At Last, the Car from The Muppet Movie Will Get a Restoration

Studebaker National Museum

If your answer to the question “What’s a bear’s natural habitat?” is anything but “a Studebaker,” it’s time to grab some popcorn and watch (or re-watch) Jim Henson’s The Muppet Movie. Thirty-five years after Fozzie Bear and Kermit the Frog road-tripped to Hollywood in a 1951 Studebaker Commander, the colorful movie car has embarked on an even longer journey, an 18-month road to restoration.

One of two ’51 Studebakers used in the 1979 comedy musical and now owned by the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, the one-time movie prop is headed to Razorfly Studios in Sylva, North Carolina, for a full makeover. The transformation of the now-dilapidated car is expected to be finished by summer 2025.

The news has drawn plenty of media attention and rekindled happy memories for fans of all ages. That comes as no surprise to Studebaker National Museum Archivist Andrew Beckman, who says the car and Henson’s characters make great co-stars.

Fozzie Bear Studebaker in The Muppet Movie 1979
ITC Entertainment Henson Associates

“The style and whimsy of the Muppets dovetails nicely with the Studebaker’s far-out styling,” Beckman says. “The film’s producers were intent on finding a Studebaker to serve as Kermit and Fozzie’s ride, as they felt it was a good fit.”

Beckman was a child when the movie came out, and he didn’t have to twist his dad’s arm to take him to see it. In fact, his father owned a handful of Studebakers at the time, and he was the one who suggested going to watch The Muppet Movie. It’s no wonder why Fozzie’s ’51 Commander has been special to Beckman ever since.

Fozzie Muppets Studebaker pre-paint job
ITC Entertainment Henson Associates

“The car is more of a character in the film, similar to the Love Bug or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” he says. “The film came out when the Muppets were at the height of their popularity, on TV every week, and Kermit was on Sesame Street. The movie was designed for all ages and was a huge success.”

The story follows Fozzie and his sidekick Kermit as they drive cross country to make it big in show business. Along the way they meet dozens of other Muppet characters and an endless stream of real-life stars, including Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould, Madeline Kahn, and Carol Kane.

Chased by villainous Doc Hopper, played by Charles Durning, Fozzie and Kermit run into the fictional rock band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Offering to help the weary travelers, the band members decide to disguise the car, but the psychedelic paint job they choose is hardly subtle.

When the group is finished, Fozzie is impressed. Kermit? Not so much.

“I don’t know how to thank you guys,” Fozzie says.

Kermit quickly adds, “I don’t know why to thank you guys.”

Since computer-generated imagery was not yet available to Henson and other filmmakers in the late 1970s, two Muppet cars were used during production, one for long shots and the other—the museum’s Studebaker—for closer shots showing Fozzie and Kermit driving. To pull that off, puppeteers were required. They hid below the dashboard, so they couldn’t be seen, but that also meant they couldn’t operate the car. Henson installed a camera in the nose of the Commander, allowing the actual driver to drive from inside the trunk using a television monitor.

According to The Muppet Show Fan Club newsletter, “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 …’”

Muppet Car museum front three quarter paint resto rendering
To be finished by summer 2025, this rendering showcases the Studebaker’s upcoming return to form. Studebaker National Museum

After filming was complete, the close-up car was parked on a studio backlot. Left to the elements, its paint—actually poster paint, which the crew preferred for its resistance to glare—quickly faded. In 2004, after the car was acquired by the Studebaker Drivers Club’s Orange Empire Chapter in California, it was gifted to the Studebaker Museum. Beckman says the Commander was in “pretty rough shape” when it arrived; its engine had seized up, and it was in desperate need of major rehab. But that would cost money—a lot of it—an estimated $175,000 for a full restoration. That would include returning the actual steering wheel and controls to their original position so that the car can be driven as intended.

The Studebaker National Museum cleaned up Fozzie’s car and put it on display, as is, along with a donation box to get the rehab work done. Only about $9000 was raised over the years, so two years ago the museum decided to start a crowd-sourcing campaign. Including the money raised from a GoFundMe page, the museum has secured approximately $60,000 in funding, enough to get things started.

RazorFly Studios, an Academy Award-winning prop house and custom-car builder, has agreed to partner on the project. Again, there wasn’t any arm-twisting involved. As Eric Hokanson, a restorer with Razorfly, told the South Bend Tribune, “I grew up with the Muppets. I said, ‘Really, we get to work on a Muppet car? Cool!’”

That famous ’51 Commander is about to get cooler.

“This project is so special to museum staff, the community, and Muppet fans around the world,” says Studebaker National Museum Curator Kyle Sater. “We are one step closer to returning a bear to his natural habitat—a Studebaker.”




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    I have to question your math on 35 years, because I was a kid when I saw that movie, and that was more than 35 years ago…

    I was wondering how far they were going to go with the restoration. The thing that makes that car interesting is that it was the prop car for the movie. I realize it has some level of interest for being a 51 Studebaker, but the real draw is that it is that Studebaker. If it had controls in the trunk and a camera in the nose, in my mind it should still have controls in the trunk and a camera in the nose. No one is ever actually going to drive it anyway. If it ends up with an LS…..

    How is it that this hasn’t been on any “The 10 Best Movie Cars of All Time” lists? It’s as cool as the Bullitt Mustang, right? 😁
    Okay, so if each reader who agrees with me on that will just send in $5 to the museum’s restoration fund, it should quickly grow by, oh, I dunno, maybe $5, possibly $10!

    This movie came out in 79. That’s 45 years ago. I was 8 and I loved it…still love it. There’s lots of great cameos (Steve Martin!) and adult-ish humor.

    I shall have to visit the Studebaker museum some day, did not realize it was in South Bend for some reason.

    I strongly agree with TG. Don’t spend extra money making it less special. And why not the Partridge family bus?!

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