4 November 2019

More than an old car #122: Rockne Six 75

Having covered relatively newer cars recently, I decided to change tack and focus on oldies once a while, or what I call the "big boys". This 1932 Rockne Six 75 was an interesting sight to behold, as it was about to set off for a race!

The Rockne Company was an American car brand that was founded in 1932, under the management of the Studebaker Automobile Company. Studebaker was established by the German immigrant brothers Peter and Clement way back in 1852, where they started out making horse wagons. The first Studebaker car appeared in 1897 and it enjoyed moderate success from the 1920s to the 1950s, before becoming defunct in 1967.

In 1928, Albert Erskine, the president of Studebaker, approached his long-time friend Knute Rockne with a position as sales promotion manager of cars that would eventually bear his name. Rockne was a renowned American football coach at that time for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which was near the Studebaker factories at South Bend. Rockne was worried that this would interfere with his duty as a coach but Erskine allayed these concerns. In 1931, Rockne was formally appointed and the first Rockne cars appeared in the showroom. Tragically, Rockne himself died in a plane crash near Kansas 12 days later. This partly accelerated the demise of the Rockne brand just 2 years later in 1933, where it was subsumed back under Studebaker.

The car itself was designed by 2 independent engineers, who had been contracted to create a new low-priced car for the Willys-Overland Company. Ralph Vail, one of the engineers, was passing by South Bend when he decided to drop by the Studebaker plant to advertise his creation. That very afternoon, Erskine was suitably impressed and hired the 2 engineers on the spot. Two cars were greenlighted for production: the "65" on a 2,800 mm wheelbase [which was designed by the engineers], and the "75" on a 2,900 mm wheelbase, which was based on the Studebaker Six. Different variants were built, such as 2-door coupe and convertible, 4-door sedan and a panel van. It was mostly powered by a 3365 cc i6 engine, which was derived from other Studebaker cars.

Production ended in 1933 with 7,324 "75" models made, which was about 20% of all 37,879 Rockne cars. Most cars fell victim to rust or were crushed for scrap metal during WW2, and it was also popularly involved in hot-rod customisation after the war. About 250 Rocknes are known to exist, making this an unlikely rarity to take part in a punishing rally race! This is a Swiss-registered (Zurich) unit that came here in 2018, to take part in a rally from Singapore to Saigon, Vietnam. From what I understand, none were sold here although some were used as taxis in Hong Kong in 1932.

It is not everyday that you get to see such an old car on the road, much less racing against competitors such as the Ford Mustang and Porsche 911. However, it was a nice unique touch to the whole rally and I am sure the owners have many experiences to share. Such events are also very effective in allowing one to see a large variety of cars that Singapore did not receive and I recommend you to go for one if you hear about it!

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