant attention and correction for road wander. Cross-winds and slippery spots make driving tedious and rather dangerous..

"The radiator, grille, hood and deck slopes are quite steep and not in keeping with current American boxy-styling. The car is full width but rather short...It appears small and bug-like due to the sloping hood and squeezed-in rear fender treatment...

"This vehicle has a large amount of technical appeal, but a number of items need refinement to increase its overall appeal as a small car to the average American car buyer...The 1956 Champion or Commander is preferred to the Porsche [Z-87] for American driving..."

So, as might have been predicted, the Type 542/Z-87 went nowhere. Porsche also proposed a compact car much like the "square-back" Volkswagen that was built in the latter 1960s. It, too, failed to spark much interest in South Bend and that the end of the fruitless relationship between Porsche and Studebaker.

Turning Wheels, February 1977

An excerpt from "" ( Link below)

In February, 1959 Curtis-Wright bought a new Lark with a Champ 6 engine from a local dealer and modified it. A used engine from a 1953 Porsche was rebuilt by Porsche and installed along with the torsion-bar rear suspension and transaxle. Wheels and gear reduction boxes from a VW bus were used to optimize the drive line. This engine was placed in what had been the trunk of the Lark after removing the Champ 6 and automatic transmission from the front of the car. In addition, since Curtis-Wright had taken out a license to build Wankel rotary engines, an adapter was prepared to install a small Wankel engine in place of the Porsche engine. This car may have been the prototype for the sub-compact touted two years later.

Before the car could be fully tested and the rotary engine installed, the relationship between Curtis-Wright and Studebaker ended. The Lark was sold to a local New Jersey garage, then quickly resold twice more to car collectors. The car still survives and has occasionally appeared at car shows in New England. It retains the 1500 cc, 70 hp Porsche engine in the trunk. While the horsepower rating is less than the Champ 6 it replaced, the much lower weight of the Porsche engine and transmission help, but it is not a high-performance car. The engine produces peak horsepower at 5,000 rpm.

Images from the Studebaker Museum, May 2007

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