Minnesota man’s 112-car collection, bound for auction, is nearly half Studebakers and Avantis
Nestled in the rolling hills just west of Minneapolis/St. Paul is the farmstead that was home to Virgil Marple, his family, and well over 100 cars—the majority being Studebakers and Avantis. This extensive collection is up for online sale through Vanderbrink Auctions.
Born in 1939 and raised on the family farm near Wendel, Minnesota, Marple went on to attend the University of Minnesota, attaining a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1970. His doctoral dissertation and subsequent lifetime area of expertise concerned research in the field of particle technology and aerosol science, specifically in the design of inertial particle separation devices. These are used to collect airborne particles for chemical analysis. He attained more than 25 patents for airborne particle impactors and associated devices for industrial and medical use. The commercial extension of his patents enabled him to be a business partner in MSP Corporation, which produced and licensed his designs.
Marple’s work helped better analyze airborne particles to allow for cleaner air and better health, but the last few years of his life were, ironically, spent fighting a debilitating lung condition. He passed away on Christmas Eve in 2017.
The appeal of Studebakers
His patents and business success allowed Marple, in later decades of his life, to start acquiring the vintage Studebakers and Avantis that he loved. “When I first met Virgil, in his office he had a large poster of a 1955 Studebaker President Speedster,” said Trevor Nye, a former Minnesota professor and Virgil’s on-site support person for the collection.
Marple didn’t really get the bug to start collecting until the 1980s. His first collectible Studebaker was a 1955 Champion four-door sedan, because his family had one like it when he was growing up.
“Virgil liked the mechanics and aesthetics of cars,” said Nye. “One of his heroes was Raymond Loewy. Virgil liked all of his designs, especially the Avanti.” Marple bought several Studebaker Avantis, but he didn’t stop there, purchasing a few of the later-generation Avantis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He and Nye almost opened an Avanti museum in Shelbyville, Tennessee, around 1999, when the company moved from its native Ohio to Georgia.
Nye isn’t exactly sure how, but Marple acquired a number of prototype components from after Avanti’s Youngstown, Ohio, plant closed in 1991. The haul includes body bucks and mold patterns for the short-lived four-door Avanti. Not only was Virgil an original owner of a four-door, but he eventually owned six of the approximately 90 total examples that were made. The second of these rare models is up for sale in the auction.
“Virgil had me take the truck out to Youngstown to pick up some material that was left from the company,” said Nye. “They were set up in what was basically a defunct strip mall, and it looked like everyone just walked away from it. The new developer was just as happy to get rid of everything. I brought it to Shelbyville, storing it there while we thought we were going to get the museum going. When that didn’t happen, I brought it all up here to Virgil’s place.”
The first to call, and never with a counter
While Marple was a big fan of Studebakers, he wasn’t active in any of the Studebaker clubs. He did, however, make sure to get the Studebaker Driver’s Club’s Turning Wheels magazine delivered overnight from the printer. “When it showed up, anything he was doing stopped, and he went straight to the classifieds and start calling folks who had cars for sale that he wanted,” said Nye. Not only did he act fast to contact sellers, but he did not negotiate on price. “If he wanted it, he bought it, and that was it.”
Nearly one of every Studebaker series and body style represented in Marple’s collection. A few of his cars have been restored (such as this 1955 Studebaker President Speedster), but for the most part, he gathered for the sake of gathering. Marple filled up barns with cars and added sheds on his farm to store the growing collection.
While Studes represented the bulk of his interest, Marple also collected a host of other cars. He had an affection for independent manufacturers, orphan car companies, and automotive outcasts—Edsel, Pinto, Pacer, Subaru XT Turbo. Even a 1935 Pierce-Arrow V-12 sedan.
Since Marple’s passing, his family sold off around 100 of his cars. But with the property now sold, as well, they contacted Vanderbrink (noted for selling the Lambrecht Chevrolet collection of Pierce, Nebraska in 2013) to conduct a no-reserve auction of the remaining 112 cars and trucks. The sale also includes vintage tractors and new-old-stock Studebaker parts. Vanderbrink originally intended to have both an on-site and online component, but with the current pandemic and uncertainty around when Minnesota’s stay-at-home order will be lifted, the sale has fully transitioned to online. Lots close May 30.