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Studebaker National Museum proves there’s more than one definition of hybrid

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Tom Cotter’s Cunningham C-3 coupe, featued in the upcoming exhibit, at the 2016 Grand Ascent hillclimb. Photo courtesy of Tom Cotter.

Say the word “hybrid” in conversation, and most will envision a modern fuel-efficient automobile powered by both gasoline and electricity. The word has more than a singular definition, however, and an upcoming exhibit at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, illustrates this point with a display of hybrid European-American and British-American automobiles.

Cunningham C-3

Tom’s Cunningham at Watkins Glen in 1952. Photo courtesy Tom Cotter.

Powered by America: The Original Hybrid highlights the period from the 1950s through the 1970s when American automakers looked abroad for stylish and nimble platforms, or when foreign manufacturers turned to American companies for reliable and powerful drivetrains. Cars like the Cunningham C-3 and the De Tomaso Pantera were hybrids of a different sort, blending continental styling with American V-8 power.

Per the exhibit’s description, “American engines were coveted for their brute force, durability and low cost. When paired with Europe’s racing-inspired chassis, the result was some of the world’s most legendary automobiles. Powered by America: The Original Hybrid will feature the stories behind these transatlantic automotive marriages and their impact on motoring and motorsports history.”

1954 Cunningham C-3

Under-hood, the Cunningham C-3 used a Chrysler Hemi V-8. Photos of James W. Taylor’s Cunningham by author.

Cars expected to be on display include a Sunbeam Tiger, which enhanced the compact Sunbeam Alpine roadster with a (and later, Ford V-8; an Iso Grifo, styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone, built in Italy by Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A and powered by a series of V-8 engines from Ford and Chevrolet; a De Tomaso Mangusta, styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Ghia, built in Italy and powered by a Ford 289 or 351 (Cleveland or Windsor) V-8; a De Tomaso Pantera, powered by a 302 or 351 Ford  V-8 and once sold on these shores through Lincoln-Mercury dealers; a Nash-Healey, which blended a body from Donald Healey (and later, Pininfarina) with a or inline-six from Nash; a Jensen C-V8 saloon, built in West Bromwich, England, using a Chrysler (and later, V-8; a Jensen FF, the first all-wheel drive road car with anti-lock brakes, powered by a Chrysler V-8; and a Cunningham C-3, bodied by Vignale but assembled in West Palm Beach using a Chrysler Hemi V-8.

An exact opening date has not yet been set, but look for Powered by America: The Original Hybrid to premier by mid-November and run through June of 2017. For additional details on this or other exhibits, visit