Inside of this nondescript building is a treasure. At least some people would consider it a treasure. For this building contains the historical archives of the Studebaker Corporation. And it is more than you might think.
I had heard of these archives before, but truthfully, even an Indiana Stude homer like me sort of yawned. A bunch of papers with board meeting minutes and old payroll records just didn’t sound that interesting. But I was recently allowed inside and saw that it is so much more.
On a visit to the Museum this past summer with Tom Klockau, I decided to play the Curbside Classic Editor card to see if there were any curtains that I might get to peek behind. All for you good readers, you know. I was quickly contacted by Andrew Beckman, Archivist for the Studebaker National Museum. He offered to take me on a tour of the archives, an offer that I quickly accepted.
Automobile manufacturers have found a lot of ways to go out of business. In most of those ways, a company either goes completely away, or it is bought by someone else. In both of those cases, company files have a way of disappearing. In the former case, there is nobody left to care as suddenly unemployed people scramble for new jobs and creditors take over and clean out facilities. In the latter case, legacy documents are often considered a burden by the new owners and are either disposed of or severely culled.
But Studebaker was not like most other companies. I know – you already knew that. Studebaker was a conservative company that never strayed from its hometown headquarters, so there was little reason to clean out old files. Also, the company did not completely go away, and to the extent that the automobile business did, it did so in a somewhat organized way, with a parts operation and the Avanti company that sort of continued in place. There was also a pretty active owner base that kept a flame of interest burning for the brand. All in all, Studebaker might have a better collection (at least as a percentage of all that was ever churned out) than a company like Chrysler that has lost a good part of its historical collection over a series or ownership changes.
The happy result is that the large collection of closets, garages, offices and warehouses that contained over one hundred years of documents, pictures, and files of all kinds was largely saved.
Let’s talk engineering drawings. Do you need the dimensions for a fog light assembly for your 1942 Stude? Well, here you go. The Archives contain innumerable drawings of parts of all kinds, going back to when Studebaker was building nothing but vehicles powered by one-horsepower, solid-emissions propulsion. As in horses.
Even better are the logs of part numbers and their revisions, allowing you to trace through the multiple improvements in a part. So if your get-rich plan requires you to dash off a run of replacement cylinder heads for a 1923 Big Six, you are probably in luck, because all of the necessary drawings should be right here.
Even better, a good deal of drawings from Packard are contained here as well, as most of those drawings were evidently shipped to South Bend when Studebaker-Packard closed the Detroit facilities. The one problem on the Packard drawings, according to Andrew, is that the Archives lacks the cross-reference documents by which later part numbers relate back to an earlier design. So while the Packard drawing might be there, it is only indexed under the original part number and not under any later numbers which referred to often minor revisions to the original.
In addition to the trove of drawings, the Archives contain box upon box upon box of advertising materials, technical service bulletins, photographs, films and other things that I am not even thinking of. Three floors worth of stuff like this qualifies as a treasure trove to me, anyhow. And as money becomes available, more and more of the old documents are cataloged, organized, and reproduced on modern media so as to become available to those involved in all kinds of Studebakery.
One of the best-known things available from the Archives is each car’s individual production order. This example would have been quite a car, a white 1963 Daytona hardtop with a Skytop sunroof, R-1 Jet Thrust 289 V8 and air conditioning (for Minnesota, no less). This one even appears to be a case where the owner traveled to South Bend to take delivery of his new ride straight from the factory. I actually picked this example from the internet – I was so busy listening to Andrew and being in a state of awe that I didn’t take many pictures.
What is even better is that people like you and me can gain access to the Archives (by appointment) in order to view and copy the documents that we might need for our historical research or to fabricate that unobtainable part. More information about the materials and services available can be found on the Museum’s website.
So what can I say but that I first stood outside of this building with a complete lack of understanding of what it contains. Now that I have been given a brief tour, I am in awe of the information available to those with the time and inclination to search it out. There are a lot of things that Studebaker did not do as well as other companies in the industry. Happily, they went out of business in the best way possible, and those who seek information on the old company and the cars it built are richer for it.