There’s more to South Bend than Notre Dame football. The Indiana town is also the birthplace of Studebaker, and today it’s the home of the Studebaker National Museum.
The Studebaker brothers were compulsive collectors. They saved everything, including the Conestoga Wagon that brought them from Pennsylvania to South Bend, where they started a blacksmith shop in 1852. Soon, Henry and Clem were supplying hundreds of wagons to the Union Army, and the Studebakers became the country’s largest wagon builders. When the company entered the automobile business in 1902, Studebaker was already a half-century old.
But all things pass, and when the Studebaker Corporation. ceased to exist in 1966, the company donated to the people of South Bend the sum total of over a century of never throwing anything away, including that same Conestoga Wagon, 30 other vehicles and the records of the former Studebaker and Packard companies. This trove became the core of a nonprofit center dedicated to the preservation of Studebaker history, the Studebaker National Museum.
In 2005 the museum moved into a beautiful new facility with three floors of exhibit space and a common entrance with the Northern Indiana Center for History. You can find more info, including visiting hours, admission prices, and directions here at the museum’s website.
A quick heads-up: Photography here is a challenge. The galleries are very dimly lit, presumably to reduce ultraviolet exposure, which is great for the artifacts, but can be troublesome for cameras, or for middle-aged eyeballs for that matter. Also, the vehicles and the huge assortment of associated memorabilia are jammed in tightly together on the display floor, making it difficult to get a clear, unobstructed shot at any one thing in particular.
All that said, you will see vehicles here you can’t find anywhere else because they don’t exist anywhere else, including:
+ The fabulous but doomed 1956 Packard Predictor concept, star of that year’s Chicago Auto Show
+ Two unusual 1962 Studebaker prototypes constructed by Pichon-Parat of France, each with two-door and four-door configurations on opposite sides
+ A 1959 Lark test mule with a complete rear-engine Porsche engine and drivetrain transplant commissioned by Curtiss-Wright
+ Three Studebaker Indy cars from 1932 and 1933, when the Speedway’s production-based junkyard formula was in effect
…and much, much more from the Studebaker historic collection. Here’s a small sample in the slide show below.