Museum Outtake: 1963 Studebaker Truck Prototype – In Search Of Quiet Places

I love museums. Etymologically, “museum” is Latin by way of the Ancient Greeks; you may notice that the root is “muse,” as in “to inspire.” Therefore, the museum is a natural place for introspection and wonder. My favorite corners of museums are the quiet ones, far away from the flashing interactive displays and “flavor of the month” dog-and-pony shows. At the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, this 1963 Studebaker truck prototype (it doesn’t even rate a name) sits in a quiet corner of the storage basement, and it’s a highlight of every visit.

My tastes incline toward the quirky, which is why I often laugh at things that nobody else finds funny. At least once a year, I’ll visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, and one of my favorite quiet places is near Otto Dix’s 1912 self portrait. I can’t get enough of it: a young Otto mean-mugging the viewer with a flower in his hand. Sure, there’s a plausible critical explanation and all, but the juxtaposition of festivity and irritation brings out a smile every time.

Likewise, I practically run toward the “truck” when I visit South Bend. It’s a bit of an afterthought: This is the extent of its description at the museum.

But the lack of a story is almost better than the reality: Apparently, Westinghouse asked Studebaker to build a prototype truck, they did, and nothing became of it. It’s less mysterious than one would hope. But why the unique looks?

After all, it looks like a piece of anthropomorphic toast, or perhaps the toaster it popped out of.

Cab Forward trucks were fairly common in 1963, as evidenced by the Corvair Rampside, the Econoline, the Dodge A100, and the pictured Jeep FC toy. You could have a truck with a full bed that had a reduced footprint, albeit at the expense of one’s safety in a crash.

The Studebaker’s slab sides would have been cheap and easy to produce, another benefit for a cash-strapped company such as Studebaker. Information on the truck is limited, but it apparently is 289-propelled with a Borg-Warner automatic, which is a potent combination considering the truck’s utilitarian aim. The windshield’s slant on the Mercury Breezeway backlite is an interesting touch, but would certainly lead to a windy, noisy ride in any situation apart from that in which the truck currently finds itself.

Clearly, the truck’s styling is influenced by the equally quaint and utilitarian “Zip Van,” also produced by Studebaker and represented in the museum.

But for some reason, I’m more attached to the truck: lonely, forlorn, and fascinating. If Studebaker had found a way to produce it, it would have raced to the top of my “forward-control-truck” list; but as it sits, it will have to settle for a position as a personal muse, inspiring a few wistful smiles on my occasional visits. Enjoy your quiet corner, Studebaker Truck Prototype. I hope to see you again soon.