Even if you’re not an expert in ursine biology, noted Muppet comedian Fozzie Bear displays his bearhood in two very unmistakable ways: first, he wears a hat, and second, he can be found in a bear’s natural habitat: a Studebaker. Well, that particular Studebaker, a 1951 Champion, is in desperate need of renovation, and the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana is trying to raise funds to restore this important automotive cinematic icon.
Just in case you forgot how wonderful it is to see some Muppets driving around in Bob Bourke’s mid-century bullet-nosed masterpiece, maybe you should take a moment and watch this whole video, then watch it again, so you can sing along:
Oh yeah, that’s good stuff.
In case you’re wondering just how Fozzie was able to drive that car — which he inherited from his uncle, at least while his uncle was hibernating — there’s a bit of a clue in that video, if you notice that something is missing. Here, look:
See what’s missing? The Champion was best known for its chrome “bullet nose,” a pointy chrome bit front and centre that was actually supposed to reference an aeroplane’s propeller hub.
That chrome bit is missing because there was actually a video camera set in that hole, and that camera was connected to a monitor in the trunk of the car, where a little person was stationed with driving controls. The setup is still in place on the car! Look:
A Muppet Show Fan Club publication described it like this, and mentioned some of the difficulties involved:
How does Fozzie drive a car? He doesn’t — a [little person] drives the car by remote control from the trunk, using a television monitor to guide his steering. The puppeteers were lying on the seat or were scrunched on the floor and couldn’t see a thing. The first time they tried ‘driving’, the television monitor went on the blink, and the driver had to be talked through the scene by an assistant director on a walkie-talkie. ‘A little to the right, now, to the left… hold it…’
The car has a pretty distinctive paint job, too, though that’s very faded now. You can see it here from the movie, in a scene where the Studebaker is carrying Gonzo the Great’s 1970 Citroën Mehari plumber’s van on its roof:
Betcha didn’t know there was a freaking Mehari in the Muppet Movie, right?
That psychedelic paint job was the result of an attempt to camouflage the car in front of a billboard for a fictional but exciting-looking beverage:
The Studebaker is in pretty rough shape now, and the museum is hoping to raise $US175,000 ($241,080) to give the car a full restoration to the condition it was in for the movie. That includes elaborate custom paint, the remote driving setup, everything.
If you’d like to donate, the link is here. This is a car that brought a lot of people joy and remains one of my favourite movie cars, too. The Muppets managed to be funny, clever and widely appealing without being cloying or saccharine and somehow did it in a way that’s never really been replicated since. This seems like a worthwhile car to restore.
I wonder if the National Wildlife Federation or the Park Service should be involved, what with it being a natural bear habitat and all? Seems like they should.