Indiana was once a mecca of automobile manufacturing and, wow, Hoosier manufacturers turned out some beauties. Ten of them will be on display as part of Vintage Vision: Cars of the 1920s, which runs from Feb. 18 to Oct. 15 at the Indiana State Museum.
The cars to be shown include a 1920 Stutz model H sedan, 1920 Monroe type S, 1922 Lexington model U, 1922 Davis Touring, 1925 Apperson Jackrabbit, 1925 Duesenberg model A touring car, 1925 McFarlan, 1926 Duesenberg model A roadster (Augie Duesenberg’s personal car), 1928 Studebaker Presidential 8 touring car and 1929 Marmon Roosevelt coupe. They are on loan from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
The exhibit also will include vintage clothing from the 1920s, and visitors will be able to dress up like the mascots (the hood ornaments on the car) for a photo op. In addition, visitors can build their own miniature car and test it on a track.
“Automobile manufacturing has played a huge role in the development of Indiana manufacturing,” said Damon Lowe, senior curator of natural sciences and technology, who curated the exhibit. “A lot of these companies started out as carriage manufacturers, and there was no market for automobiles until they said, ‘We’re going to make these and we’re going to get people to like them.’”
At its peak, Indiana was home to more than 90 automobile manufacturers. If you include suppliers, the number totaled around 300.
In the early days, Lowe said, these manufacturers would test their cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – initially to prove and improve their durability, then later to demonstrate speed and performance.
“They’re learning the mechanics that will go into the last pre-WWII style of cars that everyone covets,” he said. “The cars from the 1920s are not quite as iconic as the ’30s cars, but you couldn’t have those cars without these because all the technology came out of the ’20s cars.”
Indiana manufacturers at the time were known for mid-priced and high-end cars. The manufacturers’ approach was to avoid mass production and instead build durable autos. The cars in this exhibit originally sold for $1,200 to $7,500.
Ultimately, the Great Depression killed off all of the manufacturers in this exhibit except for Studebaker, which went out of business in 1966.
“Every one of these companies nearly went bankrupt multiple times,” Lowe said. “But they kept plugging away because they were so passionate about this. If it wasn’t for the Depression, they probably would have survived in some fashion and we would have had them around much longer.”
Vintage Vision: Cars of the 1920s is free with museum admission ($16 for adults, $15 for seniors, $11 for children and $5 for current college students with an Indiana school ID). For more information, call 317-232-1637.
PHOTO ABOVE: This 1920 Stutz will be part of Vintage Vision: Cars of the 1920s, opening Feb. 18 at the Indiana State Museum.