Tim Kobernik has no plans to ever try to drive nearly 1,000 miles in one day again. But he did it once.
And the car he did it in just happens to be his favorite car in the world — his beloved 1964 Studebaker GT Hawk. Kobernik insists his main goal when he bought the GT 18-plus years ago was to never have it off the road for long and drive it as much as he could. It’s been mission accomplished so far for the resident of Mazomanie, Wis.
“It’s run ever year. When I bought the car it had 35,000 miles on it,” says Kobernik. ‘Now the odometer says 18,000, so I’m at about 83,000 miles.”
And the big marathon road trip? Well, that was just an excuse to go see more Studebakers. “There was a big meet out in Colorado Springs,” Kobernik chuckles. “So I got up really early one morning, headed west, drove all day and pulled in at about 11 o’clock at night — 986 miles in one day. And it was a 95-degree day! But it was a great ride.
“We got off the interstate in Nebraska and Kansas and just drove by directions on smaller roads. We’d pull into these tiny towns to get gas and people would come over and say, ‘We’ve never seen a car like that before!’ [laughs].”
The lovely burgundy-and-black Studebaker is Kobernik’s pride and joy, but it’s not the first GT Hawk he’s ever owned. His is a familiar story — he became smitten with the car during his teen years, and eventually had to find another one and relive some good memories.
“I had a car similar to this when I was in high school, and I convinced the wife that I needed to have a collector car about 18 years ago and she said ’OK, go buy one,’ Kobernik recalled. “It was kind of a no-brainer. I just had to have that car again.”
“My first one I saw in the back row of a Chrysler dealership, and it had a knock in the engine and they wanted $250 for it. The guy down the street rebuilt the engine for $600 and did a terrible job. I had the car for about a year and a half, and it basically failed, and I moved on … I was 17, 18 at the time, but I never got over it. I traded it in for a ’65 Rambler Marlin, but that was not half the car that this one.”
Fast-forward to 2002 and Kobernik began a quest to find another one. He joined the Studebaker Driver’s Club and began searching want ads. He eventually located two candidates located near each other in the Kansas City area.
“I drove down there with a trailer behind the pickup and went to see this one, and I liked it, and bought and brought it home,” he said. “
The guy who sold it to me had it for 25 years. Previous to that it had been owned by a guy by the name of Ray Gibson that had a company called Special Interest Autos [of St. Louis]. He had acquired the car in ’76 and had it restored. He took it to a Studebaker National Meet and it scored a first place in ’77. That was after they had restored it and stored it in St. Louis, and two months before it was to go to the show in ’77 a brick wall of the warehouse where it was stored let go and it fell on the car. They had to quick patch it up, repaint it and take it to the show and it still won first place.”
The Few, the Proud …
The second generation of the Studebaker Hawk bowed in 1962 with the new GT (Grand Tourismo) model. The Hawk series originally debuted in 1956 and garnered legions of fans for their sophisticated looks and cutting edge engineering and gadgetry. Things took a fairly radical turn for 1962 when Brooks Stevens redesigned the Hawks with a European look and flair that was clearly inspired by Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce and others. The front ends were particularly European looking, while the Hawk’s profile was more reminiscent of the Thunderbirds of the era.
The 1963 models got a few subtle changes, but nothing like they had received the year before. A new squared grille was added, round parking lamps were placed under the headlamps, and the interiors received new pleated vinyl seats and woodgrain trim on the instrument panel. The cars rode on 120.5-inch wheelbases and measured 204 inches from bumper to bumper. Shipping weight was listed at 3,230 lbs.
For ’64, there were some noticeable design updates for the GT Hawk, including a new, smooth deck lid and slightly restyled imitation side grilles. On the roof, a new “Sports Roof” half-covered vinyl top in either black or white debuted for a $65 upcharge. The grille was updated again, too, this time featuring a Hawk emblem in the center and a Circle-S badge on top. Inside, there was a new painted-dot headliner and silver threaded upholstery with a more prominent instrument cluster.
Under the bonnet, the GT Hawk’s 289-cid V-8 was an enlarged version of the company’s 259.2-cid stalwart power plant. With a two-barrel carburetor, it produced 210 hp. With the four-barrel, the hp grew to 225. The 259 V-8 and a straight six were both still used in export models.
A three-speed manual gearbox was standard. A Flightomatic automatic was on the options list, as was a floor-mounted four-speed.
In 1963, the 240-horse R-1 version of the 289 was offered along with 290-horse R-2 that employed a McCullough (Paxton) supercharger. The suspension consisted of variable-rate coil springs in front, asymmetrical springs in back, an anti-sway bar and telescopic shock absorbers. Finned drum brakes did the stopping on all four corners.
The 1964 model year was like two years in one. The ‘first’ part revolved around cars built before the South Bend plant was closed down in December 1963. The second part evolved when all production was centralized in Canada after Jan. 1, 1964. After the South Bend plant was closed, taxicabs, Challengers, Heavy-Duty models, Gran Turismo Hawks, Avantis and Studebaker trucks were discontinued.
After a high-water mark of 8,388 units built for 1962, GT Hawk sales dwindled quickly. Only 4,009 were built for 1963, and just 1,484 examples saw the light of day for 1964, making Kobernik’s car one of the scarcer Studebakers found in collector circles today. “This was one of 425, I believe, R-2 Studebakers that year,” he notes. “This is full package car made in ’64, so it was one of the few of the few … There were 44 full package R-2 Hawks made in ’64 and this is one four that were made in this color combination.”
Second time’s a charm
Kobernik says his main goal during his second go-around with a GT Hawk was to have it off the road as little as possible. He wasn’t interested in doing a comprehensive restoration. He just wanted to drive the car and have as much fun with it as he could. The catch was the GT needed a lot of work to get it even close to the condition it had been in when it was a trophy getter back in the 1970s.
“When I got it it had a terrible 20-year-old paint job on it. It had the wrong engine, wrong transmission … The disc brakes that the car had been made with had been taken off. There was just a lot of stuff that was missing,” he admits.
Much of the past two decades have turned into a gradual “rolling restoration” that has the car looking great these days.
“My major objective was to have a driver. So whatever I did to the car, I was able to drive it. It looked presentable, and I always drove it,” Kobernik adds. “I drove it to Charlotte, NC. … We went to St. Louis, Quad Cities. I drove out to Colorado Springs… I always had the car running. That was always my goal. One fall I replaced the engine, replaced the transmission and put the disc brakes on, new exhaust system. I took out the 259 that was in and put in the 289 and made everything look like it was supposed to look when the car was built. It’s always been my goal to take it back as close as I could get it to original.”
Amazingly, the vinyl roof is original, as is almost everything in the interior. “I put in new carpet,” Konernik noted. “I added cruise control, which is nice, and a four-way flasher unit. And there is a little extra gauge for the vacuum boost.”
Fellow Wisconsin Studebaker buff Terry Frye repainted the car its original burgundy color.
The biggest challenge Kobernik has encountered with the GT is one that many fellow Studebakers owners have experienced over the years — dealing with the finicky plumbing and electricals that come with the supercharging unit and carburetion system.
“A lot of time spent under the hood, and it continues to be that way,” he chuckles. “I would say that the supercharged engines require a special kind of learning curve. We know a lot people that have the and keep them going, it’s just sometimes it’s a little bit of a challenge.”
When the Studebaker is tuned just right, however, Kobernik says it never disappoints as a fantastic driver. It still has no problem getting his pulse rate to jump.
“They took these to Bonneville in ’63 with this engine and they drove them at 143 mph all day long,” he says. “It was definitely made for two-lane roads. And if you are on a two-lane road going 60 mph and somebody is in front of you going 50, steer to the left, put your foot to the floor and hang on. Be prepared to keep it out of the ditch, because it’s ready to go. That’s what the car is built for.”
Studebaker fans are a famously loyal and enthusiastic group. Seemingly more often than not, Stude owners wind up owning more than one of their beloved orphans.
Kobernik doesn’t see that happening to him. He got the car that he wanted. He’s still enjoying it more than ever, and the nostalgia is still flowing strong.
“This is the only Studebaker I have, and the only collector car I’ve had,” he concludes.
“It’s my own little personal museum. “My time machine.”
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