The 1964 Studebaker Daytona conceded little to any
fast-moving midsize car on the street, and their low production
numbers make them scarce collector vehicles today.
Designer Brooks Stevens effected more than a facelift when he created the new Studebaker Daytona hardtop in 1964. The crisp, squared-off roof that Stevens grafted onto the now 4-year-old Lark body looked every bit as up-to-date as Chevy’s equally angular Impala. Of course, the Daytona was narrower than a full-size Chevy (Studebaker’s basic body stampings dated back to 1953 and most American cars had grown substantially wider over the intervening decade), but its size fit nicely with the new intermediates.
What really made the Daytona stand out were the performance options available. Lacking money for frequent styling changes, Studebaker had attempted to garner attention through performance with its Hawk coupes and the stunning Avanti. Studebaker’s overhead-valve V-8, first introduced in 1951, had been a farsighted enough design that more than a dozen years later it was being boosted to outputs exceeding 1 hp per cubic inch.
Studebaker designated its high-output V-8s as the R-series engines. The “base” R1 engine developed 240 hp from a 289-cid displacement. Next came the R2, also a 289, but equipped with a supercharger for a rated 289 hp. The R3, also supercharged and with a slightly larger displacement of 304.5 cid, gave a power rating of 335 hp. The final engine in this series, dubbed the R4, ran two four-barrel carburetors without supercharging for a rated 280 hp. It was this engine that Studebaker selected to create a street “sleeper” from its docile-looking Daytona hardtop.
With a top speed of 132 mph and 0-to-60 acceleration of 7.8 seconds, Studebaker’s R4 Daytona could show its taillights to any production sedan. Its performance was rivaled only by that of the Pontiac GTO, which was also released in 1964. As might be expected, performance carried a mileage penalty. An R4 Daytona owner could expect little more than 12 to 14 mpg. With a total carburetor venturi area of 13 inches, the Daytona’s 304.5-cid engine was capable of gulping plenty of fuel.
Performance cars of the 1950s and 1960s have a great reputation for going like lightning in a straight line, but come to a corner and watch out. To give the Daytona some measure of road-handling ability, Studebaker fit it with an Avanti suspension package that consisted of stiffer springs and shocks, anti-roll bars front and rear, and front disc brakes. To glue the engine’s power to the pavement, these performance cars came standard with traction bars and a limited-slip differential. To put the R4’s power to pleasurable use, Studebaker fitted its hot Daytona model with a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission.
Not many performance Daytonas were built (besides the R4, other R series engines could also be optioned) making them one of the least known and rarest of muscle cars—a real “sleeper” even today.