Several years ago, Mark Henning fell in love with a car – and he’s been on a wild ride ever since.
“I had to retire because of an accident, so my wife told me to go out and get a hobby,” he said. “I kind of like old cars, so I found one to restore.
“It was a Studebaker.”
It was a humble start to what’s become a real passion in Henning’s life.
Beginning June 28, Studebaker enthusiasts from around the world will be attending the annual Studebaker Drivers Club International Meet, which will run through July 5 at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and the Dover Downs International Speedway.
It will be the 50th anniversary of the meet and the first to be held on the East Coast, said Henning, who is chairman of the event. The Delmarva Studebaker Club, which is sponsoring the meet, is expecting to play host to at least 500 of the vehicles.
One man has shipped his right-hand drive 1962 Studebaker Lark from Sydney, Australia, just to take part, he said. Owners are coming from 11 other countries, including Norway and South Africa.
Why so much interest in a car whose last model rolled off the production line almost 50 years ago?
“You can go to a classic car show and you’ll see a whole bunch of Camaros, a whole bunch of Mustangs and a whole bunch of Corvettes,” Henning said. “How often do you see a Studebaker?”
Once one of the most popular car lines in the nation, the Studebaker company got its start manufacturing wagons and carriages, including the famous Conestogas that carried pioneers in the 1800s. Studebaker was the only firm to make the transition from horse-drawn to horseless carriages in the early 1900s, and was a major supplier of vehicles to the U.S. Army during World War II.
Studebaker’s M29 Weasel, a tracked vehicle used to great effect during the war was manufactured at the company’s plant in Indiana, but modified and painted for overseas use here in Dover.
But bad management eventually doomed the once-thriving company, and it went out of business in 1966.
In addition to a Studebaker-built Conestoga and several examples of the M29, the show will feature everything from a 1926 Standard Six, which was built on a wooden frame with wooden wheel spokes to the 1966 Commander, the last Studebaker model built.
Car fans no doubt will be on the lookout for examples of the Commander, whose projectile-shaped front end earned it the sobriquet “Bullet Nose.”
People at the show will be able to take free rides in the M29, and also will get a chance to inspect other wartime vehicles, including the 2.5-ton US-6 and the 5-ton M-17.
Clubs affiliated with Henning’s Delmarva organization also will be on hand, including owners of antique Studebakers and the much admired Studebaker Avanti, the first mass manufactured car with an all-fiberglass body. Built only for two years, the Avanti was sold as the first high-performance passenger car and quickly set a number of land speed records, several of which still stand today.
Seminars on the Studebaker will be held throughout the week, and several will be taken out for a drive around the Speedway’s Monster Mile on Wednesday. A number of cars will be on display Thursday and kids will get a chance to finger paint a 1951 Bullet Nose, much like the one driven by Fozzie Bear in 1979’s “The Muppet Movie.”
“We just want people to come in, wander around, and get interested in Studebakers,” Henning said. “This is going to be one of the largest gatherings of Studebakers since the company went out of business and the largest variety of Studebakers in one place at one time, ever.
“We hope people will come out and get a feel for the Studebaker and its history.”