Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Trip Across America: The Studebaker National Museum

Me and Gus Bianchi, Dolly-girl's old man, were motoring our way across the country. We pulled up short in South Bend, Indiana when we found out what was there that needed looking at. I know, you're thinking Gus is a big Notre Dame fan, but what with a name like Giuseppe Bianchi do you think he'd be screaming for the Irish? Not likely. No, what pulled us off Highway 31 was the Studebaker National Museum.

Gus fancies old cars and this was the place to see them on parade. Mint condition. Stylish. Building crammed with them. We walked in. "Two seniors?" "Back in Stumptown, that sort of crack and you could find the Trouble Twins walking up your garden path there chiquita. I may look the part, but one and one will do us." "Sorry, I was just thinking that we don't get too many people coming to look at Studebakers looking like you and so I figured..." "Relax, I won't pay it anymore nevermind."

We walked in and checked the joint out. They had them all, starting with Conestoga wagons built back when horse power was the real thing. The beauties from the 20s and 30s lined the room, all polished up and looking like they were wanting me and Gus to drive one out the door and head it to Stumptown. And we would have done it, too, except they would have chased us down like a cheap shot with a cold beer.

It just happened to be August 31st when we came across this Studebaker Commander that left New York City on August 30, 82 years earlier, and arrived in San Francisco just short of 78 hours later. The Commander was piloted by Ab Jenkins, who later with his son would be called The Mormon Meteors for their exploits at the Salt Flats. Over the 3,302 miles they averaged 42 and 1/2 miles per hour--not bad for those days and a lot better than me and Gus were going to do--we covered 3,362 miles in 8 days!

It was pretty clear walking around the place that what goes around comes around. These styles and colors are just what people are looking for today. We tried to remember what sort of appetite for gas these babies had.

Well, I thought, we can find that out on the intertubes and, sure enough, I found that not only did they look better than cars today, but they were going 25 to 30 or more miles on a gallon of gas in the 50s--better than a lot of today's iron. So what was the problem? The answer seems to be volume and the ability to mass produce millions of ugly cars. The Big Three could do it, Studebaker wouldn't. My theory is that when they started to make cars that looked like the Big Three's, well, they lost their mojo.

What was left in the wake was a collection of beautiful autos in South Bend, and the wreckage of the auto industry today. Me and Gus waxed on about the ills of the world, but maybe a bumper sticker that said this summed it up best...


After giving the place the twice over, me and Gus hopped in our car--it was a let down after the last couple hours--and I pointed her west. On the road again...

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