Studebaker Stories:

Webmaster Note: The following article, including the TW Editor's note below is from the July 2003 issue of Turning Wheels. It is reprinted here as a reference to educate, alleviate concerns and clear up misconceptions that the venerable Studebaker V/8 is not as suitable for high-performance as other popular engine brands. The publishing of this article is not meant in any way to demean or diminish the efforts and choices of SDC members and other Studebaker enthusiasts who have chosen to modify their vehicle.

Editors' Note : Because of the large size of SDC (the readership we cater to), there will always be differing viewpoints. Gather together 13,000 people and, even if they are all driving the same brand of car, you will get approximately 13,000 opinions concerning best model, worst model, best engine, worst engine, stock, modified, etc. We try to cover our hobby fully and attempt not to show any bias towards any particular segment of that hobby. With such varied interests in our club, this is virtually impossible. Someone, somewhere, may take offense at something printed in these pages; it's guaranteed. While SDC and Turning Wheels do not promote repowering Studebakers with non-Studebaker engines, those owning Studebakers so modified, or wishing to modify those they already own, are welcomed in this club as fellow Studebaker enthusiasts. Our regular (every second month) column, The Modified and Custom Corner, ably edited by Barlow Soper for more than 10 years, quite often cites examples of Studebakers running brand X engines. The official position of SDC, and of Turning Wheels, is to cover STUDEBAKER, in its many guises.

Art Unger, Turning Wheels Editor


by Ted Harbit with Bob Palma

I'm all for letting anyone do what they want with their own car. I'm not sure, though, how far the glorifying of brand X engines should be carried in Turning Wheels. To that end, we will further the case for retaining Studebaker V-8 power, especially when high performance is desired.

My own experience has been that it is not necessary to go to expensive extremes to develop over 500 HP in a Studebaker V-8. . . and that the engine is so basically sturdy that one need not fear immediate disintegration when higher horsepowers have been developed. I've also observed that a high-horsepower Studebaker V-8 can retain some pretty good, everyday drivability characteristics.

Photo: Ted Harbit and The Stude Tomato.

I've not found it necessary to do flow bench testing; indeed, I've done many Studebaker heads without a flow bench and was an amateur at it, and still am, but had good results just doing the obvious.

While fuel injection is one way to go, it's been my experience that it is simply not needed for 500+ HP. It is expensive, and can run up the cost of the project to the point where one is tempted to go the small-block Chevy route. A 40-year old AFB is not too shabby, and two of them (one on each car!) have been doing just fine on both The Plain Brown Wrapper and The Tomato for the last five years running at The Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Races. Two more sit atop the Chicken Hawk's engine as we write this. Again, this is not to take away from the smoothness and benefits of fuel injection; it is just to say it should not be considered mandatory for a 500+ HP Studebaker V-8.

A custom roller cam specifically designed to work with the heads is another deluxe option that might unnecessarily run up the cost of a Studebaker V-8 high-performance project. I've run the stock R1/R2 cam for years in many of my drag-racing machines. The Chicken Hawk has run a best of 10.23 seconds at 134.75 in the quarter-mile with a stock R1/R2 cam. It got a roller cam just this past summer after running the stock cam over 20 years as a "bracket" car. The roller cam has yet to match the R1/R2 for ET, due to limited development since I put it in, but it has increased the speed to a best of 135.7 MPH.

While none of those engines were "dynoed," the various formulas published by cam companies and the like all suggest the Chicken Hawk had in the neighborhood of 670 HP on tap to push it to the speeds it attained back when the R1/R2 cam was in it. I hope to get the roller cam to do better than that, but have not yet had the opportunity.

Photo: Gettin' Air in Muncie! Ted Harbit's Chicken Hawk exits the gate from its home-away-from-home, the Muncie (Indiana) Dragway. It's safe to say this car has left this starting line at least 3,000 times in the over 40 years it has been running here. Only in the last couple years, however, has the finely-tuned 299 cubic inch Studebaker V-8, with twin turbos and dual quads, been able to pull the front wheels consistently.

Yes, an intercooled Vortec supercharger can be used to get 10 pounds boost, but Craig Conley has been achieving in the seven to eight pound range with far less costly Paxton SN60s. For more boost than that, I know that far less money would buy both turbos and wastegates on the Chicken Hawk, and would produce over 20 pounds boost if someone actually wanted that much pressure.

Finally, many folks might entertain pulling out a perfectly good Studebaker V-8 when considering the BTA (Bow Tie Alternative; Bob thought we ought to say that to keep from printing "Chevy" in this article too many times.) Then they have to buy this used engine from a wrecking yard (or new/rebuilt elsewhere) with all the accessories you need to go with it and then the hassle of installing it, THEN the time and expense it takes to get it dialed in!

As I said, the Chicken Hawk's twin-turbo Studebaker 299 engine (a 289 with a .060 overbore) has never been on a dyno, so I can't verify anything other than what those formulas used to calculate HP from weight, ET, and speed have to say. Using these, it is about 670 HP, but maybe it would be more on a dyno. According to the formulas printed in a recent Hot Rod, it takes 600 HP to push a 3500-lb weight to 130 MPH in a quarter-mile, and 672 HP to push it to 135, which the Chicken Hawk has done. . . and it weighs about 3600 pounds! Those figures cited are supposedly at the rear wheels. Engine dynamometer readings should yield even higher figures without the drag of the drive train that rear-wheel horsepower figures necessarily include, although I understand some of the newest dynamometers can simulate rear wheel horsepower. And remember, all those figures are with two old AFBs getting air pushed through them by twin turbos.

I do hope to put the engine going in my new drag race Avanti on a dyno before installing it in the car. Speaking of high-performance Avantis, George Krem reminded us of dyno tests on the Corbin Walters-built 304.5 Studebaker V-8 that ultimately pushed Ron Hall's Avanti over 200 MPH at Bonneville. When that car's engine was being broken in and tested, they operated it without a supercharger, with one 4-barrel carburetor. It was a highly-strung race engine, to be sure, with a roller cam and all. Even so, it "dynoed" at 441 HP after break-in BEFORE they put the supercharger on it! That's right. Naturally aspirated with only one huge 4-bbl carburetor on it, the engine generated a measured 441 horsepower.

Now before anyone gets the idea that the Chicken Hawk is strictly a race car, although that's all I do with it now, it would be very streetable by removing the slicks and roller cam, and hooking the belt back on the crank pulley to run the fan, instead of the electric motor that now runs the fan. Okay, I guess you'd want to put some mufflers on it, but it is relatively quiet with the turbos.

Photo: Osceola Dragway, June 2002: Going UP! SDC member Mike Scherer's black 1960 Lark 2-door pulls both front wheels off the ground on his way to another 12-seconds quarter-mile run with naturally-aspirated Studebaker 259 V-8 power. This was not a one-time occurrence; Mike's car pulls the wheels on just about every run!

Further testimony as to the continued sturdiness of Studebaker's original chassis and steering design is that the car handles just fine at 135 MPH with essentially stock front suspension and steering. The rear end is a 9" Ford and runs 3.70:1 gears. The car has always been fully upholstered and runs those speeds with a "normal" back seat and a full, otherwise stock-looking interior. The car remains all steel; there are no fiberglass panels.

Against this successful history of running Studebaker V-8s, I am concerned about anything in SDC's Official Publication seeming to encourage non-Studebaker V-8 transplants when, in fact, they are usually not warranted if going fast is the goal. That is just my opinion, of course. . . but it is borne of almost 50 continuous years of building and racing Studebaker V-8s, and not necessarily full-race engines. My first 20 years, roughly, were spent running stock 232 Studebaker V-8s in NHRA. We've done exceptionally well running both The R2 Stude Tomato and The R3 Plain Brown Wrapper for the last five years at The Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race, as everyone knows who reads Turning Wheels with any regularity. So do the many Muscle Car enthusiasts who attend that event every year and leave with their mouths open wide enough to catch a baseball after they've seen this "old" technology run!

Newcomers to SDC might consider that remarks favoring Chevy power in The Official Publication of The Studebaker Drivers Club indicate we are ready to toss out our South Bend V-8s at the drop of a hat. Not only is that contrary to the truth for what I feel are a majority of SDC members, it is wholly unnecessary if one wants to go fast in a Studebaker.

Photo: Bo Burt's Hawk, loaded on the trailer for a trip to a quarter-mile showdown. The car runs a full roll cage; we surmise that having no front bumper helps offset the weight gain of the cage, and moving that much weight rearward would help weight transfer as well. This car, with Studebaker V-8 power, has posted a 9.99 second ET in the quarter-mile. That is the lowest known ET ever for a Studebaker-powered Studebaker drag race car.

I can't see how encouraging anything else contributes to the long-term health of the Studebaker hobby and the respect due the strong, powerful, and unique Studebaker V-8. We have enough of these ho-hum transplants now without encouraging more of them in the official club publication.

Again, that's just my opinion. . . but I know from the pulse of SDC that I am not alone, and am probably in the majority. I'm not saying we should actively discourage transplants, but I am likewise saying we should not actively encourage them, either. Should we accept them and welcome SDC newcomers with brand-X powered Studebakers? Absolutely! If they are considering alternate power, however, it should be the official SDC position to encourage Studebaker power being retained if at all possible.

Before I forget, how many SDCers saw Mike Scherer's little black 1959 Lark 2-door pulling easy, consistent wheelies at Osceola Dragway at the Friday afternoon drags during the 2002 International Meet in South Bend? Naturally aspirated, Mike's Studebaker 259 V-8 (yes, 259!) didn't even have a supercharger on it. . . yet he ran a best-ever time of 12.62 that day in Osceola. With a turbocharger on it, it has run 12.03.

And let us not forget the fastest Studebaker V-8 powered Studebaker drag race car ever, Bo Burt's modified 120.5" wheelbase Gran Turismo Hawk from Alabama that has broken into the high NINES, and it doesn't even have an R3 in it!

Photo: SDCer Bo Burt has the honor of owning and running the fastest known Studebaker V-8 powered drag racing machine extant, his Super Red 1963 GT Hawk. We trust no one fired up the beast while Bo posed for this photo, or he would have redefined the meaning of "hot pants"!

To close, it would be appropriate to quote two SDCers. The first is Nelson Bove, who owns the only actual R3 "Lark" or Hawk built by Studebaker in South Bend. On considering if he'd want to repower his Stude with virtually new Bow-Tie Power, Nels allowed, "That would be like putting the brain of a 16-year old girl in your 45-year old wife, whom you love dearly. You'd still recognize her, but you wouldn't know who she was."

Perhaps SDCer and Commercial Artist Rick Moon offered the best emotional summation. When suggested that it might be more practical to put a Vette engine in a Studebaker, Rick said, "What does practicality have to do with any of this? This is a love affair and love is not typically based on being practical. Love is blind and I'll happily stumble around (outside) in the dark while the herd rests comfortably in the barn."

Thanks for listening. Now, back to the garage and the Avanti engine.

Photo: Yes, there's a Studebaker in there. Engine room view of Bo Burt's 1963 GT Hawk.

(Return to the Studebaker Stories page)


Studebaker Drivers Club, Inc.

Studebaker Drivers Club, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 All Rights Reserved