Studebaker National Museum
My youngest son Alex and I went on an extended father-son road trip this summer which included a stop at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. The Museum presents the story of Studebaker, from its origins as the country's largest manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles, through its transition to the "horseless carriage" business, all the way to its valiant last stand as an independent carmaker in the early 1960s. The collection covers that history thoroughly, with examples of Studebaker vehicles ranging from a Conestoga wagon to an Avanti II.
I would have enjoyed the Museum greatly if it had just been Alex and I, but we were extremely fortunate to be accompanied by my fellow Car Lust contributor Virgil M. Exner, Jr. Mr. Exner and his famous father both worked for Studebaker at various times in their careers--and if one of them didn't have a hand in designing a particular car in the collection, Mr. Exner at least knew the people who did! Needless to say, having him with us made the experience even richer.
So let's start the tour.
This 1964 Gran Turismo Hawk was parked outside the Museum.
The first floor gallery covers the period from the founding of Studebaker to just before World War II.
This 1855 Conestoga wagon is the oldest surviving Studebaker vehicle. It was available with an optional six-oxpower drivetrain for off-roading and heavy duty applications.
The collection of horse-drawn vehicles includes three Presidential carriages. This one was used by Ulysses S. Grant.
Studebaker got into the "horseless carriage" business initially by marketing cars built by the Everitt-Metzker-Flanders Company of Detroit, which Studebaker eventually acquired. These cars were sold under the "E-M-F" and "Flanders" brand names until 1913, and as "Studebakers" thereafter. This is a 1910 E-M-F.
'37 Phaeton 1935 Commander Roadster is one of Mr. Exner's particular favorites. You can see why.
This '47 Champion in the upstairs gallery was styled by Virgil M. Exner, Sr.
The styling was done by Robert Bourke of Raymond Loewy's design studio, but attributed to Loewy himself in advertising and other official pronouncements because he was better known to the public. As a result, the Starliner and the very similar Starlight are often referred to as the "Loewy coupes."
Sophisticated and timeless: give it a modern drivetrain, a few cupholders, and an iPod adapter, and you could sell it as a 2010 model.
The 1956-64 Hawks were derived from the Loewy coupes--they received a "radiator" grille and other styling tweaks, including tail fins for a few years. I prefer the cleaner look of the 1953-54 original, but the Hawks do have their own particularly jazzy kind of charm. Three of them are displayed in a simulated car-hop restaurant.
This 1956 President sedan exemplifies the loaf-of-bread-with-headlights look of the mid Fifties.
One of the few non-Studebakers in the collection is the dramatic 1956 Packard Predictor show car.
Here we see the record-setting supercharged terror-of-the-Bonneville-salt-flats '63 Avanti.
The Museum is hosting a special exhibit of Harley-Davidsons through March of 2010, which is why you see so many motorcycles in some of these photos.
In the basement, there's a display of military vehicles, including some Studebaker army wagons and this M29 Weasel amphibious tractor.
This is also the location of the "open storage" area, which holds cars that are awaiting restoration, or have been rotated out of the main display area to make room for other things. The ones on the top level, like this prewar Champion, are a little hard to see.
This is also where you'll find some quirky non-production cars like this experimental Lark with a rear-mounted Porsche engine:
This 1963 prototype open-bed commercial truck caught my fancy. The windshield is canted slightly forward at the top; otherwise, it's pretty much just a collection of flat panels meeting at 90-degree angles. The extreme square-ness gives it a certain goofy yet functional charm, and, as Mr. Exner observed, the production tooling would have been dirt cheap.
The Studebaker National Museum, at 201 South Chapin Street in South Bend, is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, except holidays. It's co-located with the Northern Indiana Center For History, which is well worth a visit in itself.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner