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Museum Kept Barn Find: 1928 Studebaker

1928 Studebaker

As proof that barn find cars have gone mainstream, the San Diego Automotive Museum located in beautiful Balboa Park, has installed a permanent exhibit, showing a real barn find from nearby Imperial Beach, California. The car is a 1928 Studebaker two door that evidently went into a barn in 1966, and except for a few times, stayed there for more than 40 years.


The real car is in the museum now, displayed as it was when it was removed from its long term storage. Because this is southern California, the description of the car suggests it most likely would have been made into a hot rod if it had been found back in the day.


I wonder though, if this relatively rare Studebaker (I think it’s a Big Six Commander, of which relatively few were made in 1928) might have been a candidate for restoration, considering its relative completeness.



The display also includes a great video showing a major barn find of cars from the fifties, and overall provides a nice sense of what the barn find “sport” is all about.


I really enjoyed this relatively small museum. At this moment their current main floor exhibit is a great collection of UK cars called “The British Invasion,” featuring Jaguars, a Morgan, a Rolls, a beautiful Lagonda, a couple Austins, and several other British cars of note.


The museum also has a nice collection of motorcycles of various ages and brands, including some beautiful Indians, Harleys and older British bikes.


They also have on display the remarkable Louis Mattar’s 1947 Cadillac (home built in the fifties to be able to travel long distances without stopping; it’s a spectacular car with an incredible story), a segment on the Plank Road that was built in the early 20th century to cross the desert between El Centro, California and Yuma, Arizona, and a Steve McQueen exhibit.


Whenever you are in San Diego, you will have a lot to see and do, but visiting this museum is worth the effort, and how can you pass up a chance to see a real barn find preserved for posterity?


  1. Avatar photo grant

    This is too cool! Thanks for posting this David, and all the cool links too.

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  2. Avatar photo Roseland Pete

    Thanks for mentioning that 47 Caddy. I saw a clip on TV about it years ago but didn’t remember any details. Fascinating car!

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  3. Avatar photo Jason Houston

    This is probably a great place to visit. Although I’m suspicious of ‘museums’ that charge admission to see cars for sale, and then ask for fee donated cars…

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    • Avatar photo David Wilk Member

      Jason – the San Diego Automotive Museum is a nonprofit, has been in place since 1988, and as far as I can tell, they do not sell cars. Their mission is purely educational. The admission fee is very reasonable ($6 for seniors, military or students) and I think they really do what museums are supposed to do. Here’s what they say about themselves: http://sdautomuseum.org/about-us
      The idea for this museum originated with the wonderful Briggs Cunningham too.
      best – David

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      • Avatar photo Jason Houston

        I was told they don’t sell cars, but there have been a few low-quality junkers on craigslist over the past few years with their name. I guess I’m just sick to death of reading about “.orgs” who want donated cars, as all they’re running is a fraud scheme to separate naïve people from their money.

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      • Avatar photo David Member

        I don’t quite understand your point of view regarding museums selling cars. Museums have to support themselves by any means possible because many receive no public funding. The admission price covers only a small part of the costs to maintain a museum. What is wrong with people too cheap to pay a few bucks for admission then fork over $10 for a fast food lunch. As a volunteer in the local automobile museum, I really don’t understand people who object to paying admission.The local museum has cars for sale but they are not on display but are in a separate area. The museum is supported by admissions, car sales, hosting special events and whatever else will help pay the bills. When a family inherits an old car, selling it on consignment can be the best option and by having a museum sell it, it’s sold by someone who knows and loves old cars and helps support the museum.

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  4. Avatar photo fred

    Saw a show on Velocity channel about the 47 Caddy trip…first time I had ever heard of it. Funniest thing was the passenger needed laxative so a doctor drove alongside and delivered it. I really don’t want to know the rest of that story!

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  5. Avatar photo JW454

    I saw a short clip some time ago of the 47 Cadillac too. They demonstrated how they could change a tire on the road at speed and refueling while moving.

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  6. Avatar photo Jason Houston


    You certainly raise some good points. I haven’t been to either of the ones in Cali. but have indeed heard they are both excellent.

    I’ve also seen the gushing BS of some of those big a******s in the Midwest. Their cars are usually crappy, inaccurate restorations, they’re ten times overpriced, they usually get their facts and history wrong, and yet each brags about himself as if he’s the only world expert collector cars and just knows everything.

    The last car museum I saw was Bill Harrah’s in Reno, and it was a true museum.

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  7. Avatar photo Cassidy

    Fascinating stories about the Plank Road and Louis Mattar! Nice write-up, I’ll have to visit the museum next time I’m in SD. One day a month all the museums are free at Balboa Park, I have forgotten what day it is since I haven’t been down there in a long time. Best place in San Diego to spend a few days!

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  8. Avatar photo RON

    Thanks for the view. Just wish I could get that stude coupe and put it together. We all have our own weird opinions on these matters but what ever yours its still the greatest hobby from free to whatever level of participation you may be able to enjoy love to be reminded and exposed to all these great stories I have never seen and often forgotten

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  9. Avatar photo Gary K

    Thank you David for the nice write up on this, I am a local and a BCA member and visit the CAM when I can. I was not aware of the Museum in SD but it will be on my to do (see) list next time I am in Socal, which is often as we have family in Laguna Beach. I was very fortunate back in 1969 to visit and get a nice tour at the Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno, at that time I was on leave with the U.S. Army and my next stop RVN, so for me It was a beautiful sight to see, vintage cars being trailered or trucked in and restoration being started immediately. I say if you have never visited a car museum it should be on all gear heads to do or bucket list.

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  10. Avatar photo Speedo

    I will always have a soft spot for the original Harrah’s Auto Museum. In a previous life, my wife and I were driving a ’51 Chevy panel truck, with 140,000 miles on it, camping coast to coast. We arrived at Harrah’s about 3:00 pm. I asked how long they would be open and how long it would take to see the collection. The old gentleman at the ticket booth told us it closed at 5 and we would need at least 4-6 hours to do it justice. He had apparently seen us arrive and asked: “Are you a little short of cash?” We said we were camping and he said go on in and come back tomorrow and only talk to him. We enjoyed our two hours and returned first thing the next day and found his station. He immediately said: “You were the two that were a little short of cash, go on in this one is on us.” It is something we have never forgotten and I try to pay it forward whenever I can. The truck went another 100,000 miles but with an engine transplant and a 4 speed to replace the 3 on the tree that constantly locked up in first. Try finding an 4 speed with a torque tube adapter on the back.

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  11. Avatar photo Britt

    It is very interesting that there was no attempt to restore. I can understand it. Where do you start–making a hood? I had a 29 Ford roadster in about the same shape. I keep it for about a year and then passed it on to a friend with lots of time. You wonder why those parts were gone. Ever old car is a mystery. I would like to talk to the last owner and find out why he gave it up.

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  12. Avatar photo Lion

    Where I live there was a huge deserted psychiatric hospital that anyone could have had for $1.00, including the several acres around it. It was full of small rooms, large dorms, long corridors and caged in stairwells to deter jumpers. Three stories tall with a full basement full of shops (plumbing, electrical, woodwork, etc.) and solid as a rock. Many claim it was full of ghosts, too.
    It would have made a fabulous car museum and had I been a billionaire, I would have grabbed it.
    OH, sorry, the whole point of the story was to say I would have had several displays of unrestored and original vehicles. Design a room as a barn and roll a hulk into it. What a good idea.

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