Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to have some fun in the process. Today’s feature is one of the last gasps of greatness from that great South Bend, Indiana car maker, Studebaker. This entry into the Garage isn’t just one model, it is actually two, powered by the same engine, that could be ordered directly from the factory in any Studebaker produced at that time. We are talking about the R-2 Super Lark, and the R-2 Super Hawk.
Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert was having trouble getting his stunning new Avanti into full-scale production. So in order to capitalize on the high-performance components that had been developed for the Avanti under the supervision of Andy Granatelli, Egbert decided in early 1963 that some of this equipment should be made available to buyers of both the Gran Turismo Hawk and the Lark.
There were two new engines, both derived from Studebaker’s respected 289-cubic inch V-8. Known as the R-l and R-2, both powerplants were fitted with special camshafts and extra stout bearings. There were two other engines produced later on, the 304.5-cubic-inch R-3 and R-4, but neither was produced in significant numbers.
The R-1, fed by a four-barrel carburetor and boasting a compression ratio of 10.25:1, was rated at 240 horsepower. But it was the R-2 that we are concentrating on here. In this application, the compression ratio settled in at a more modest 9.0:1, but the engine boasted a Paxton centrifugal supercharger supplying between five-and-a-half and six pounds of pressure. This engine developed 289 horsepower from 289 cubic inches.
Other options included a Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission (or a heavy-duty Borg-Warner three-speed automatic), heavy-duty suspension, rear stabilizer bar, limited-slip differential, and caliper-type front disc brakes. All of these items became available at mid-year in the “Super Lark” package, which was priced at $766.70.
The result was an automobile unlike any previous Studebaker. Various buff books drove a Super Lark equipped with automatic, and clocked the 0-60-mph run in just 7.8 seconds. Another magazine testing a 1964 R-2 with a four-speed gearbox, shaved half a second off that figure. The standing quarter mile came up in just 15.8 seconds, with a trap speed of 90 miles per hour. Top speed was clocked at 123 mph. Andy Granatelli had already driven an R-2 with more favorable gearing to 132.04 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Beginning mid-1963, the R2 ‘Super Lark’ option turned a lowly 2-door Lark into the fastest compact car in the US. The Super Lark was popular with people who did not have the money to spend on an Avanti but still wanted a Studebaker with high performance. In 1964 Studebaker phased out the Lark name and changed to the names Challenger, Commander, Daytona, and Cruiser. They were still called ‘Larks’ by the public, and the hi-po versions were still officially ‘Super Larks’. Although the Studebaker’s Super Lark, known as possibly the first muscle car, was an impressive, high-performance automobile, it was produced a little too late to save the company. No more Super Larks were built after the closing of the South Bend plant in December of 1963.
The R2 Super Hawk also debuted in mid-1963, and was capable of laying down a 0-60 times in 8.5 seconds with an automatic transmission. The Super Hawk package included the R-2 supercharged V-8, four-speed manual transmission, Avanti wheels with 6.50-15 tires, front anti-roll bar, rear track rods, front disc brakes and heavy-duty springs and shocks. During a series of USAC-timed endurance runs, a Super Hawk managed a top speed of 140 mph. The year was 1963, and the Pontiac GTO wasn’t produced yet. In its December 1963 issue, Motor Sport Illustrated tested an R-2 Gran Turismo Hawk with the four-speed transmission and 3.31 rear gears. Performance was blistering: 0-60 in 6.7, quarter-mile in 14.4 and a top speed estimated to be in the vicinity of 150 mph. All for less than $4,000.
The Super Lark and the Super Hawk may have been too little, and it was too late, at least to help save Studebaker. But they were nonetheless impressive performers and stellar values for the type of no-holds-barred, high-performance machine that would later come to be known as the “Muscle Car.”
So for the first time in this series, I am nominating two entries into the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage… The Studebaker R-2 Super Lark, and the Studebaker R-2 Super Hawk. This will be reflected in the voting, as you can vote for both, neither, or each one separately. All I have to add is this: Are they worthy entrants to the Garage?
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