While visiting the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana this week, I can’t say I was expecting to find anything inside that might be even tangentially Porsche-related. While Studebaker did contract Porsche to build a few prototypes, including a front-engine V6 sedan in the early-1950s, none ever came to pass. This is not that car, nor was it commissioned by either Studebaker or Porsche. It is a 1959 Studebaker Lark powered by a 1500cc Porsche 356 engine stuck out back.
As the story goes, New Jersey-based Curtiss-Wright purchased the Lark for the engineering exercise, and stripped it of its original front-engine/rear-drive running gear. Using the 60-ish horsepower Porsche engine and some Volkswagen Bus bits, the firm cobbled together a rear-engine aircooled Lark. Considering the “compact” Lark was quite a bit bigger and heavier than a 356, and its smallest engine from the factory—a 170 cubic inch inline six—produced around 90 horsepower, the aircooled Lark could hardly be considered quick or sporty. Heck, at the time Studebaker offered a V8-powered Lark that could sprint from zero to sixty in under 10 seconds, a major feat for the late 1950s. I fear this Porsche-powered Lark may not have been able to even achieve sixty!
In any case, Curtiss-Wright had recently won the rights to produce Wankel-style rotary engines in the U.S. under contract from German automaker NSU. The company planned to use the engines in aircraft, but some believe that this Porsche-Stude mashup was intended to be a prototype for a new rear-engine rotary-powered American compact. Curtiss-Wright engineers developed a fuel tank and spare tire mount system in the Lark’s original engine compartment which looked perhaps production-ready, and removed the transmission tunnel from the car to demonstrate the flat-floor comforts afforded by moving the engine to the back.
The prototype never made it beyond that stage, obviously, and the car was quickly forgotten about. Perhaps it was a pet project of someone at Curtiss-Wright, or perhaps it was a quick hodge-podge that nobody took any notes about, but there’s very little documentation about this car out in the world. Apparently it was sold off as a regular old used car. These days it sits in the lower gallery open storage of the Studebaker museum, telling its untold story. And a weird one at that. If you’re ever in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop in and check out this oddball of Porsche-adjacent history.