Mar 25, 2014
Gary P. Garry
Comments Off on Drive One For The Gipper: The Studebaker Rockne

Drive One For The Gipper: The Studebaker Rockne

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The legendary Knute Rockne was the head football coach at his alma mater, Notre Dame University, from 1918 to 1930. When you look at the numbers, you can see why people still remember his name.

His record as the head coach at Notre Dame was 105-12-5. That’s a stunning .881 winning percentage, which is the second highest of any college football coach. His teams were undefeated and untied during five of those 13 seasons.

Rockne was the coach who famously gave the “Win one for the Gipper” speech. The Gipper was a guy who played for Notre Dame named George Gipp. Gipp passed away when he was just 25 years old.

Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Indiana. There was also a major automobile manufacturer in South Bend while Rockne was coaching the Fighting Irish: The Studebaker Corporation.

The people at Studebaker thought a marriage was in order. They offered Rockne an executive position and intended to create a new automotive brand called the Rockne. The Rockne would be an economy model that was affordable for the ordinary working person.

Shortly after he took the job, Knute Rockne died in a plane crash, but the company that carried his name lived on, albeit briefly.

In 1931 the Rockne 75 went into production, and in 1932 the company produced the smaller Rockne 65. In 1933 they manufactured the Rockne 10, and that was the last year of production. In all, the company produced around 38,000 cars in 1932 and 1933.

You have to question the timing of the project, because the country was in the midst of the Great Depression during these three years. The idea was that a low-priced car like the Rockne was the right vehicle during an economic downturn, but they underestimated the impact of the Depression.

The Rockne actually sold reasonably well for a newly introduced brand, and aficionados say that it was a perfectly well built motor vehicle. The problems at Studebaker weren’t necessarily caused by the Rockne.

The parent Studebaker Corporation remained in business after the Rockne brand was discontinued. Though they fell into debt during the Rockne years, by the end of 1933 the company was profitable again.

We will never know if Knute Rockne would have made a difference if he had lived. He was certainly a winner throughout his life, and failure was not a part of his vocabulary. His immense popularity and mythical mojo could have potentially kept the brand afloat.

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