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You may be cool, but are you ‘Studebaker Cool?’

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Brooks Stevens’s Sceptre concept, designed for Studebaker. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum.

From its start as a manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons to its demise as an independent automaker competing head-to-head with Detroit’s Big Three, Studebaker enjoyed over a century of success. Opening on May 18 at the AACA Museum Inc. in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Studebaker Cool: 114 Years of Innovation narrates the history of the imaginative brand with a display of over 40 vehicles, focusing primarily on the years between 1906 and the end of automobile production in 1966.

Among the vehicles scheduled for display is a battery-electric wagon from Studebaker’s early days as a powered vehicle manufacturer. Built to carry congressmen through the tunnels connecting the Capitol to government office buildings nearby, the 1908 Studebaker Electric “Carry All” was one of two such models built for this purpose.

The Studebaker Carry-All known as “Tommy” during its partial restoration by Pennsylvania College of Technology students in 2017. Photo courtesy Pennsylvania College of Technology.

As Dan Strohl wrote in a 2017 article about the Studebaker’s restoration, the wagons were designed with a pair of driver’s seats – one facing in each direction – since the tunnel in which they operated was too narrow to turn around. Each driver’s seat had a tiller for steering, and the Carry Alls could be driven as fast as 15 mph with 12 passengers aboard. Though the tunnel was just over 1,000 feet long, a typical day involved as many as 225 trips, likely taxing the capacity of the lead-acid batteries aboard.

The wagons weren’t off-the-shelf items, and priced at $2,944 each, were roughly twice as expensive as regular production Studebaker electric vehicles of the day (or, for that matter, the brand’s internal combustion offerings, which were added to the product line in 1904). Nicknamed “Tommy” and “Peggy,” the Studebakers entered service on the tunnel’s opening day in 1909 and remained in use for the next seven years, when they were replaced by an electric monorail system.

Both survive today, with the recently restored Tommy (finished in cherry wood) owned by and displayed at the Swigart Museum in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Peggy, finished in a vibrant yellow, resides at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

Brooks Stevens Sceptre

Brooks Stevens Sceptre Brooks Stevens Sceptre Brooks Stevens Sceptre Brooks Stevens Sceptre

Photos courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum.

Another rare Studebaker to be featured in the exhibit comes from the opposite end of the company’s timeline. Designed by Brooks Stevens circa 1962, the Sceptre was intended to replace the Hawk sport coupe in the brand’s lineup. So strong was Steven’s belief in its futuristic styling that the designer funded the construction cost himself, paying Turin’s Sibona-Basano $16,000 to turn his sketches into sheetmetal.

The Sceptre was completed in 1963, and shown to Studebaker management alongside another of Stevens’ designs, the compact Cruiser (designed to replace the Lark). Stevens funded construction of this model by Sibona-Basano as well, reportedly for the same amount, and while the reception from Studebaker’s then-president, Sherwood Egbert, was enthusiastic, no money for development or production was forthcoming. Stevens retained possession of both concepts, displaying them in his Milwaukee, Wisconsin, museum until its closure in 1999. Today, the Sceptre and the Cruiser are owned by the Studebaker National Museum.

1939 Studebaker K15M

1939 Studebaker K15M. Photo courtesy AACA Museum, Inc.

Sponsored by the Studebaker Drivers Club, the Studebaker National Foundation, the Antique Studebaker Club, and the Studebaker Drivers Club, Studebaker Cool will also feature a pre-Studebaker E-M-F, Studebaker trucks, Champions, Hawks, Avantis, and more. Concurrent with the exhibit, the AACA Museum will feature a Raymond Loewy Retrospective in its Members First Gallery, and the opening reception (taking place on Friday, May 17 from 5:30 – 9:00 p.m.) will include a discussion (moderated by Hemmings columnist and Concours d’Elegance emcee Bill Rothermel) and book signing with Studebaker National Museum archivist Andrew Beckman; automotive historian (and Hemmings columnist) Patrick Foster; and Hawk expert Mark James.

Studebaker Cool: 114 Years of Innovation will run from May 18 – October 20. For additional information, visit AACAMuseum.org/Studebaker-Cool/.