Let’s open the floodgates of the American performance car debate, specifically when the first regular production examples emerged from assembly plants. While many will quickly give a nod to Pontiac’s 1964 GTO, others will suggest the bar was raised in a far different era. The Stutz Bearcat from the Teens is a perfect early candidate. So, too, is Buick’s Century, introduced in 1936: It was a true midsize car that made use of the larger Roadmaster’s more-powerful straight-eight engine; it was reportedly capable of hitting 100 mph under the right conditions. Then, of course, there was the 1949 Oldsmobile 88, featuring the high-output Rocket V-8 engine that tore up drag strips and stock car circuits alike. Was Hudson’s Twin-H powerplant, nestled in the Hornet, a more suitable candidate, or, perhaps, Detroit’s explosion of elaborate fuel induction systems in 1957? Let’s pause here and review a handful of arguably-muscular options from the year in our latest edition of This or That, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.
It’s no secret that Chrysler Corporation set the NASCAR circuit on fire in 1955 and ’56, thanks to team principals like Lee Petty and Carl Kiekhaefer, the latter of whom amassed an astounding 52 wins as team owner, along with 52 poles and 139 top-10 finishes by 11 drivers in just a combined 190 starts–a NASCAR record at the time. At the dawn of the 1957 season, Kiekhaefer and his teams were gone, but not the powerful Mopars he loved to prepare for racing, such as this 1957 Chrysler 300C. Although the upscale and freshly restyled performance model was no longer a contender on the track – it went winless in ’57 – it was a winner at the dealership when 1,918 hardtops found new buyers, bolstered by the sale of 484 convertibles. The base price for each was $4,929 and $5,359 respectively (or $46,517 and $50,575 today), but that price also netted a standard 375-hp 392-cu.in. V-8 engine, its output made possible by a pair of four-barrel carburetors. According to the scant description provided by the seller of this hardtop:
If there is a vehicle that built the American economy, it is arguably the pickup. Consider its versatility in basic light-duty form: Farmers could bring their humble harvest to market in the same design that enabled store owners to deliver goods to households in both the cities and suburbs with efficient ease. Everything from animal feed, to building supplies, to small appliances could be transported, and it didn’t take long for adventurous outdoorsmen to convert their coveted workhorse into a weekend camper with a clever aftermarket add-on. Its evolution continues today, serving family needs in more powerful and luxurious ways than once envisioned. Meanwhile, the more vintage steeds have become a hot commodity among old vehicle enthusiasts, so in our latest edition of This or That, we bring you four half-tons from the Sixties to ponder for your dream garage – all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.
Up first is a pickup that regular readers of our Hemmings Classic Car magazine may recognize: this 1961 Studebaker Champ Deluxe, which appeared in the May 2019 issue, as well as our 2020 Hemmings Vintage Trucks calendar. Studebaker’s half-ton Champ was introduced to the truck market in 1960, and while it may have appeared as an all-new light-duty hauler at first blush, the company’s lack of engineering funds meant that the outgoing model – the Scotsman – was, on the surface, given a new name with a facelift, courtesy of the Lark sedan. Aside from the cab’s front end, save for a four-bar grille versus a mesh design, the Lark’s instrument panel was carried forward to the Champ, too. Two upgrades highlighted our featured ’61 model year: The use of a 110-hp, 170-cu.in. six-cylinder engine in base trim, and the “Spaceside” cargo box. The latter was made possible thanks to old tooling obtained from Dodge, which accounted for the mismatched cab/cargo box body transition. According to the seller of this Champ:
his 1961 Studebaker Champ Deluxe pickup is a nicely restored example. If you are a fan of the Hemmings Vintage Trucks Calendar, it was used for the July 2020 page. The red paint has the vibrant look of a modern quality respray, so the sunlight shows off the well-done bodywork as the Lark-inspired front end flows into a muscular bed design. And speaking of the bed, the finish applied over the oak wood on the bed floor and removable side stakes has a gloss that rivals the paint. This has upgraded chrome on the bumpers, grille, and side trim. The wheels have classic Studebaker hubcaps, and the whitewalls coordinate with the body’s white pinstripe. It’s believed Studebaker produced less than 7,700 consumer pickups across the entire line in 1961. The exterior red returns inside. It’s now joined by a tasteful black on the seat, carpeting, and dash. The experience inside this pickup is truly authentic, right down to the large dual-spoke steering wheel that gives a clear view to the correct classic gauges. The AM radio still cranks out tunes and the heater works. Plus, this one has the rare sliding rear window option. The engine bay has an authentic 170 cubic-inch straight-six backed by a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission.