Studebaker National Museum: Showcasing Classic Cars

Local history, presidential lore and automotive progress combine at one of The Bend’s premier attractions.

Studebaker National Museum in South Bend blends all those things into an experience only it can provide. No telling of our history is complete without including Studebaker, one of the world’s premiere automobile manufacturers of yesteryear.

The company’s legacy is everywhere. Apartment buildings, plazas, parks, a golf course and more feature the family name.

But why? Studebaker National Museum has the answers. Tour it and you’ll go beyond local history. Gearheads can peruse roughly 120 vehicles, including special exhibits. History buffs can get and up-close look at transportation used on a fateful night in American history. And beyond that, you’ll find reason to return every summer as the museum hosts an eye-catching car show.

Concours d’Elegance

Every summer, Studebaker hosts one of the premier car shows in the Midwest. Concours d’Elegance at Copshaholm, which is set for July 11, 2020, is a celebration of automotive design and styling. The one-day event features automobiles from all over the world in different classes. Simply put, they’re some of the most beautiful cars you’ll see anywhere.

Among 2019’s classes were European Opulence (luxury cars), Henry’s Fords (Ford automobiles from 1901-48 and Motorcars of the Lincoln Highway (open class for automobiles of the Lincoln Highway era from 1913-28). It’s sure to be a stunning display. One of the headliners expected to be on display is a 1921 Lincoln “L” Touring car, the world’s oldest Lincoln automobile. Others include a 1932 Studebaker President sedan and a 1967 Ghia 450 SS formerly owned by NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.

Presidential Carriage Collection

Studebaker National Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of U.S. presidential carriages. It features the barouche Abraham Lincoln used en route to Ford’s Theatre the night of his assassination.

Others in the collection include carriages used by Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley and Benjamin Harrison.

The Original Collection

Studebaker Corporation in 1966 donated its 33-vehicle collection to the City of South Bend. It included the presidential carriages and the family’s Conestoga wagon. Together it formed the basis for the museum. It runs the gamut of automobiles produced by Studebaker during the height of its production.

Special exhibitions

Although it Studebaker leans on its permanent collection, it consistently brings in new exhibits with a different perspective.

Currently on display is an exhibit called “Reaching the Masses: Studebaker Companion Models.” In it you can explore Studebaker’s foray into more affordable automobiles during the 1920s and 1930s. Although some of these cars proved unsuccessful, they paved the way for Studebaker’s more successful care ever.

“Reaching the Masses: Studebaker Companion Models” runs until February 2020.

Recent exhibitions include “10 Cars that Changed the World,” a tour in automotive progress over the years and  “Streamlined: Style in Motion,” which featured styling innovations during the 1930s. 

The Military Collection

Studebaker as a company worked with the U.S. government dating back to its beginnings as a wagon producer. That tradition continued through the Vietnam War. Many of these vehicles are on display at the museum. Studebaker transferred its government contracts in 1964 to Kaiser-Jeep.

In an ode to local history, the museum also displays some vehicles made by the local AM General plant, which has operated in the military sphere.

Interactive exhibits

There are multiple interactive exhibits around the museum. One in particular is great for kids – the Super Service Center. Designed for children of all ages, this pretend auto shop is equipped with all the tools they need to perform maintenance on a kid-sized car.