That Time Porsche Secretly Designed and Built a Car for Studebaker

It's common knowledge that Porsche helped Audi create the insane RS2 Avant, and that Ferdinand Porsche was the mastermind behind the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. But did you know that Porsche designed and built a car for Studebaker?
1954 Porsche 542 prototype 7 photos
Photo: Porsche
1952 Porsche 530 prototype1954 Porsche 542 prototype1954 Porsche 542 prototype & Studebaker Champion1954 Porsche 542 prototype engine1954 Porsche 542 prototype1954 Porsche 542 prototype
This unlikely partnership happened in the 1950s. At the time, Porsche had been offering the 356 for a few years and was experimenting with new car designs, while Studebaker was on a rapid decline due to the Ford-GM price war. Here's what happened.

The cooperation reportedly began through famed New York automobile importer Max Hoffman. Close to both companies, he suggested that Studebaker could use Porsche's expertise for a brand-new automobile. With the American company struggling to keep up with the Big Three, it seemed like a good idea.

The second version of this story tells that Studebaker asked Porsche to design a new engine and that the German company simply built an entire car. Either way, the Porsche 530 was born and presented to Studebaker in 1952.

1952 Porsche 530 prototype
Photo: Porsche
Essentially a 356 with seating for four (the production car was a two-seater), the 530 featured a longer wheelbase and longer doors for easier access to the second row. The roof was also raised slightly toward the rear for enhanced second-row headroom.

Studebaker found no use for the four-seat coupe, but was impressed enough with Porsche's ideas to award the German company a contract for a different type of vehicle.

The company wanted something close to what was popular in the U.S., namely a four-door sedan with a conventional front-engined, rear-wheel-drive setup.

While rejected by Studebaker, the 530 went on to inspire the 754, a 1959 prototype that eventually morphed into the iconic 911.

1954 Porsche 542 prototype
Photo: Porsche
Porsche's brand-new car for Studebaker came to life in 1954. It was longer than anything else the company had built to date thanks to a 111-inch (2,819 mm) wheelbase, which was very similar to American midsize cars of the time.

But unlike every other Studebaker built by then, it had a unibody construction and independent suspension at all four corners.

Per Studebaker's request, Porsche used some of the American company's production components, including the hydraulic drum brakes, steering gear, electrical system, and the three-speed overdrive transmission. The engine, however, was designed from scratch by Porsche.

The Germans were using air-cooled boxer powertrains exclusively at the time, but Studebaker wanted a bigger, more powerful mill. Porsche put together a rather unconventional and wide-angled 120-degree V6. It displaced 186 cubic inches (3.0 liters) and delivered 106 horsepower.

1954 Porsche 542 prototype engine
Photo: Porsche
It was far more powerful than what Porsche had to offer at the time (except for the race-spec 550 Spyder) but on par with many American engines of the era. Porsche reportedly developed both air- and water-cooled versions of the V6 but went with the latter, which was a bit more powerful and slightly more affordable to produce.

Internally known as Type 542 at Porsche and Z-87 at Studebaker, the project spawned three prototypes. These were shipped to the U.S. in 1954 but were almost ignored for two years. With Studebaker on the verge of bankruptcy and working on a merger with Packard, Z-87 was no longer a priority.

Following the merger, it was decided that all future Studebaker products would be based on existing platforms.

The Porsche 542 was eventually analyzed in 1956, but Studebaker-Packard decided against greenlighting it for production. The prototypes were reportedly destroyed, which explains why there's not much proof of their existence beyond a few old photos.

1954 Porsche 542 prototype & Studebaker Champion
Photo: Studebaker
In hindsight, the 542 wasn't radically different than the fourth-generation Studebaker Champion that debuted in 1953, design-wise. It was only slightly smaller and shared some design cues. While decidedly European from certain angles, it wouldn't have looked out of place on American roads.

Studebaker eventually disappeared in 1967, and it's difficult to say if Porsche's design would have saved the company, but it's an interesting story that remained unknown for many years, because the Studebaker-Porsche partnership was a well-kept secret while the American company was still alive and kicking.

The 542 was also Porsche's very first four-door, having been built more than four decades before the Germans started experimenting with the four-door 928 and the 989 in the 1980s. And some 13 years before Troutman and Barnes built a custom 911 four-door for William Dick.
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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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