As a tyke growing up in South Bend, Indiana, my father and I would often stake out the lots behind the Studebaker factories with hopes of spotting the next generation Avanti or Lark. Too often all we spied were rows of Mercedes-Benz automobiles due to the fact that Studebaker was the U.S. distributor for the German brand up until shortly before the closure of their South Bend operations in 1963.
Yesterday it was announced that Mercedes-Benz was returning to South Bend to build the R-Class crossover at the AM General plant, producer of the military Humvee and the late GM Hummer. Mercedes-Benz once moved their headquarters from South Bend to New Jersey and soon to the South (Atlanta) and now R-Class production is moving from the South (Alabama) to South Bend. Got it? (Read More…)
A perennial candidate for most beautiful of all times lists is the Studebaker Avanti. It’s admittedly somewhat of a polarizing design since the Avanti also sometimes shows up on lists of the oddest looking or ugliest cars ever made. I’m in the former camp and think it’s a great looking piece of human creation, but I can understand those who think it looks a little funny. Perhaps that’s how it should be as the Avanti was created to get people’s attention for Studebaker, the last independent car company in America, which was quickly becoming irrelevant as its financials got worse and worse. Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert did what he could with limited resources and a board of directors that seemed determined to run the more than century old company into the ground. The Avanti was part of Egbert’s plan in the early 1960s to give Studebaker, a company with a dowdy reputation in consumers’ minds, a new image, a rebranding in today’s parlance. (Read More…)
Andy Granatelli died this past Sunday at the age of 90. He was a man worthy of note in the world of cars and the world of business. His sponsorships via the STP oil additive company changed the way automotive product companies used motorsports and vice versa. A larger than life personality, and a genuine character, Granatelli’s two Indy 500 wins as an owner were in many ways overshadowed by the near misses at Indy of his revolutionary turbine powered racers. A man of considerable accomplishments in racing and in business, no doubt. It seems to me, though, that his most enduring influence on the automotive world (and the basis of some of the longest enduring automotive speed records) was his popularizing of forced induction, specifically superchargers. (Read More…)
One of the things I’ve discovered when writing about automotive history, it first occurred to me when I was researching street names in and around Detroit, is that we name things after people to memorialize them and, ironically, in time the memorial becomes all that we know about them. Not many people who drive on James Couzens Hwy in Detroit every day know that he was a U.S. senator and the mayor of Detroit before then, but hardly anyone at all knows that he went into politics after a fairly successful career as the business manager of a local Detroit family owned firm, a concern known as the Ford Motor Company. When Mary Barra was named to be the chief executive officer of General Motors, the first woman to run a large automaker, I was reminded of another woman who ran a significant automotive company, in the 1930s, when few women ran any businesses, let alone one in the automotive field, Helen DeRoy. Though DeRoy’s name is possibly familiar to you, her pioneering roles in women’s history and automotive history aren’t as well known as her name.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the November 22, 1963 assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Shortly thereafter, the city of South Bend, Indiana suffered another tragedy: the announcement of the closing of the American factories of the 111-year old Studebaker Automobile Company on December 9, 1963. Over 7,000 local workers engaged in building the company’s Avanti and Lark models would lose their jobs – it was not the most joyous of holiday seasons in South Bend.
We will leave the story of Studebaker’s demise to other sources, like this fine article over at Ate Up With Motor. I traveled to Indiana recently to cover the Studebaker National Museum but discovered that fellow South Bend native Jim Grey had just written an excellent series about the collection for our friends at Curbside Classic. Undeterred, I decided to follow the story of one fascinating car on display and discovered some nutty tales from the company’s old test track, the Studebaker Proving Grounds. (Read More…)
La Carrera Panamericana 2012 ran its third day yesterday, and we’ve got a report of a five-cars-over-a-cliff wreck during yesterday’s race segment ending in Querétaro. (Read More…)
Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth
You find unusual cars down on the street, stored off of the street, parked by by the curbside, ready for the crusher at a junkyard, or sometimes even abandoned in Brooklyn or Qatar. I first noticed this Avanti II while I was taking my mom to physical therapy. She broke her wrist and until she had recovered enough hand strength to take the shifter out of park I was given the task of driving Miss Peshie (Mom’s Yiddish name). My intention was to drop her off at the clinic and then attend the funeral for my cousin’s mechutan. When I passed the Avanti I was little disappointed. I’ve tried to get in the habit of taking my cameras with me most places that I go so I can seize the opportunity when I find a car worthy of note. I had my camera bag with me but there was no way I could shoot the Avanti while we were both driving in traffic. When I got to the cemetery, though, I noticed that the Avanti driver was also paying his respects.
When I heard from a certain Renault 4CV racer that the inventory of the ancient Seven Sons Auto Salvage wrecking yard in Brighton, Colorado, would be up for auction today, I headed up there in full bat-outta-hell mode. I don’t really need another Hell Project to piss off the neighbors, but what harm could there be in looking? (Read More…)