Indiana’s Studebaker Museum to Restore ‘Muppet Movie’ Car | Archive
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Studebaker National Museum is home to a bullet-nosed car that Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem — that group of woolly-headed textile rockers in “The Muppet Movie” — once gave a psychedelic paint job.
In the 1979 film, Fozzie Bear drives off in his uncle’s freshly painted clunker, telling the group, “I don’t know how to thank you guys.
To which passenger Kermit the Frog adds, “I don’t know why to thank you guys.”
But the garish bursts of bright blue, orange and yellow have since faded to dull gray. The engine is stuck, seized up by Hollywood modifications of long ago that hid a tiny human driver in the trunk.
Now the museum has launched a $175,000 crowdsourcing campaign to restore the 1951 Studebaker Commander to its cinematic glory. This, in turn, would allow the car to be loaned to other museums and taken to car shows.
Archivist Andrew Beckman said the car was “in pretty bad shape”. It had been sitting for several years in the outdoor lot of a studio when, in 2004, the museum acquired it as a gift from the Orange Empire chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club in California.
It has seen only minor cleanings, stabilizations and headlight replacements since its move to South Bend, although it has been on public display in the museum most of the time – one of the most popular exhibits even in recent times. weeks.
This Studebaker played a key role in Kermit and Fozzie’s road trip across the United States, en route to Hollywood to pursue their dreams of making it big in show business, encountering a menagerie of Muppet characters and ongoing human stars of road.
Muppets creator Jim Henson had brought his furry creations to ‘Sesame Street’ in 1969 and ‘The Muppet Show’ from 1976 to 1981, but it marked their film debut while also introducing effects like a driving bear a car and Muppets walking on their own feet. .
It was also an iconic film for children.
Beckman was a boy at the time. If it was another children’s movie, he should have asked his parents to go to the cinema. But he remembers his father, who owned five or six Studebakers at the time and a few dozen over the years, suggesting that he take him to see the movie “because it had a Studebaker in it.”
Kermit and Fozzie sing the song “Movin’ Right Along” inside the yet to be painted car as we see several shots of it cruising across America. Then Fozzie said, “Ah, a bear in its natural habitat, a Studebaker.”
At another point, the car bumps into another old drummer car heading straight for Fozzie and Kermit, driven by the Muppet Gonzo. Gonzo’s car ends up upside down on Fozzie’s vehicle. Fozzie gets into a used car at the request of Kermit, who suggests that they could trade those cars in for a better one.
“What, trade in my uncle’s Studebaker?” Fozzie protests, just before encountering a sleazy salesman played by Milton Berle.
The museum has wanted to restore the car since 2004, but it is now a priority, Beckman said, because there has been renewed interest in the Muppets and the car itself.
A ‘Muppets Now’ series debuted on the Disney+ channel in 2020. And the car was part of various ‘The Muppet Movie’ props that were featured in a 2020 episode of the ‘Prop Culture’ show, too. on Disney+.
There were actually two Studebaker commanders used for filming – one for long shots where puppeteers weren’t needed and this one, to show the Muppets driving down the road (well, with a puppeteer hidden under the puppet board). edge). Beckman said he hadn’t heard of the other car’s whereabouts.
Most of the film’s flashy paint has worn off after years in the exterior elements. Beckman said the filmmakers used poster paint, which he’s seen on prop cars from other movies. The paint could be washed off and did not reflect light or mirror images of the crew into the camera.
“They needed it to look good for the shoot,” Beckman said. “What happened beyond that didn’t concern them. Any Hollywood prop is like that. They certainly weren’t thinking about what would happen in 20 years.
The restoration project will study film and stills to match the paint job from the film (as the film’s story goes, the paint scheme was camouflaged so the car would blend into a certain soda billboard ). This time, however, a more durable paint will be used.
“We want to make it appear as correctly as possible, but also use stable materials,” Beckman said.
Likewise, the museum aims to restore the engine so that it can be driven safely – not necessarily on open roads, but to position it at motor shows where it could be an “attractive piece”.
Under the trunk, the gas tank had been removed and replaced by a small container under the engine hood. This created room in the trunk for a seat, steering wheel and controls for a hidden, small-sized human who would view the road through a camera. The camera looked through a hole in the nose of the bullet where the “bullet” was removed.
Restoration will still show the unique accessories in the chest, which are currently exposed, but for safer handling. Beckman said the steering wheel and controls will return to the driver’s seat.
The restorers will also have to deal with the badly deteriorated headliner and seats.
Beckman said the project will take several months and will be carried out by LaVine Restorations, a Nappanee company that specializes in vintage and classic car restorations and has worked on several museum vehicles.
Over several years, a donation box at the show raised $9,095 in donations to restore the car.
Why was a commander from 1951 chosen for the film? According to a 1979 article in Studebaker Drivers Club magazine, Beckman said director James Frawley saw one, felt it was the right look, and insisted it be used.
The magazine had also quoted screenwriter Jerry Juhl as saying he thought the 1951 Commander was the “clumsiest” car ever produced. And for a Muppets movie, that meant it was the right car.
In 1951, Beckman said, the Commander was significant because it marked Studebaker’s very first V8 engine. It was also the second year for the bullet nose design. Good seller, it is the more powerful and more upscale of the two models that the firm offers that year, alongside the Champion, which has a V6 engine.
Now, could it be that the “gross shape” of the car is because a Hollywood studio let a bear drive it?
Indeed, as Fozzie drives in one scene, he leans over and buries his head in the map Kermit is studying. The car is spiraling out of control.
“Fozzie, where did you learn to drive?” Kermit asks.
Fozzie responds, “I took a correspondence course.”
How to make a donation :
Find a link to the GoFundMe page to restore “The Muppet Movie” car at the Studebaker National Museum on studebakermuseum.org. Also find updates on social networks: @StudebakerMuseum on Facebook and Instagram, and @StudebakerMus on Twitter. The museum, at 201 Chapin St., South Bend, can also be reached at 574-235-9714.