Rare, 1960 Studebaker
Champ pickup truck
BY Antelope Valley Press
A confirmed hot rod/high-performance, custom car and drag racing enthusiast who enjoys building and racing cars, including his nostalgia top fuel dragster, Dennis Tetu is a former Hawthorne police officer and longtime AV resident. He believes in active participation in community service and has served on the Littlerock Town Council.
Over the years we’ve featured a number of his custom and high-performance vehicles, both cars and trucks. Here, we are featuring another of his classic vehicles: a rare, half-ton 1960 Studebaker Champ pickup truck that is very unusual because it is half-truck and half-car. The front end and cab are from Studebaker’s Lark passenger car, while the eight-foot-long bed (at least for 1960) was pure Studebaker truck. (From 1961 to 1964 Studebaker utilized Dodge pickup beds).
Studebaker Corp. was for many, many years a well-regarded and top American automobile manufacturer. The company provided a long line of stylish and memorable cars and trucks, including the Studebaker Lark, which was introduced in 1959, took top honors in automotive design and brought the company a considerable profit during the Lark’s production run from 1959 to 1964.
The Studebaker Champ was a light-duty pickup truck produced by Studebaker from 1960 to 1964. Designed at a time when Studebaker’s truck line hadn’t seen major upgrading in more than 10 years, the company, which had endured years of declining sales, was forced to use a number of existing components, but the result was impressive. With a cab based on a sedan body, the Champ was among the first pickups to offer true “car-like” comfort, with a wide, comfortable bench seat and a handsomely styled interior. Other manufacturers took until the late 1960s and early 1970s to follow the Champ’s lead.
Tetu said that he had looked for one of these early Studebaker trucks for a long time. But the trucks were known to retain water, their floorboards and fenders tended to rust out, and most of the trucks he looked at weren’t really restorable. Then one day, while he was involved with a community cleanup operation, a man drove in with a load of trash in the back of his pickup truck, which happened to be the very vehicle we are discussing today. Dennis asked the man if he wanted to sell his truck, but the man said no; he used it for hauling trash and hay and wasn’t interested in selling. Then, about four months later, Dennis saw him once more and again asked him if he would like to sell. This time the man said yes. His wife, the man explained, didn’t like driving the truck with no power steering and the three-speed, column-mounted transmission (three on the tree). Dennis and the truck’s owner talked, arrived at a price and soon the truck belonged to Dennis, who took it home and began working on it to repair the rusted floorboards and fenders.
Studebaker equipped the Champ with engines that had served well in the company’s lineup for years. From the start of production, those desiring V8 power could choose between Studebaker’s 259 cubic-inch (the motor in Dennis’ truck) and 289 cubic-inch engines with either a two- or four-barrel carburetor. Dennis’ truck has an oil-bath air cleaner (great for dusty roads) and an oil filter ideally and logically mounted on the top and front of the engine, where you can easily access it to change it.
A wide variety of transmissions, both manual and automatic, were available in Champs. Base models came with a three-speed column-mounted manual (aka, three on the tree), with four- and five-speeds optional, as well as overdrive (with the three-speed, which is what is on Dennis’ truck). The rear end is completely stock.
Interior of the Studebaker Champ is slightly customized and includes a gray/blue fabric split bench seat and matching carpets that Dennis took out of his old ’76 El Camino. The dash, done in two-tone red and black, also has the original radio, which features red metal-flake Moon tuning knobs from the 1960s. The gas pedal is also an old-style, real “surfer foot” gas pedal.
Originally red, Dennis’ Studebaker Champ pickup is now painted in Red Oxide primer. It has a sliding rear window in the cab, which was introduced in the Studebaker Champ pickups and is now standard in most modern pickups. It has the aforementioned long eight-foot bed, which is in excellent condition (probably due to having a full-sized camper covering it for many years), black California plates with yellow letters and a license plate frame from Tate Motors in Pomona; and reproduction three-bar Olds Fiesta-style hubcaps.