Studebaker Cars and the Studebaker National Museum

The Studebakers were wagon makers and blacksmiths when they arrived in America from Holland. They trained their sons in that same tradition.

Founded in 1852 as the H & C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana, the organization was incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. Their business was as a producer of wagons for farmers, miners, and the military.

studebaker wagon

Authentic Studebaker wagon

The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, began in business as horse drawn wagon makers and achieved a great deal of success. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company built horse drawn wagons at a time that the American population was on the move.

The 1850′s were a time of great western expansion and there were many of the Studebaker brother’s products that made the trek over the popular Overland Trail. In a large way the California Gold Rush and it’s demand for transportation launched to Studebaker brothers into the wagon building business. Studebaker wagons became known as some of the most reliable of their kind and were the chosen way to cross the continent from East to West.

Studebaker was a major contractor to the Union Army during the American Civil War. It’s also believed that the very first chuckwagon was designed and built by legendary Texas rancher Charles Goodnight. Goodnight reportedly used a surplus Studebaker wagon from the Civil War for his first chuckwagon.

1951 studebaker commander

1951 Studebaker Commander

After years of constant urging by a Studebaker family member who thought it was time to enter the horseless carriage business, Studebaker the carriage maker entered the new automobile business in 1902. An interesting side note is that Studebaker had the distinction of manufacturing electric powered cars during their first two years in business. At the time the Studebaker brothers felt that electric was the way to go. The company switched to gasoline power just a few years later in 1904. On February 14, 1911, the company was organized into the Studebaker Corporation.

An interesting note is that the Studebaker’s were building all types of wagons from simple farm wagons to elaborately built closed carriages.Some of these wagon models were named the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham and these same style names were used by various automobile makers during the 1900’s.

studebaker commander

Another view of the Commander

The 1920’s Meant Major Changes for Studebaker

Studebaker ended their horse drawn carriage business in 1920. The 1920’s also saw the company moving it’s production from Detroit Michigan to South Bend Indiana. The 1920’s were a very good decade for the Studebaker Manufacturing Company. Studebakers were popular throughout the ’20s and the company usually ranked among the top 10 auto makers. The 1930’s were a different matter. As was the case with several other automakers, the Great Depression took it’s toll. Studebaker had to go into receivership in 1933. Company Vice Presidents Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance were appointed receivers and led Studebaker back to solvency just two years later in 1935.

Some of the icon Studebaker models included the 1939 Champion, the 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1950 “Bullet Nose”, the 1953 Starliner Hardtop and the 1963 Avanti. Another important fact was that Studebaker was the first automaker to introduce new post war designs in 1947.

studebaker wagon 1800's

Iron suspension of the Studebaker Wagon

The Studebaker National Museum

Visiting the Studebaker National Museum offers you a very unique historical experience. Learn all about the company that began building wagons that were used by pioneers and successfully transitioned into an automaker whose brand continued into the 1960’s. If you are into antique cars this museum is definitely a must see. The museum grounds are beautiful and you’ll be able to explore three floors of history and cars

The Studebaker National Museum is home to four of the presidential carriages: The Grant, Harrison, Lincoln and McKinley carriages can be seen at the museum.

For children the museum features an interactive exhibit named the Studebaker Super Service Center. This exhibit allows children to pretend to work on automobiles and is  designed for children ages 3 to 10.

The Studebaker National Museum is located at 201 Chapin St, South Bend, IN.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

Studebaker Frontier Wagons

Luxury Cars of the Great Depression

Also see articles on our AutoMuseumOnline site on the links below…

The 1951 Studebaker Commander

The 1955 Studebaker President Speedster

A very good book regarding the Studebaker brothers and their wagon and automobile business is Studebaker: The Complete History by author Patrick R. Foster.

1955 studebaker president

Stylish 1955 Studebaker President

Studebaker’s Last Days

Studebaker production in the U.S. ended in 1963. The company had been in financial trouble ever since the 1950’s and had merged with Packard in 1954.

The last cars produced by Studebaker were the 1964 model year GranTurismo.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)


Luxury Cars of the Great Depression


Trips Into History explores the automotive industry during the years of the Great Depression and highlights a few of the marvelous cars produced and sold during this era of financial crises.

At first take you might wonder how some of these automakers stayed in business during this period. Indeed some auto manufacturers did suffer and some did go out of business. Some of these companies survived only because they took steps to adapt to a bad economy.

1933 dusenberg

1933 Dusenberg

While employment got worse automobile prices in general decreased. Against this backdrop there were those who could afford a luxury automobile and they were built and sold. Below are some of those luxury cars that did sell and sold in perhaps small numbers yet good numbers for the period and the price asked.

The 1933 Dusenberg Model J

It’s commonly said that each of the Duesenbergs were built differently. This is because while Duesenberg built the chassis and the engine, the body and styling was completed by some of Europe’s and America’s most noteworthy coach builders. With different coach builder involved it was easy to have noted differences. At the same time, having your car crafted by top end coach builders drove the prices quite high.

dusenberg model j

1933 Dusenberg grille

In 1933, prices ranged from about $13,000 to $25,000 depending on the extent of the hand crafted coach building. In fact, the degree and type of coach building completed on  Duesenberg models are why average prices during today’s auctions are as high as they usually are.

The prices charged for a new Duesenberg in 1933 were an enormous amount of money during the depths of the Great Depression. You would wonder why anyone would pay that price for an automobile during that era but they did. Some of the Duesenberg owners during the 1930′s included top Hollywood celebrities and European royalty. These were the types of buyers who surfaced with other luxurious and expensive automobiles.

1931 cadillac v 16The 1931 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton

This was not an inexpensive automobile. During the Great Depression of which 1931 was certainly a part of, the Cadillac V-16 was the car of choice for the wealthy and celebrities.

Clearly, Cadillac’s V-16 was meant to make it competitive in the luxury high price end that automakers like Peerless, Pierce-Arrow and Packard held sway. The body for all 1931 Cadillacs were longer and lower than previous models. They also had a longer hood. The 1931′s also had a chrome plated screen that covered the radiator.

You could say it was the right kind of luxury car at just the wrong time. A total of 3,250 V-16′s were produced by Cadillac during the years 1930-1931. The price tag for a new Cadillac Sixteen could reach around $10,000. This was a high price vehicle in both the 1930′s and 1940′s. With the financial situation as it was in 1931, $10,000 or thereabouts was a huge amount of money to pay for an automobile.

1936 hudson eight

1936 Hudson Deluxe Eight

The 1936 Hudson Deluxe Eight

Whenever you look at vintage automobiles from the mid 1930′s there usually are some interesting stories to go along with them. The 1930′s was a time of change for the auto industry. The nation was in the throes of the Great Depression and automakers in general were struggling.

Much to their credit, Hudson automobiles were known for quality and for introducing a lot of firsts. The firsts included the steering wheel being placed on the left side of the vehicle with hand controls in the center. Dual brakes were yet another first as well as the first balanced crankshaft used in their straight six engine.

The 1936 Hudson’s new car price wasn’t anything like Dusenberg and Cadillac but was  around $1,000 to $1,300. You might be able to buy a Ford during this period for about $800.

1936 hudson

1936 Hudson

The Hudson Motor Car Company operated from 1909 to 1954. This was along run and under all manner of financial conditions. Hudson was one of the survivors of the Great Depression. They kept costs in line with sales. In 1954 the company merged with Nash-Kelvinator which was the precursor to the new American Motors.

After the 1957 model year the name Hudson was dropped. The Hudson brand had a successful forty-eight year run and again was always noted for quality.

auburn boat tail speedster

Auburn Boat Tail Speedster

The 1935 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster

The Auburn Automobile Company was affected quite deeply by the Great Depression. To make matters worse, E.L Cord, the former Chicago car salesman turned automaker president, was under fire for alleged mismanagement as well as questionable stock dealings. Auburn found itself with an acting president in 1935 by the name of Harold T. Ames.

The Auburn BoatTail Speedsters such as the one shown here offered both eye catching design as well as performance. The car looked like a race car and perhaps it was. Because of the company’s lackluster sales performance, the Speedster was intended to spark excitement among the performance car buying public and bring in much needed cash.

As a result of this Auburn produced a newly designed 1935 eight cylinder turbo-charged Auburn Speedster. Indeed, the car was an eye catcher.

1935 auburn speedster

1935 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster dash

With new engines becoming available every few years, there were three different generations of the Auburn Speedster built from 1928 to 1937. All Auburns, prior to 1935, were built with Lycoming twelve cylinder engines.

Two good books on the subject of automobiles of the 1930’s include American Cars of the 1930s by the Olyslager Organization and Cars of the Classic 30’s by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide.

Below are links to some of our additional photo articles on our AutoMuseumOnline and Western Trips sites you’ll find interesting.

The 1931 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton

The 1935 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster

A Unique Classic Car Museum in Endee New Mexico

The Studebaker National Museum

Prices of these Luxury Cars Today

As we’ve demonstrated, the price tags for the cars featured above were considered quite high during the 1930’s. Today, some of these automobiles, depending on degree of restoration and the current financial climate, can receive auction bids from collectors in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even over one million dollars.

A 1933 Dusenberg SJ model can receive a bid perhaps over $2 million. This was a vehicle with over 300 horsepower in 1933. A fantastic amount of power under the hood in the 1930’s.

A 1931 restored Cadillac Sport Phaeton was sold at auction for over $200,000.

A 1935 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster fetched over $550,000 at auction.

Car auction activity shows that a restored 1936 Hudson Eight Coupe sold for about $25,000.

All of the above automobiles are rare finds. Finely restored is even rarer.

(Article and photos copyright AutoMuseumOnline)


Route 66 and Vintage Cars

The Road

1959 corvette

1959 Corvette

There may be no other highway in the United States that is as nostalgic as the old Route 66. This was the ‘Mother Road‘, the great highway to the southwest that offered adventure and new landscapes. It was a highway that called out to those wanting to see and experience new places. From Chicago Illinois to Santa Monica California, this new highway would be the trail of the 20th century pioneers. In fact, Route 66 had been in existence for only about ten years when thousands of people took to it’s road heading out of the 1930’s dust bowl to California. It was the highway taken west by the people that the author John Steinbeck wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath. The road, to many, led to a new start in life.

Improvements and Realignments

Route 66 came about at the time that the federal government decided to use a numbered highway system. The route itself was cobbled together from many existing roads and trails, many unpaved. It would be years later that the entire route was a paved highway. Topography changed dramatically when the route entered New Mexico. Route 66 in New Mexico as an example, follows the traditional east-west transportation route through the state. It travels through the center of the state along the 35th Parallel. The topography of this route had always presented special challenges to New Mexican road builders even before the coming of Route 66 in 1926. New Mexico’s elevation along this route changes quite a lot. You’re looking at elevations of about 3,800 feet near the border with Texas to over 7,200 feet at the Continental Divide near Thoreau New Mexico. During the time of unmechanized road building where work was done by humans and animals, the construction was difficult to say the least. Unlike the plains states, the New Mexico route consisted of climbs, descents and switchbacks. In the original New Mexico alignment, the La Bajada Hill switchbacks south of Santa Fe presented one of the biggest challenges.

New Mexico Route 66 became fully modernized during the Great Depression. It was in this era that the government spent massive amounts of money to infrastructure projects. Route 66 improvements of course were just one example. The coast highway in California, Hwy 1, also saw enormous construction dollars spent with the building of a series of concrete spanned bridges.

ford thunderbird car

1957 Ford Thunderbird

The original Route 66 went through several realignments during it’s earlier lifetime. Most were minor but a few were major. One major realignment took place when the highway bypassed the city of Santa Fe New Mexico. It’s an interesting story exactly how and why that came about. One version portrays the decision as purely political having to do with a lost gubernatorial race. Another has more to do with cutting down mileage, which in fact it did. Rather than the roadway heading northwest to Santa Fe, it was realigned in a relatively straight east-west line from Tucumcari to Albuquerque. This is pretty much how today’s Interstate 40 runs now.

The Arizona Segment

Many people today feel that the best remaining stretch of old Route 66 on a scenic standpoint runs through a part of northern Arizona. In the western part of the state, between about Seligman and the Colorado River lies about 165 miles of the original Route 66. In the eastern part of Arizona, Route 66 generally In Kingman Arizona, Route 66 still remains it’s Main Street. Another example is Williams Arizona, about due south of the Grand Canyon. While Interstate 40 runs directly past Williams, the old Route 66 still travels through the center of town. In the eastern part of the state, Route 66 generally goes off and on Interstate 40. It’s the western part of the Arizona where the old highway goes off and assumes it’s original route. Many people who travel through the western part of Arizona, if time permits, exit Interstate 40, and take this historic and scenic old route.

You’ll also want to see our site AutoMuseumOnline that has a gallery of vintage and classic car and truck photos along with their history.

California, Oklahoma and Missouri Route 66

1955 ford fairlane sunliner

1955 Ford Fairlane Sunliner

When you enter California today from Needles on the Colorado River, the route today through the Mojave Desert to Barstow is much about Interstate 40. With that said, there is a particularly good old Route 66 museum located in Barstow California. Located at 681 N. First Avenue, the museum is open free to the public.The museum is named “The Route 66 Mother Road” Museum. Opened in the year 2000, it’s located in the historic Casa del Desierto, which was the old Harvey House in Barstow. Here you will find all kinds of Route 66 artifacts as well as a lot about the desert communities Route 66 passed through. Some of the best points on old Route 66, in addition to the western Arizona stretch, are found at the very western end of the road near the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles was actually the original terminus of Route 66 until it was lengthened to Santa Monica right on the Pacific Ocean. What is amazing in California is that some 95% of the original highway is reported still drivable. There are several additional first class Route 66 museums spread along the old route. One is the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton Oklahoma. Another is the National Transportation and Route 66 Museum in Elk City Oklahoma. Another interesting one is the Route 66 Museum in Kingman Arizona. The Kingman museum is located in the “heart” of the longest “remaining stretch” of the 2400 miles that was Route 66.If you’re passing through Missouri there is a fine Route 66 Museum in Lebanon Missouri. Lebanon Missouri has the distinction of having one of the very first motels along Route 66. The name was Camp Joy and opened in the year 1927 as a tent camp. The initial rate for lodging at camp Joy was fifty cents per night.

Renewal Initiatives

An interesting side note is that California is one of the most active states in pushing for a renewal of Route 66. As an example, one group right now is promoting renaming Interstate 40 to “Route 66” between Needles and Barstow California. Whether that ever comes to be remains to be seen but the interest in preserving the heritage of this famous highway remains very strong. In New Mexico there has been an effort to restore the neon signs that were a trademark of Route 66’s heydays. So far, the efforts of this project has resulted in the restoration of nine classic neon signs in the communities of Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Moriarty, Albuquerque, Grants, and Gallup. These towns and cities cover almost all of the old Route 66 from east to west through the state of New Mexico.

1955 ford fairlane

Ford Fairlane Sunliner

The entire Route 66 highway from Chicago to Santa Monica eventually filled with motels. The original mom and pop motels have almost all disappeared. Every so often I find out about one that is still in operation from the old days. In almost all cases ownership has certainly changed but there are two I’m aware of which have remained in business for decades and decades. One is located in Cuba Missouri named the Wagon Wheel Motel. The other one I’m aware of is the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari New Mexico. No doubt that restorations and upgrades have taken place (such as air conditioning) but it’s remarkable that these two motels are still in existence after the Interstate highway system came into being. The Cuba Missouri motel dates back to the 1930’s and the Tucumcari motel to about 1941.

There are numerous Route 66 automobile clubs spread across the country and they are very active. Several of these clubs feature events where members travel Route 66, or at least some of the parts that currently remain, and enjoy the fun of driving on a scenic two lane highway and taking great pictures along the way. As the years pass by, interest in the old Route 66 heritage seems to keep increasing. Because this historic highway was such a part of so many people’s lives, I would expect this trend to continue.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

The Great Auto Race Around the World

Taking a look back at what was perhaps the most daring feat in the early 1900’s, the Automobile Race Around the World and the amazing Thomas Flyer, is a very unique trip into history. The Great Race took place at the very start of the automobile industry. Automobile companies were a novelty. The horse was considered by many to be the mode of transportation of choice. This was a time of course before adequate roads were built even in the United States let alone foreign countries, especially Asia and the Middle East, and it was thought by many at the time to be quite a foolhardy and obviously dangerous endeavor. It would be another twenty years before Route 66 came into being. The Great Race however would go on.

great race of 1908 startIn February 1908, six competing cars were lined up in New York City (photo at left) to attempt a race from New York to Paris France for what was billed the “around the world car race”. The six automobiles that entered this race represented four different nations. This race was directly a result of an earlier competition in 1907 which saw an auto race from Peking China to Paris France. The 1907 race inspired daredevils to attempt something larger and more challenging, although a car race from China to France itself seems quite challenging in itself. In case you’re wondering how the idea came about for a China to France race, a Paris newspaper printed an editorial in 1907 suggesting that when the technology (automobile) is available to man, he should press it to it’s limits. In this editorial they pointedly suggested a Peking to Paris race. Apparently the newspaper had a bit of influence and several early car enthusiasts jumped at it.

The Great Race from New York to Paris was sponsored by both the New York Times and the La Matin, the Paris paper which encouraged the 1907 race from China to France. To give you an idea of the scope of this race, the route taken went from New York City through Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Valdez Alaska, then via boat to Japan and Vladivostok Russia and then across Asia and through Berlin to Paris. The original intent was to cross into Asia via the Berings Strait off Nome Alaska but it wasn’t possible at the time. Remember, this was before any suitable network of service stations and repair shops were in existence. In a real way, the dangers were somewhat similar to those of the pioneers in the 1800’s on the Oregon Trail minus Indian attacks. Nations represented with automobiles in this race included the United States, Italy, Germany and France.

map of great raceThere was a lot riding on this race. The Great race along with the successful race from Peking to Paris in 1907, could settle the question of the reliability of automobiles. Let’s remember, there were many who were still using the horse and buggy. In 1908, there were many who considered the horse more reliable than the automobile. For automobile sales to take off and be widely accepted by the public, their reliability had to be proven. These races, in effect, did just that although I’m not sure many customers were purchasing a car with the intention of driving around the world.

The race began on February 12, 1908 from Times Square in New York City. A quarter of a million people gathered to see the race begin.The American entry, the Thomas Flyer, after driving through Albany and then westward through Chicago, was the first to reach San Francisco in a bit over 41 days. Not bad at all when you consider that the 1800’s wagon trains from Missouri to California took six months to arrive there. This race in 1908 ended up covering some 22,000 miles and took 169 days to reach Paris. Only three of the six cars were able to reach Paris. When you think about it, three cars out of six being able to finish this type of auto race in the year 1908 sounds pretty amazing. When the public realized how an automobile could perform under these circumstances and over those distances, they would look at the car entirely different. No longer just an amusement, the automobile became a valuable new means of transportation and the Great Race demonstrated it.

You may also enjoy reading our Trips Into History article about Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of the Airplane

In the end, the Thomas Flyer entry from the United States won the Great Race, driven by George Schuster. As it turned out, the German car actually entered Paris four days before the Thomas Flyer. Although at first the Germans were awarded first place, it was later learned that the German driver took a series of shortcuts off the official route, and the Thomas Flyer was moved up to first place.

1909 thomas flyerThe Thomas Flyer race car was a Model 35. The Thomas Flyer had four cylinders, a 60 horsepower engine and could hit a speed of 60 MPH. That was quite fast in 1908. The photo at left is a 1909 Thomas Flyer. During the first decade of the 1900’s, there were several automobile companies. Some of these also made bicycles and just added automobiles to their product line. The car was manufactured by the E.R. Thomas Motor Company in Buffalo New York. It was a pricey automobile costing about $4,000 in 1908. The Thomas Motor Company also produced motorized bicycles one of which traveled across the U.S. in 1905 at a record time of 48 days.

The Thomas Flyer was eventually purchased by William F. Harrah who restored the car to the exact way it looked when entering Paris in 1908. Today, the original Thomas Flyer which won the Great Around the World Auto Race, is on exhibit at the National Automobile Museum in Reno Nevada along with the Harrah auto collection.

It’s interesting to note that most car enthusiasts believe that today’s cross country marathon auto race events all go back to the great race of 1908 for their inspiration. There are competitions for vintage cars and classic cars scheduled throughout the country. Also muscle cars, sports cars and trucks have their own events. The Great Race of 1908 set the tone.

Many people might still remember the 1965 movie, The Great Race, starring Tony Curtiss along with Peter Falk as his sidekick. Tony Curtiss plays “The Great Leslie”. He of course is dressed in white and the villain (competing racer) is dressed in black. This slapstick comedy movie was based on the 1908 event with the storyline being a New York to Paris race. In this particular Hollywood made race, Peter Falk sabotage’s three other cars and his own by mistake. The film unfortunately was not a smash hit and many events of course were pure fiction, but nevertheless, it does take you back to the daring days of great invention and around the world auto racing.

(Photos are in public domain).