The Studebaker National Museum
The Studebaker National Museum
By Scott “Scooter” Strenzel
Studebaker did it right long before most of them were even around. A while back, Scooter was privy to check out this 50,000-square foot facility on Chapin Street in South Bend, IN. I have to give a heartfelt thanks to Jo, Andy and Drew for the red carpet treatment they gave me. In doing so, they gave me answers to any and all questions I could muster with a smile. Thank you.
OK, when walking inside the front doors you know right away this is going to be a class act. The museum store is right there with so much cool stuff, it would take half of the day just to come to grips with the number of things that you might be up for. Passing by that area, you are greeted by a large vintage dealership Lark neon sign, light up in red.
I have to stop here to remind all of you Auto/Truck Round-Up readers that Studebaker is a corporation that had 150 years of production. That fact takes them back to before the motor car was invented. Heck, I got to stand about a foot away from just a few of the Studebaker carriages for presidents like Abe Lincoln, and presidents, Harrison, McKinley, and Grant. That collection happens to be the largest collection of them in the world. They even have the exact carriage that President Lincoln rode in to attend the event that was his demise.
Then I saw a Studebaker Conestoga wagon, and a bunch of WW I and WW II vehicles with correct clothing and related period, proper artifacts. There are many other Studebaker military vehicles on display that saw service for five different wars back as far as the civil war. This floor was just one of the three that make up this fine facility. I was amazed of the collection that was on display on that same floor that was dubbed the “visible storage” area. Down there I saw a few proto type/concept car, including an air-cooled rear engine flat 4-cylinder Lark and wagon with a convertible roof that did see some production, plus a black and silver 2-door concept car with hidden headlights and either some or all fiberglass body parts, and it wasn’t an Avanti.
The list goes on in scores, like the 1909 electric-forward/backward dual-controlled car that the U.S. government had Studebaker build to be run in a tunnel that ran between the U.S. Senate building and the U.S. Capitol. Yes, Studebaker built over 1,800 electric vehicles between the years of 1902 and 1912.
Then I went back up to the entry-level displays. I’ll simply have try to just hit the high spots on what is there, as it would take a book the size of the Chicago yellow pages to type a paragraph about each different and unique Studebaker on display there. How about a 1924 all aluminum Light Six, blue coupe made in Shanghai, China? And a green one that did a whopping 25,000 miles in less than 23,000 minutes. Then there is a two-tone brown Studebaker that held the trans-continental record from New York to San Francisco in 77 hours and 40 minutes. I checked out a kind of mini-Hearse that was a special build to give children a youth-sized funeral vehicle to haul a smaller casket.
It just keeps going on every few steps that you take. There is a white rear door brass-lighted, wood-rimmed Studebaker with red leather interior that looked as classy and comfortable as a new MB.
It was then time to just sit down and gather up the notes and check the camera batteries. I would say that basically this is not a museum that just has a bunch of typical models we can see at local car shows. The 20’s and 30’s racecar row was impressive, as well as the record-holding, fiberglass-bodied Avanti; plus the Commander Studebaker car that appeared in the 1979 Muppet movie was on display. There were many of the late 40’s and 50’s examples of the famous Bullet Nose Studebakers on display as well. I saw many different years of the Golden Hawks, Larks and many super-charged models, and even a maroon 50’s woody wagon. The 30’s vehicles had some very appealing color combos that would rival today’s flashy stuff. And the ladies should be impressed with the Costume Case that has a stellar collection of correct-period costumes and related items. Golly, I’m just beginning and its word count limit time. If you are not a Studebaker owner, or if you happen to have a barn full of them, you deserve to check out this piece of automobile history.