Gear Head Tuesday – Studebaker Avanti R-3: First Hand Account

Gear Head

merry-christmas-lights

63 Avanti - Turquoise
The Avanti R-3 (63R-1025) in the story below was originally this turquoise in color.

Studebaker’s fabulous Avanti became a legendary car immediately upon introduction. Studebaker may have been on its death bed as a car maker, but President Sherwood Egbert, being the Marine that he was, would see to it that the company’s South Bend-built cars would not go out with a whimper. Of course, Egbert’s goal was to turn the automobile operations around and not cease production at all. Contrary to his mandate from Studebaker’s board to shutter the automotive operations, Egbert went on a crusade to bring fresh, exciting new cars to market. The Avanti is an example of that – and unlike the Sceptre – the Avanti actually made it to market.

We know how the story ends – the fiberglass body for the Avanti was to be produced by the same company that produced bodies for Chevrolet’s Corvette. GM muscled the supplier into shutting Studebaker off. Studebaker had to scramble to make the bodies in-house, delaying deliveries of Avantis to customers who had ordered early. In a scenario disturbingly similar to the fiasco around the introduction of the ’53 Starliner/Starlight coupes, thousands of would-be Avanti customers walked away. Egbert was forced out by cancer and Byers Burlingame, with all the compassion of an IRS auditor, stepped in and closed Studebaker auto production in South Bend just before Christmas in 1963.

The Avantis were all powered by Studebaker’s great little V-8. Most of the Avanti mills displaced 289 cubic inches, the practical displacement limit of the engine block. The 289 was offered as an R-1 with a four barrel carburetor or as an R-2 which was aspirated by a Paxton supercharger.

Two other engine options were available, the R-3 and R-4:

“The production R-3 was a high-performance version of the supercharged R-2 engine; the R-4 was a high-performance version of the un-supercharged R-1 engine. Nine 1964 Avantis with R-3 engines were built. Although the R-4 engine was optional in 1964, none were produced before the Avanti was discontinued in December 1963. The Granatelli brothers took the first R-3, which was an early prototype completed in April 1962, to the Nevada desert where a timed top speed of 171.10 was recorded. For a time, Studebaker could boast of having produced what President Sherwood Egbert proclaimed as “the world’s fastest production car.” In September 1963, the Granatellis took an R-3 to Bonneville where the car did a two-way flying mile at an average of 170.75 mph. Vince Granatelli claims the engines tested on the dyno at 400 gross horsepower, but even a more realistic 300 horses would make this the fastest production Studebaker.

For the R-3 Andy Granatelli expanded the standard Studebaker 289 V-8 to 304.5 cubic inches. A Paxton supercharger provided the increased pressure in the fuel-air mixture to achieve greater engine efficiency. R-3 and R-4 Avantis used a larger rear end housing with heavy duty flanged axles rather than the standard Avanti tapered axle. The rear ends were Dana Spicer Model 44’s. Specially cast heads with much larger valves were fitted and Iskenderian dual valve springs were optional. A hotter cam was added and heavy-duty bearings installed. Major moving parts were balanced and magna-fluxed. The top edges of the cylinder head bores were chamfered to match the cylinder head combustion chambers, and special flattop forged aluminum pistons filled the holes. Custom exhaust headers were used on all R-3’s as was a Prestolite transistor ignition system. Chassis and bodies built for R-3 powered cars were also modified. Chassis had heavy-duty spring and strengthened control arm bushings. Bodies were shimmed to clear the carburetor pressure box fed by the supercharger.”

Last May, we heard from Ron Crall, who owns the Avanti R-3 (63R-1025) which had been the personal driver of Andy Granatelli. Let the man who owns one (to paraphrase the Packard slogan) tell a bit of the story:

“Studebaker made at least 3 pre-production R-3’s in addition to the 9 production line R-3’s. The Bonneville #8 and #9 cars (63R-1014 and 63R-1007) were fully race prepared with full roll cages and other modification that made them not suitable for street use. 63R-1025 (mine) was used for promotional purposes and used by Andy Granatelli for his personal use. During that time Andy drag raced the car and held the ½ mile drag record at Riverside Raceway. During a conversation that I had with him a short time before his death he said that he could beat a 426 Hemi’s buy using 8,000 RPM as a shift point! ½ mile events were discontinued about that time so the car may still hold that distinction, however; attempts to find any documentation has not been successful. Any road test of an R-3 car would have been of R1025. It was part of Studebaker inventory and had California Manufacturers license plates until sold to Paxton on a dealer invoice during the summer of 1964 well after production halted. I have a copy of the $500 invoice from Studebaker.

After the sale to Paxton, Vince Granatelli became the first registered owner. He sold it to Bill Alderman who I purchased it from in 1969 for $2750. Andy drove it from the factory to Santa Monica in 1962. It stayed in California until 2001 when I hauled it to Maine. Although it has been here for years, it was stored in the barn or hanger and has never seen a salted road. It is a no-rust car.”

June63HRM

Above: June, 1963 issue of Hot Rod featured a test of R-1025. Six months later, production ended for all South Bend-built Studebakers. Below: the R-3 engine as seen in the Hot Rod road test followed by a more recent photo. (If I expand the photo, it becomes overly pixelated.)

HRM engine

Engine

Gauges

Above: Two instruments on R-1025.

Below: Invoice to Paxton from Studebaker for $500 for R-1025.

Invoice

Below: Transfer paperwork for R-1025 to Paxton.

Zone Delivery Report

Warwick 1

Above: R-1025 in the photos supplied by Ron Crall.

gear

Driving a ’51 Commander V-8 off the assembly line in South Bend
As related by “Pastor Ken”

Studebaker final assembly

Above: 1950 Champions ready to roll off the final assembly line at South Bend

“My father had ordered the new Studebaker but couldn’t take delivery of it because he had been called up to fight in Korea. My mother and I traveled to South Bend to collect the car. Two of my uncles worked for Studebaker. One of them arranged for me to drive it off the final assembly line.”

51 Studebaker Commander

Having just come of driving age, “Pastor Ken” was able to drive the ’51 Studebaker Commander V-8 his father had ordered off the final assembly line of Studebaker in South Bend.

The car “Pastor Ken” drove off the final assembly line at South Bend was a 1951 Studebaker Commander V-8. 1951 was the first year for Studebaker’s very well-designed new V-8 engine. That basic engine block served Studebaker right up to the end of production in South Bend in 1963 and it is that same basic engine design that powers Ron Crall’s Avanti R-3 featured above.

gear

Studebaker License Plate will be available in Indiana starting 1 January 2019

Studebaker license plate

The fee for Vanity Plates in Indiana is $40.00 annually. Of that $40, $25 will go to the Studebaker National Museum.

gear

CARtoons

Corvette

7 Comments

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  1. Merry Christmas to everyone
    Unkle Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am shocked that NOW R3 Powered Avanti R1025 apparently is not, and was not a 4 Speed as most of the other Studebaker Bonneville raced cars were!
    It was built as an R2; RS1021 with Power Shift AUTOMATIC!

    And with the R3 of course, it shifted at 8000 RPM!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rulesoflogic 26/12/2018 — 11:36

    It would be a dream come true to own an R3 Avanti. I’d be happier than a pig in s**t with an R2. Who am I kidding? I’d be happy with an R1!

    Thank you so much for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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