A Bit Of History: 1931 Rockne Sedan

The Rockne is yet another car you may not be familiar with but it has an interesting history and played an important part in a company you will recognize. Ralph Vail and Roy Cole were commissioned by Willys-Overland to design a six cylinder engine, a light inexpensive car and to build two prototypes. By the time they were completed Willys-Overland was going out of business. Ralph and Roy presented their prototypes to Studebaker who bought the design and hired the two engineers. Knute Rockne, the famous football coach, was named the Studebaker Sales Promotion Manager in 1931 but was killed 12 days later in a plane crash. So…. Studebaker named the car designed for Willys-Overland after Knute Rockne and produced it in 1932 and 1933. This was during the height of the depression when nothing was selling well and as you probably have already figured out, neither did these cars. However, the Rockne engine design carried on in various Studebaker car and truck models until 1960. Unsold Rockne Autos were shipped to Norway and sold. This Rockne is listed on craigslist near Tucson, Arizona for $14,995. It’s a rare car and an interesting part of history. There were no 1931 cars except for the prototypes and a few built in the end of December. It hasn’t been driven for a few years do it will take a little work to get it running.

The interior looks OK. The suicide doors make getting into the back seat very easy. I wonder what year the oil change sticker is from.

Here’ s the engine that was developed into Studebaker’s 6 cylinder engine that was used in other vehicles for almost 30 years. It was finally replaced in 1961 when Studebaker introduced their overhead valve engine.

This old car certainly looks nice from here. This was a very distinctive car in the 1930s but for many looking back it’s just another old car. There are very few of these left (perhaps 230 worldwide including 12 in museums) so I hope this one is preserved.

Fast Finds


  1. JW

    This is why I love this site, I learn more each day about cars I’ve never heard of and something’s about cars I’ve owned and didn’t know.

    • Bbuz

      Me too, never heard of this car. We had Studebakers in the fiftys when I was a kid. My parents had a pre war Wllys right after WWII, were rear ended by a lumber truck, my uncle converted the remains to a pickup and drove it for 10 years. The Rockne would be a fun one to take to cars and coffee.

  2. doug6423

    Gut it. Modernize it. And enjoy the style of yesteryear.

    • Andy

      Yeah, after all, there’s still 238 left after that!

      Like 1
      • doug6423

        I miss the thumbs down…

    • duaney

      Why don’t you visit an art museum and deface irreplaceable items, I’m sure it will give you the satisfaction.

      Like 1
      • Keith

        “I always thought Mona Lisa would look better with a big, toothy smile, so I’m just gonna……..there…….that’s MUCH better!”

  3. Howard A Member

    While visiting the Studebaker museum ( well worth the visit) they had an exhibit on the Rockne. I had heard of it before, but the exhibit really put things in perspective. Things were not good in South Bend, like anywhere. Apparently, the death of Rockne devastated the community, and were leery of buying an automobile with his name, almost sending Studebaker into bankruptcy. Albert Erskine, the president at the time, was ousted and later committed suicide. The Rockne never returned to the Studebaker lineup. After visiting the museum, I’d have to say, Studebaker had quite a history. I strongly urge anyone barreling down I-80 in Indiana, stop in.

    • PackardMike

      Looks like a great place to visit. Wonder if they have room for another Rockne??

    • David Frank David F Member

      There are many versions of history, especially related to the automobile. The fact is in this case, the Rockne was killed BEFORE the car was named. (He died in March, the Rockne began production the following December.The Rockne was named in his honor and it sold pretty well, and his name actually helped sell the car, but 1932 was the worst of the depression and a terrible time to introduce a new car.)

  4. Carl

    Amazes me how many different manufactures of cars there were back then

    • doug6423

      I have a poster that list all or almost all US auto manufactures. The poster states it’s about 3,000. I’ll have to try and remember to dig it out and get a photo to post. I couldn’t image there would have been that many.

      • Howard A Member

        Hi doug, I think that’s a bit optimistic, as I read there were roughly 1,800 car makers in the US from 1896 to 1930. Most of them went under during the depression. 3,000 wordwide, maybe.

        Like 1
  5. Mike

    Not to be a stickler for details, but the engine Studebaker produced up to the 60’s (originally as a flathead then as OHV) was a descendant to the champion motor designed for the all-new clean-sheet 1939 Champion. Also, Ralph & Roy took their new design to Willys but were paid for their design and told they could keep it for their troubles. One of them (can’t remember which) drove it to Southbend to see if they could sell it to Studebaker, which they did.

  6. Vince Habel

    The other bigger 6 was last used in cars in 50. It was last used in trucks in 60. This is totally different than than the 6 used in the Champion.

    Will be at the museum in 2 weeks.

  7. Chuck Foster Chuck Foster

    If you visit the Studebaker museum, go on over east and visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg museum in Auburn IN, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have a Rockne, they have a lot of cars that were produced in Indiana.

  8. bingb

    I grew up near Laurium Mi..the home of the Gipper.His folks had a Studebaker and later MRS Gipp had a Rockne I understand

    • YooperMike

      Hey bingb, fellow Yooper, nice to see someone from Laurium .

  9. Jim Benjaminson

    I have a friend that has one in his museum. Also know of a body only nearby if anyone is serious about resurrecting a Rockne. As for the number of autos built, proposed, dreamed about, etc., the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942 published by Chet Krause and edited by the late Henry Austin Clark, Jr., and Beverly Rae Kimes documents (note that word “documents”) over 5,000. I had a small hand in that publication (1% to be exact). If you don’t have it on your book shelf, you should! I believe the 3rd printing is sold out but its now available on DVD.

  10. Brad Johnson

    A few bits of correct information offered here on the Rockne and its history; and quite a bit of misinformation and hearsay. I have owned and driven a 1933 Rockne Model 10 for over a quarter century, collecting any piece of original literature and sales brochures I could find. Vail and Cole did design what became the Rockne from the ground up under contract to Willys-Overland. They produced two prototypes, a coupe and a sedan. W-O paid them and told them to keep the prototypes. Cole showed his to Erskine, President of Studebaker, who agreed that very day to produce the car as a replacement to the low-priced Erskine that had been in the Studebaker line for several years. Neither of the prototypes of 1931 have ever been labeled as Rocknes. There is not and never has been a 1931 Rockne. Knute Rockne, head coach at Notre Dame, had often been employed by Studebaker to visit distributors and dealers as a motivational representative. On March 19, 1931 he was contracted to be Manager of Sales Promotion Activities for the Studebaker Corporation. Twelve days later he was killed when his plane crashed in Kansas. The moniker for Studebaker’s new line was in homagé to his dedication, spirit and character. The first Rocknes began rolling off the line at Studebaker’s Detroit plant in December, nine months after his death. The first designation was a Model 65. It sported that entirely new flathead six Vail had designed. It displaced 189.8 cubic inches and developed 66 horse power, 110″ wheelbase and There was also a 1932 Rockne Model 75, but it was simply the larger Studebaker 54 of 1931, produced in the South Bend plant with Rockne badging. The only thing that could interchange was the radiator cap. In 1933 the Model 75 was discontinued and the Model 65 became the Model 10, with a few minor styling and mechanical adjustments. It was still 189.8 cid but developed 70 horse power by a compression change. There were also some of all three models produced in the Studebaker plant in Canada. On Easter Sunday 1933 all production was moved to South Bend. The last Rockne 10 rolled off the line in South Bend in July, 1933. The engine known as the Rockne Six would make its reappearance in the ’38 Studebaker Commander as a 226.2cid, with displacements increasing to 245 in Commander cars through 1950 and trucks through 1960. Attached photo is my all original ’33 Model 10.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Beautiful car, Brad, and thanks for the information!

  11. Brad Johnson

    Easiest way to tell a ’32 Rockne from a ’33 Rockne is the slope of the front fender eyebrow. And, just for the record, my ’33 could be considered a barn find. When I bought it in November 1990 it had been sitting in a shed for 31 years. It had 54,028 on the odometer. I’ve added almost 2000 miles since then.

    And, to correct misinformation, Albert Erskine was not ousted from his position at Studebaker. He committed suicide while still holding the position of president of the corporation.

  12. Howard A Member

    Thanks all for responding. Different sites have different accounts of what happened. I’m curious, and have to rely on info I lookup. One thing about misinformation, is it gets people writing about the real truth, and that’s what’s great about this site. One thing we can agree on, Studebaker was one of the greatest vehicle companies ever. ( wagons too, yep, there’s an exhibit for that, and how wood spoke wheels were made, that was interesting).

  13. James

    So what would be the actual vehicle pictured in the 1931 Rockne Sedan story, a 1932 or 1933?

    • Brad Johnson

      This is 1932. Horizontal eyelids on the front fenders and vertical ribs on the rear apron are the tells. 1933 front fenders slope and no ribs on the rear apron.

      • Brad Johnson


  14. Brad Johnson


  15. Brad Johnson


  16. Brad Johnson

    Just for reference, the ’32 would have 18″ wheels and the ’33 would have 17″ wheels.

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