Nobody predicted the crazy bidding war for Aunt Bee's dusty 1966 Studebaker
Frances Bavier didn't learn to drive until the age of 50. After that, she only drove Studebakers.
Frances Bavier spent the first 50 years of her life as a passenger, riding along in cars she had no clue how to drive. But then, at 50, she decided it was time to learn to drive, and the very first wheel she got behind was a Studebaker.
From that point on, Bavier only drove Studebakers. In 1972, she wrote to a fellow Studebaker owner, who she met after joining a car club, and she expressed this sentiment thinking of the last Studebaker she ever bought, "I'll shed real tears when this one passes on."
Bavier was so fond of that Studebaker — a 1966 model, which happened to be the last year Studebakers were made — she kept it in her garage even after she retired to North Carolina.
The last time Bavier drove the Studebaker, she took it to the grocery store. Then, she let the plates expire in 1983, and it sat in her basement for years.
In 1990, after Bavier passed away, the car was found in her garage, all four tires completely deflated and the interior covered in shed hair from her many cats using it as a place to nap.
When it came time to auction the car, the director of North Carolina Center for Public Television John Dunlop guessed he'd get a couple hundred bucks from it. Instead, he got bids going up a couple thousand, as, from the moment it was listed, the phone never stopped ringing.
It wasn't just TV fans wanting to climb into Aunt Bee's favorite ride.
"The world wants Aunt Bee's Studebaker," Dunlop told The Chicago Tribune in 1990. "Her dusty, dented Studebaker Daytona. It's unbelievable. It just boggles the mind."
A car historian named Fred Fox told the Tribune that late-model Studebakers don't usually go for much, even though they're rare. Fox was interested in seeing this particular Studebaker because it was Bavier’s.
"The thing that interested me so much is that later in the show [Mayberry R.F.D.], she drove a '66 Studebaker, and all indications are that it's the same as her car," Fox said, noting he considered this unusual. "I never heard anybody who used their own car in a television series."
For Bavier, her fondness for Studebakers mirrored the fondness she developed for North Carolina, where she chose to live out the rest of her years. When the Studebaker factories closed for good, she felt the sting personally, as if someone just told her they didn't like her pickles.
"I've driven Studebakers for 40 years — all kinds, all models and no other car," Bavier told her car club friend. "Watching the pictures of the closing of the factory, I did indeed weep!"