A Tour of the Studebaker National Museum: Part 2 – After World War II


Read Part One of this tour of the Studebaker National Museum, with vehicles made before World War II, here.

This dramatic Lark sign–the first thing you see when you enter the Studebaker National Museum–marks the stairs leading to the museum’s collection of mostly postwar cars.


Like the downstairs gallery of older vehicles, the upstairs gallery is tightly packed. This photo of a 1952 Commander Starliner gives a good flavor of the space: cars everywhere, with narrow paths among them. The museum is also dimly lit, with bright spotlights on the vehicles, making photography a challenge.


Studebaker made trucks, of course, and this 1949 2R5 represents the first year for the 2R truck series. Designed by the Raymond Loewy studio, these were remarkably nicely styled trucks for their day. They are the best-selling Studebaker trucks ever, with almost 250,000 built during a five-year life cycle.


Since I last visited the Studebaker National Museum they’ve added a 1950 Champion to the exhibit, which they allow visitors to climb into for a photo. I handed my camera to my son and took my turn at the wheel. The goofiness of my grin is in direct proportion to how great it felt to sit there. I was surprised by how long and narrow this car felt from the driver’s seat.


A masterstroke of the Raymond Lowey studio, Studebaker’s new 1953 coupe body lived for more than a decade with various names, most of them involving Hawk. By the end, the body was heavily modified but was still the same car underneath. This 1953 Champion Starliner hardtop is perhaps this body style’s purest and best form. (CC here.)


Packards from the Studebaker-Packard years are not well represented at the Studebaker National Museum, but this 1958 Packard Hawk shows how far Studebaker was willing to stretch its meager resources to stay alive.


In 1961, you could get your Hawk with the same four-speed transmission used in the Corvette. It was also the only year you could get your Hawk in this color, which Studebaker called Flamingo. The tail fins were added in the late 1950s to be fashionable, but really, the car looked better without them.


This 1958 (I think) Hawk is parked with a few other Studebakers on a set built to resemble a Bonnie Doon drive-in restaurant. Bonnie Doon is a South Bend institution that once had several locations. My mother talks about a 1950s-60s teen cruising strip known as the “merry go-round” along South Bend’s main drag. It started downtown and turned around in the parking lot of the south-side Bonnie Doon.

One Bonnie Doon location, on Lincolnway West in Mishawaka, still operates, and Bonnie Doon vanilla ice cream is available at local supermarkets.


A prestige car meant to raise Studebaker’s stakes, the Avanti simply came too late to help the company survive. This 1963 Avanti packs a 289 CID V8 that produced 240 hp. (CC here.)


For decades, South Bend’s ambulances and police cars were Studebakers. A badge behind the front wheel well of this 1964 Pursuit Marshal announces it: This car is Avanti-powered, carrying the same engine as the ’63 Avanti above.


Meet the last regular-production Studebaker to roll off the South Bend assembly line. This 1964 Daytona is Avanti- powered, too, and also carries the special badge. It was ordered by a Pennsylvania buyer, but Studebaker sent that fellow a different car and kept this one. It has about 50 miles on the odometer. (See another ’64 here, and yet another here.)


And meet the last Studebaker, a 1966 Cruiser. Like all 1965 and 1966 Studebakers, it was built in the company’s Hamilton, Ontario plant. Company executives drove it for two years before it was placed in the company’s collection. (Read about the Canadian plant here.)


Let’s spend an extra minute with this final Stude. The interior was reasonably well appointed for the day.


Here’s this Studebaker’s engine, a Studebaker Thunderbolt V8, which was really a Canadian-built Chevrolet. It offered up 283 cubic inches.

Given that I grew up in South Bend, I remember South Bend’s post-Studebaker economy and how the city wanted to bring back good manufacturing jobs on a Studebaker scale. South Bend certainly had the manpower for it, but I assume that many of those workers ended up in the RV industry that burgeoned in neighboring Elkhart County through the 1970s and 1980s. South Bend never really recovered from Studebaker’s loss. Instead, it was forced to forge a new path, and it struggled for years trying to figure out what it should be. Some argue that South Bend never figured it out.

Tomorrow: Oddballs and rarities in the Studebaker National Museum.