Last summer, one of my sons and I spent an afternoon at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. I have always liked the 1947 Studebaker (Is it coming or going?), and noticed that the wagon was a particularly attractive model of the series. Then I caught myself: Studebaker didn’t build a postwar wagon until the 1954 two-door Conestoga. Actually, they built but a single one in the runup to production of the ’47s, and here it is.
We have covered the first postwar Studebaker here before when we found a 1949 Land Cruiser (CC here). The car’s fascinating and convoluted development history will not be repeated here. Let us just say that both the Raymond Loewy studio and a shadow group were working on what would arguably become Studebaker’s one and only postwar car built from a clean sheet of paper.
It seems funny that for a company that got its start building wooden wagons in 1852, Studebaker never really embraced the station wagon. True, wagons were offered during the 1930s, but were never sold in significant numbers, and were never offered in the smaller Champion series, which was introduced in 1939.
But a wagon was indeed considered for the new 1947 model, which would become the first new postwar American passenger car. It makes me salivate to think how Studebaker could have promoted its new wagon with its old heritage. At least one prototype was built that was photographed, which makes it look like the style was still planned to be part of the catalog until fairly late in the process. But alas, management nixed the idea, and that was that.
There is very little information online about this car. One website (conceptcarz.com) states that the car was used by the company as a utility vehicle until the mid 1950s, when the body was removed and abandoned. Actually, Studebaker sort of followed a hallowed rural Indiana tradition in disposing of prototypes–it hauled them out into the deep woods on the proving ground property, and never thought about them again. In the early 1970s, my best friend’s father subscribed to Special Interest Autos magazine. I borrowed every one after he had finished with it, and still recall reading about how the trove of abandoned prototypes was re-discovered. The magazine’s 1971 article can be found Here in its entirety.
There are several more recent photos of the site (including this one) that can be found at Mike’s Studebaker Page (Here), and they are compelling viewing.
Information from the Museum tells us that the body was recovered by members of the Studebaker Drivers Club in the early 1980s. Knowing what I know about our climate hereabouts, there could not have been much of it left after thirty years.
However, some dedicated folks set about recreating that beautiful wagon, eventually resulting in the one you see here, both during and after the process.
I cannot argue with the company’s decision to skip the wooden wagon, which would have been a niche model with much hand labor involved. However, had they gone ahead with the four-door wagon in 1947, perhaps Studebaker would have had a platform ready to convert to a steel body when that style started to take off in the early ’50s. As it was, Studebaker would not have a four-door station wagon until 1957, when most everyone had ceased taking the company and its cars seriously.
Studebaker actually had one other wagon idea, which might have had more legs than this woody: a coupe style wagon that reportedly used some plastic in its body. Had the company adapted this to conventional steel construction, it might have been Studebaker leading the development of the steel station wagon instead of Plymouth. The SIA article indicated that this car was hauled out of the woods, but I can find no information on it since.
In any event, this “Might Have Been” woody is a mighty attractive little package that deserved a chance at life. But it’s not like this would be the last decision made by Studebaker management that still invites second guessing all these years later.