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Up for a Lark in a ’62 police Studebaker

Studebaker Lark

The Australian-assembled Studebaker Lark was a much-loved patrol car on 1960s streets. This example’s now driven by a man once chased by them.

Picture the scene: it’s the early 1960s and a larrikin, 17-year-old Mick Brown is driving his hotted-up FJ Holden.
Looming large in the rearview mirror is an imposing Studebaker Lark. Worst of all, its roof-top blue light is rolling round and the siren’s blaring.

Pull over, young fella.

Thing is, Mick can steer a bit. And today he’s not keen on explaining to a walloper why he was a few miles over the limit.

“I got away from him because I knew the area,” he said.
“I raced up to my father’s place but left the FJ outside the shed because his trucks and cars were in there.
“The copper went up and down the street for half an hour with a searchlight going, trying to find me. He eventually walked up the driveway and put his hand on my bonnet.
“The next three times I was parked up in town, he booked me. Taught me a lesson.”

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You’d have thought the big American Studebaker would be permanently in Mick’s bad books after that, but not so. This former racing driver and mechanic is now the one in charge of the lights and siren, albeit for fun rather than patrolling highways.

Boys in blue

His police-issue 1962 Lark was Wangaratta-based from December ’62 until early 1964, and looks resplendent in powder blue Victorian Police colour. This restored and preserved Studebaker proudly displays its past life with rooftop blue light, two more bolted to the front bumper, and a bonnet-mount air-raid-type siren. Remember when Australian cop cars were this graceful, elegant and rich with chrome?

These days you’re hauled in by a BMW diesel or Kia Stinger – speeders back in the 1960s were at least pulled over in style. Studebakers were brought to Australia in the inter-war years, but never in great numbers. They remained a rarity through the 1950s, but in 1960, Melbourne firm Canada Cycle & Motor Co. assembled CKD (complete knock-down) Lark
kits, dramatically reducing its price for Australians.
The Lark was well suited to Aussie conditions with its (for the time) powerful V8 engine, strong acceleration and in-vogue US styling. The quad headlights, very Mercedes-Benz-like radiator grille, wrap-around rear glass, circular taillights and twin exhausts must’ve turned heads of many who’d have otherwise picked an EJ Holden.

A thumping bent-eight in the Lark sealed the deal for any buyer hungry for decent displacement. The police recognised the Lark’s potential too, soon employing them for wireless patrol and traffic control.
Much like today’s police specials, a few choice tweaks were optioned to make them fit for purpose. Most significant was ditching the normal 4.2-litre (259cu in) V8 for the 4.7-litre (289cu in) V8 about to go in the Studebaker GT Hawk.

Just like that, the Victorian Police had a sedan able to reel in tyrants at up to 180kph. They were in control too, with the auto transmission eschewed in favour of a three-speed manual. Mick showed me a copy of his car’s original production order.

Other ‘special features’ included heavy-duty ‘finned’ drum brakes, heavy-duty clutch, rear axle and frame. The steering wheel listed as ‘Deluxe’ in taupe and white (it’s larger than a normal Lark’s, too), while the instrument cluster and speedo are ‘Regal’ style, with aficionados recognising police Larks have a black-face speedo with thinner red needle.

“I’d been looking for one for a while,” Mick said of his police Studebaker Lark.
“This one came up at a Melbourne auction and had been restored by a former Victorian police guy to a high standard.”

The resto, by former Detective Inspector Ian Meates, was a six-year job completed in 1998.

Into Mick’s custody

Some 25 years later his work still holds up well. Ian bought the Studebaker Lark for $1000, took it apart, performed extensive rust repairs, had it bare-metal resprayed, and rebuilt the engine.
He then sourced and re-fitted all the police bits to reflect this Studebaker’s original start in life. Mick recognised it as a good ‘un, and snapped it up a few years ago to join his hotted-up 1967 Holden HR Premier and original 1955 Holden FJ sedan.

The old Studebaker’s in good hands. Mick started his mechanic’s apprenticeship, aged only 14, at a Mosman Volkswagen dealer, before eventually running his own workshops in northern and western Sydney. The 77-year-old prepared and raced his own cars too, winning the 1972 NSW rallycross championship (second division) and competing as a privateer – driving solo – at the 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Mount Panorama.

Like a young chap called Peter Brock also racing that day (solo as well, but for the Holden Dealer Team), Mick was in a Holden Torana GTR XU-1. After seven hours of flat-out racing, Mick placed 22nd and only nine laps down on Allan Moffat’s winning XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III.

Yep, there was some pretty valuable metal in that race.

“I was electronically timed at 137mph (220kph) down Conrod Straight,” Mick recalled.
“In those days, there was a hump at the bottom of Conrod, and the front wheels used to come off the ground. It was bloody scary.”

That, combined with seven hours with no support driver taking over, underlines the balls-out heroism of previous generation racers.

“I was absolutely buggered by the end of it,” Mick said.

Breaking out

His age and some health problems have curtailed how much mechanical work he can do these days, but Mick said the Lark is a simple thing to maintain.

“I’ve got a hoist at home and still do a fair bit myself, but the old body won’t do everything anymore,” he said.
“The thing I enjoy about it now is getting the work finished.”

Mick’s proved a fine custodian, making sure he gets the Lark to car events for the public to enjoy. Kids and adults of all ages are drawn to the imposing American sedan; its dash-mounted ‘Police’ plaque and blue lights proving irresistible. Unlike today’s cop cars coated in shouty, bright stickers, the Studebaker Lark is far more ‘protect and serve’ approachable. Its giant rear bench seat is a lovely stretch-out offering: if you ended up back here, at least the naughty step was comfortable. Mick reached inside and activated the Studebaker’s party pieces.

A panel in the brown dashboard is fitted with ‘Dome’ (blue lights) and ‘Siren’ switches to have the car in full pursuit mode, making a few baby boomers jump as they recall memories from tearaway teenage years spent at high speed. Beneath the dash is a period AWA valve-type VHF two-way radio with beautiful ‘Carphone Junior’ red lettering.
The authenticity there is a credit to its restorer and subsequent owners. In the front window there’s even a genuine State of Victoria sticker, stating December 1963 was the last month it was registered by the boys in blue. From the start of 1964, this Lark was retired for civilian duties, as it still performs today.

“It’s a great cruiser, but not one you’d drive around town all day,” Mick explained.
“It’s got no power steering, which is even heavier these days due to the radial tyres. Back in the day you’d have the old cross-plies.”

It doesn’t dissuade Mick from driving it whenever he can, no doubt with a cheeky smile on his face remembering how he managed to outrun one over 60 years ago.

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