Bob's Studebaker Resource Website

1951-52 Studebaker Prototype

(Special Interest Autos - Aug 1971)
This is the scan of the 1971 Special Interest Autos Magazine article on the
"Studebaker Graveyard find'...this exact body (the "sunroof coupe") is shown
in the pictues above the title. Included below are some photographs of this
body in present time.

This is written in hopes of shedding light on the almost forgotten history of this Studebaker prototype body and in hopes it can find a home that will preserve it. It's truly a custom lead work creation built back in 1951-52 by the Studebaker experimental/design department.

(Earlier Photo)
Years of neglect, being shuffled around and sometimes downright abuse has resulted in the weathered remains of a Studebaker prototype that is in my collection. I never really directly desired this prototype, it was acquired last year to save it from a threat of scrap back when scrap prices were high.

(Earlier Photo)
This particular prototype is believed to have started life as A 1951 Commander Starlight Coupe. It was sectioned, hammered, and leaded by the Studebaker design/engineering department until it became an early prototype of the then-to- come 1953 Coupe. Though one can see the similarities of the rear roof/quarter window area and the grill bars to an actual production 1953 coupe, this prototype has an awkward ‘thought in progress’ look. The amount of excellent-quality body work in this car is amazing: there is no body panel which does not show extensive gas welding, hand forming and leading. The hood was formed out of about 10 different pieces of metal welded together and the surface leaded. The vent doors in the front fenders were hand fabricated to a unique shape. There is no opening trunk lid. The rear deck area is just a bunch of lead carved to the desired shape. Even almost 60 years of poor storage later, most all the metal- work on this car has held up very well.

(Current Photo)
Though this prototype was born at the Studebaker engineering department in South Bend Indiana, and now resides only 175 miles north on my farm, it’s travels through life has been a long and somewhat forgotten journey.

The prototype body like most other Studebaker prototypes of the era was discarded in the “graveyard” at the Studebaker proving grounds outside South Bend. It remained there until about 1969. It was one of two or three prototypes removed in a 1969-70 effort by some local Studebaker Drivers Club members. Since this took place 40 years ago, there are only a couple individuals left who were present during the 1969 effort. I was fortunate enough to speak to Gary Cameron and Eric Levine who were actually there back when this prototype was removed from the proving grounds. From interviewing Gary and Eric, one can piece together the events of 40 years ago. Luckily, Gary took along a “cheap Kodak camera” and documented the event, including showing this prototype resting in the graveyard at the proving grounds. Some of Gary’s photos and information were the basis of a 1971 Special Interest Autos documentary article about the ‘grave yard’ (see attached below scans).
My prototype was skidded out of the woods at the proving grounds by an old Allis-Chalmers Tractor one Saturday in 1969. For awhile, it was in the possession of the Michiana Chapter Studebaker Drivers Club, but a few years later after a changing of the guard within the chapter, the prototype ended up in private ownership in South-West Michigan. It remained there stored in a farm corn-crib for roughly 25 years. At one point the corn-crib housing it was destroyed by a tornado, leaving the prototype entombed for several years until it was bought and removed it in the 1990's. After that, it was transferred around a couple times until last year when I bought it to save it from a threat of being scrapped.

(Current Photo)

Unfortunately, time nor means (mostly the latter), allow me to preserve this unique prototype after all it’s survived in the past years. Unfortunately, I no longer have inside storage for it, and don’t want to see it continue to decay languishing in my collection outside. The prototype body is very rough, but most of the unique body parts are accounted for, including the rough-sand-cast aluminum prototype grill bars.


It would require a donor car and/or a very ambitious individual or group effort to restore this car. Or heck, it could be the basis of some intresting rat rod. This body gives a new meaning to rough! If there is some such individual or group out there who'd like this body, I’d love hearing from you. All I'd want to be be reimbursed for the costs I encounted when I saved it from being scrapped.

(Current Photo)

I've already sent out feelers on the internet my Studebaker Drivers Club, and zero real interest. The Studebaker National Museum is not interested unless it is restored before it's donated.

February 2012 - Car now in possession of Chris Dresbach, South Bend, IN

I also should add that I would like to attempt to eventually put the car back on a chassis and make something out of it, but for the time being it's just going to be "preserved" as is because I don't have a whole lot of cash to throw at it. The good news is that this car finally found a permanent home and will not be scrapped out.

Under side of the prototype hood. As you can see, it is made of several different pieces of metal.
I took ownership of it on December, 10 2011 and it is currently here in South Bend.

Though extremely faded, this photo shows a "20" on the firewall written with a paint marker.

The Grill bars
The Grille bars went missing for a couple years but with some help from Brad Kuchan in Illinois and Chuck Kenney in Michigan

The grille bars have been chrome plated and reunited with the car....
Nov 2013