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Before The Internet – South Bend Lathe Co. Salesman’s Cars

In today’s fast-paced world, a manufacturer’s product information is easily found online and on youtube in a matter of minutes. Back in the old days if you were looking for information about a South Bend lathe, often the first step was to find an advertisement in “Popular Mechanics,” cut out the little request form, fill it out and send it in the mail and WAIT a week or two before the brochure arrived.

There was also another age-old alternative to actually see, touch, feel, and learn about products which were brought directly to you; a traveling salesperson and the firm’s specially outfitted vehicle for viewing, and in many cases demonstrating the merchandise would drive right to your door.

This Chevrolet station wagon with specially constructed product displays and the salesman was photographed in 1951 at the South Bend Lathe Co. factory located in South Bend, Indiana. The lathe was fitted to a sliding table and just in front of it is an angled panel that has all of the optional equipment available for the machine displayed. Located in front of it behind the seat is a shaper, and a small drill press. If the car was equipped with an electronic inverter, or by the use an extension cord, all of the products could be demonstrated under power.

The photos below show the salesman’s Chevrolet in its display mode, and following it a late forties Plymouth coupe outfitted with a smaller lathe in its trunk. We will return soon with a pair of special trucks that South Bend used to displaying more of its product line.

Tell us all about both the Chevrolet and the Plymouth shown in the images.

Be sure to also view a very unique postwar salesman’s car with a clear dome, and a salesman’s Ford outfitted with an operating demonstration engine. The photos courtesy of Jason B are via the Practical Machinist.

South Bend Lathe Chevrolet Saleman's Car 1951

  • A South Bend Lathe Co. metal lathe above in a Chevrolet wagon, and below a shaper and drill press.

South Bend Shaper & Drill Press 1951

  • Below is a late forties South Bend Lathe Co. Plymouth Salesman’s coupe with a lathe installed in the trunk.

1940s Plymouth South Bend Lathe Salesman's Car-I

1940s Plymouth South Bend Lathe Salesman's Car

Late-1940s South Bend Bench Lathe

15 responses to “Before The Internet – South Bend Lathe Co. Salesman’s Cars

  1. 1st pic. 1950 simulated wood grain (steel) panels. It had a 216 CI six cylinder engine with a whopping 92 horsepower. It’s a good thing the speed limit was 55 mph in those days; with a rear axle ration of 4.11 to 1 that old pushrod six wouldn’t tolerate much faster speeds.

  2. Quiz time. What is the attachment on the top right of the tool board? Taper attachment? I’m refering to the Chevy wagon pix. Also, what is the weight of that machine shop on wheels? Its got to have helper springs. Nice pix.

  3. I think that the piece in question is a precision level, which I think appeared in at least one of the brochures that I have. Not an accesory for that particular lathe, but SB allways stressed setting the beds up level, on installation.

    Herb Kephart

  4. When I started my engineering apprenticeship back in 1958 the first machine I ever worked on was a South Bend lathe, probably a bit bigger than the one in the article. The company I worked for had several old American machines left over from the lend lease scheme in WWII

  5. Hmm, must have missed this one. While I don’t have much to add about S. Bend Lathe, ( except that must have been a heavy load in the wagon) on a recent trip back to Wisconsin, I saw a sign for the Studebaker Museum, so figured, what the heck. I have got to say, without reservation, it was the most wonderful experience I had in a long time. I strongly recommend it to anyone travelling across that boring state on I-80. Aside from Studebaker, the museum also concentrated on the industry in South Bend. I had no idea, Oliver tractors, Bendix Corp. and many many others had their roots there. Sadly, not much remains of those glory years ( all that remains of the Oliver tractor facility is the smokestack with the word “Oliver” on it). However, the people are very proud of the industry that helped make this country great.

  6. A friend of mine has a South Bend lathe that he still uses in his repair shop. It came from a Navy ship. I saw another one when touring the USS Yorktown.

    I wonder why South Bend Lathe Company did not by locally and use Studebakers. Of course Studebaker did not produce a station wagon after WWII until 1954.

  7. In the 5th photo from the top, I hope that the salesman will change into some appropriate attire if he actually starts the lathe – ties and moving equipment are not a happy mix!

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