For years the Studebaker National Museum’s collections committee has maintained a wishlist of just five cars the committee members feel belong in the museum. While four of the five remain closely guarded secrets, the top car on the list is and apparently always has been the No. 37 Hunt-Jenkins Special Studebaker Indy racer, and now that the car has been consigned for auction, museum officials are making little secret of their desire to obtain it.
“We’ve looked at every piggy bank we have,” said Don Jones, a board member for both the museum and the Studebaker Driving Club. “But we absolutely need the public to know we want this car because, while the museum is on great financial footing, it doesn’t have the ready cash to go ahead and buy that car at the estimate they’re talking about.”
Though it crashed out of its first run at Indy in 1931, the Hunt-Jenkins Special – entered by George Hunt, Studebaker’s testing chief, and Ab Jenkins, who’d driven Studebakers in endurance runs, and built by Herman Rigling and Pop Dreyer – convinced Studebaker executives to commission four more Indy cars for the 1932 and 1933 races. As if that weren’t enough, it also won Pikes Peak in 1931 and later spent time as Marvin Jenkins’s street car. Since its restoration in the Eighties, it landed in the care of New Hampshire collector Bob Valpey, who raced it in Vintage Sports Car Club of America events and even showed it at Pebble Beach before his death earlier this year.
Valpey’s family has since consigned the racer to Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction, where it’s estimated to sell for $500,000 to $750,000.
“This is a very unique and historical Studebaker,” Jones said. “This is the first time that I know of that one of these racers has gone across the auction block. So it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I – and most of the board – believes that we need to make every attempt we can to bring it to the museum.”
The museum does have an acquisition fund, which it will direct toward buying the Special, Jones said. In addition, the club has already pledged “a substantial part” of its capital improvement fund – normally used to pay for museum-related projects – to the purchase of the Special. On top of that, the museum has started to accept pledges of funds from club members and other Studebaker enthusiasts.
“We don’t know if doing this will scare other bidders away or maybe shame them into bowing out,” Jones said, acknowledging that it can be a double-edged sword for the museum board members to publicly declare their intentions to bid on the car. While other interested parties may back away from bidding on the car, competing bidders may drive the price out of the museum’s reach after seeing the interest in it from the museum board.
“The one thing that really concerns us is that if it gets out of the United States, it’s never coming back,” Jones said.
According to Jones, Valpey and museum officials did talk about the potential donation of the car to the museum before he died, but Valpey reportedly was adamant that the car continue to be raced and not sit unused in a museum.
“We’ve discussed his intentions at great lengths, and while it’s not our intention to race it, we do think we have a way to honor his intentions for the car,” Jones said.
Most cars in the museum’s collection arrive there via donation, Jones said. “We have gone out and bought some in the past, but it’s rare that we do.”
According to Jones, the museum has looked into obtaining some of the other Studebaker Indy cars – three of which still exist – but they all currently reside in museums or with owners who have no intention to let go of the cars.
The Gooding Pebble Beach auction will take place August 16 to 17 at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, in time for the museum to show the Hunt-Jenkins Special at its annual international meet September 10 in Mansfield, Ohio, should it place the winning bid for the car.