Kingsville man's cars earn first place awards at Grand National shows

For Bob Johnson, 2011 is a year to remember. On July 11, his 1964 Studebaker Avanti took first place in the Avanti Owners of America Grand National Show in Gettysburg, Pa., and on Sept. 11, his Shelby GT 500 KR (King of the Road) took first place at the Mustang Club of America Grand National Show in Waldorf, Md. Johnson said he decided to enter the competitions because they were close to his Kingsville home, and he always drives his cars to shows.

Getting the Avanti ready to compete took an intense two weeks.


Answering an ad in Hemmings Motor News, Johnson was on the telephone with the owner's son when the owner, a wealthy Long Island builder, had a heart attack.

"The next thing I know, he died and I was dealing with the estate," said Johnson, who retired from Chesapeake Publishing two years ago. "I had the car two weeks before the show. I worked 10 to 12 hours a day to get it ready to go to the national show."


Amazingly, the sleek gold Avanti had its original carpet and upholstery. The engine compartment was pristine, with its 289 cubic inch engine and Paxton Supercharger. But the chrome door handles, bumper and window cranks had become pitted from exposure to Atlantic salt air.

"I took the window cranks and door handles off and replaced them, then had the originals re-chromed," said Johnson. "I had the [front] bumper re-chromed."

In the show, the car garnered 381 out of a possible 400 points. Judges were incredibly thorough.

"In the engine compartment, points were deducted because two springs were painted gray that should have been painted yellow, and two springs were painted gray that should have been painted blue," said Johnson, who added, "I had radial tires, and they wanted to have polyglass."

Johnson's Avanti two-door coupe is rare. Of the 809 Avantis produced in 1964, only 281 were the supercharged R2 model, only 95 had four-speed transmissions, and only 16 were gold. It has an all-fiberglass body, tilt steering wheel, and Twin Traction 3:73 rear. It was the first American passenger car with power steering, disc brakes, a supercharger, and built-in roll bar. The original bill of sale shows that it cost a grand total of $5423.12.

"Avantis were more expensive than Cadillacs back then," said Johnson.

And they were fast. America's fastest production car, the Avanti broke 29 American speed records during a 12-hour run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Many of the records still stand today. Unfortunately, the last Studebaker made in the U.S. was manufactured in December 1963, as the company was going out of the automobile business.

Like the Avanti, Shelbys were also expensive. Johnson's 1968 white Ford Shelby Cobra two-door fastback cost more than $5,000 new. The original owner traded in a 1963 Corvette valued at $2,300 when he bought the Shelby.


Johnson got the Shelby a year ago along with cash when he sold a 1968 Shelby GT KR convertible he owned. Unlike the Avanti, the Shelby needed a lot of work.

"I redid the interior, the trunk compartment, the undercarriage and the engine compartment," said Johnson, who lives in Kingsville with Marie, his wife of 48 years.

Its Ford 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet engine gives the Shelby 400 horsepower. With a four-speed transmission, power disc brakes, power steering, 3:50 Traction Lock rear, roll bar, tilt steering wheel, and Shelby 10-spoke wheels, it is one of six made in Wimbledon white with saddle interior.

"What made it King of the Road was a brand new 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet engine designed after the NASCAR 427 engine with hydraulic lifters," Johnson explained.

The car is 30 percent fiberglass, with Carroll Shelby touches like a fiberglass hood with louvers, fiberglass trunk deck and scoops.

In his 68 years, Bob Johnson has owned perhaps 70 to 80 cars, including the pair of 1954 six-cylinder Corvettes that were his first cars. He explained why he considers the Avanti and Shelby to be "keepers."


"I wanted to end up with the cars that were my favorites," he said.

And having reached the pinnacle of success in car competitions, he has no plans to compete again on a national level.

"I'm going to drive them and enjoy them," he said. "I'll go to some local shows just for fun."