For its owner, Studebaker truck is a true Champ

Michael Petti |

Studebaker made a truck in the 1960s? Yup, but you
won’t see many of these 1962 Champs around.
This rare rig belongs to Delaware resident Brian Tappan.

Like cats, some vehicles have nine lives. Brian Tappan’s 1962 Champ has already had several.

Although Tappan’s father had a 1957 Studebaker Hawk, his dad also wanted a Studebaker Champ. The Champ was Studebaker’s light-duty pickup from 1960 through 1964. It shared its front sheet metal with the 1959 Lark four-door sedan, while the Champ’s chassis design dated back to the 1949 Studebaker pickup. The original bed also came from the ’49 pickup. As such, the first Champs had old-fashioned, ’40s-style pontoon fenders.

Basically, the Champ was new skin on old bones, because Studebaker was financially strapped. With the rapid and revolutionary style changes occurring on cars and pickups during the 1950s, Studebaker’s 10-year-old-styled pickup looked like a relic by 1959. Hence, the contemporary ’59 Lark body was also used to form a cab for Studebaker’s Champ pickup.
Whereas the Lark automobile visually changed over the years, the Champ did not. In direct contrast, for its five-year model run, the Champ kept the ’59 Lark shell.

Beginning in 1961, a modern-looking slab-sided box was offered in addition to the old-style pickup box. The new box was called “Spaceside” and became standard equipment in 1962. The Champ that Tappan eyed had this box.

The Spaceside bed also had a previous life. Studebaker sourced these boxes only from Dodge, as it was originally the box used on 1959 and 1960 Dodge pickups. Studebaker bought the old Dodge tooling from Chrysler as a cost-saving measure.

Like other Champs with the Spaceside box, the slab-sided box on Brian’s truck is wider than the cab. Also, the character line on the box does not match up evenly with the character line on the cab. The cobbled-up appearance was a result of Studebaker being forced to leave the Dodge box “as is” to reduce design costs.

Finding the perfect Champ
Like a good son, Brian searched classifieds in his local Delaware newspapers in his quest for a Champ. His diligent search eventually paid off when he spotted an ad for a 1962 Champ.

When the owner, Andy Collison, opened the garage door, Tappan could not believe the condition of the Champ. The pickup sported a cab-off-frame restoration, so instead of buying a new truck for his land-surveying business, Andy used the reconditioned Champ as his rolling calling card and workhorse.

Tappan’s dad got his wish — he got a Champ. For five years, Brian’s father displayed the ’57 Hawk and ’62 Champ together at the Daytona Turkey Run.

During a hurricane, a tree came down on the building where the Champ was stored and the Spaceside bed was significantly damaged. After being repaired, the Champ left its leisurely life in sunny Florida and returned to Delaware, taking on a new life as Tappan’s daily driver.

Although the ’62 Champ is several decades old, Tappan has no trouble keeping up with highway traffic. His Champ has a 259-cid V-8 with a four-barrel churning out 195 hp. Power-wise, this engine was a step up from the 110-hp six-cylinder engine, but it was a notch below the new-for-’62 V-8 with 289 cubic inches. That engine was able to produce 210- or 225-hp, depending upon the carburetor used.

Campaigning the Champ

Because of soaring insurance costs, the ’62 Champ was again retired as a daily driver and took on a new life as a show vehicle once again, being displayed at shows with Tappan’s ’65 Plymouth Barracuda. Again, spectators are now able see the unique characteristics of the Champ.

Some of those spectators who examine Tappan’s truck make note of its sliding rear window. Few probably realize that the Champ was the first pickup to offer this feature. While peeking inside, the “three-on-the-tree” manual transmission column shift is noticeable. Also available in 1962 were an automatic and a four-speed manual with a floor-shift control. Tappan pointed out that his Champ has factory overdrive, which makes a significant difference keeping up with traffic.

When walking around the truck, it’s obvious that the front bumper is stronger than the one used on the Lark. It also stands out several inches, while the Lark bumper is flush with the body sheet metal on the passenger car. The front bumper on Tappan’s pickup looks like it is falling off, because most of it is below the body. This was because the Lark front clip rode several inches higher on the truck chassis. One can see the indentations where the Lark bumper would fit snuggly on the front of the Champ. Because Studebaker needed to penny-pinch, money was not available to alter the front sheet metal stamping.

All model years of the Champ had four horizontal bars, instead of the Lark’s mesh grille, thus giving the truck a more rugged look. Base Champs came with the bars painted white; however, Tappan’s pickup is of a higher trim level and has chrome bars.
When Tappan goes to shows, he often notices questionable expressions on spectators’ faces when they see his truck. They often ask, “What is it?” When he replies, they say: “I didn’t know Studebaker made a truck.” For that reason alone, we’re very lucky Tappan’s Champ is back on car-show duty.
 

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