INDIANAPOLIS — Have you ever wondered what a Stutz, Marmon, Dusenberg or Studebaker all have in common? Do you know what any of these names mean by chance? They’re all classic cars which were built right here in Indiana. 

Believe it or not Indiana at one time was home to 172 car companies, setting up shop throughout 30 cities and towns throughout the state. They’re all gone now, but you can go back in time, for a limited time, at the Indiana State Museum and experience Hoosier engineering firsthand. 

The exhibit, called ‘Vintage Vision’ takes guests on a tour of ten nearly perfectly preserved vehicles from the 1920s on loan from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Indiana State Museum Senior Curator Damon Lowe says folks might not realize Indiana’s automotive history goes back further and deeper than the Indy 500, however, the famous endurance race and vehicle production in the state were indelibly linked. 

“Most folks thought back then the vehicles had to be raced in the Indy 500, if you didn’t race them, the consensus was, as a manufacturer, you were hiding something,” Lowe said. “So the technology was trickling back into the production cars and then later on by the 20’s they were purpose-built race cars so that technology that was in those race cars was being used in the production cars so it was this really synergistic relationship with the speedway.”

The 10 vehicles on display in Vintage Vision display driving in its perhaps most simple, yet sophisticated, form. The cars are unlike anything most Hoosiers would be familiar with today, explains Lowe. 

“These don’t have modern heating and air conditioning like we’re used to. They don’t have power steering, just the strength of your arms. Their suspension and tires are much different than the things that we’re accustomed to,” Lowe said. “They don’t go as fast, no cruise control. Just general creature comforts, they’re a lot different. Driving one of these is not like the cars that we’re used to.”

While their features may be simplified to nonexistent, the vehicles are quite extravagant in other ways. Some have secret compartments to hold golf clubs, others offer extravagant craftsmanship displayed through leatherwork and exquisite wood paneling not seen on cars of this century. The fact some have not been fully restored is a sight in and of itself says Lowe. 

“With vehicles they are made to be driven so you have to do some sort of maintenance or they do rust away so seeing them in this kind of condition,” Lowes said. “Even though they’re 100 years old, and they have done some restoration on them, you know, that’s what keeps them looking like this for the public to come in and enjoy.”

Part of the museum’s goal with the presentation of Vintage Vision, now through Oct. 15th, is to encourage curious Hoosiers and car enthusiasts alike to travel to local towns throughout the state to view the automotive history firsthand. Cities like South Bend, Connersville, Auburn, Richmond and others all housed automotive factories at some time back in the 20s, and most still display that history in some shape or form in museums of their own today. 

They don’t want this history to be lost.

“People are really into what they grew up with so, now a lot of people are into muscle cars. 20 years ago this is what people were really into… so it’s very cyclical so in 20 years people will be really into 80’s trans-ams, things like that. Maybe in 50 years people will be into 90’s Taurus’s… which is a sad thing to think about,” Lowes said. “Big shiny things are always fun and these are things they’re not used to seeing so and the presentation is just fabulous.”

There really is something offered for everyone at the Indiana State Museum itself, even at the Vintage Vision exhibit, you can build your own car, dress like a hood ornament and more while you’re there.