I’m curious what you think of the compact sedan pictured here, and I’m especially interested if you’re a longtime Studebaker enthusiast. Why? Because this was almost the future of Studebaker cars worldwide. Presenting the almost 1966 Studebaker Bellet, designed by Isuzu— the car that really might have saved the company.
By 1964, Studebaker car production for the U.S. and Canada was centered in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1965, the president of Studebaker Canada, Gordon Grundy, was searching for an import car to supplement the Studebakers his dealers were selling (and, possibly, an import that could be assembled in Canada). Studebaker Canada was already involved with importing foreign cars via a deal with Volkswagen of Canada, which was paying a hefty duty on cars brought in from Germany. With the new Canada/U.S. Auto Pact agreement, Studebaker was allowed to import any foreign car, duty-free. So, Grundy made a deal to import 31,600 VWs at a duty-free savings of $165 per car. These were sold to VW Canada at $150 profit per car, pocketing a net profit of $4.74 million—while VW saved $474,000. It was strictly a paper transaction, and all perfectly legal.
Looking for other ways to generate profits, Grundy met with Nissan in Japan to acquire the rights to sell Datsuns in North America. Some of the Datsuns would be badged as Studebakers, and eventually, even built in Canada. But, in the middle of negotiation, management instructed Grundy to break off talks with Nissan and pursue an arrangement with Toyota. The end result was that neither company wanted to do business with Studebaker. The lawyer behind this unfortunate debacle? Future U.S. president Richard Nixon.
Grundy next looked at the Prince, a Japanese auto they could offer as low as $1,895. Also investigated was the DAF line of cars; several were brought over from Europe for testing. In the end, neither Prince nor DAF were considered viable because they wouldn’t have appealed to enough Canadian drivers. But the next car investigated, the Isuzu Bellet, certainly would have.