A Custom Classic
Story/Photos: Blacktop Crew
There is something really cool that I am learning deep in this car hobby of ours. Enthusiasts come from all walks of life and interests and at this particular time in history we gather together. You have to figure that most of us are re-living a passion from when we were younger. This display of passion is interestingly morphed with our maturity. We used to enjoy our classic cars at night. Getting it prepped in the late afternoon for a night of cruisin’ or a hot date. Today 40-50 years later we have our families, careers and other obligations so we cruise our cars on weekends. If we are rolling them at night, it’s usually to the local burger joint “Cruise Night” rather than cruising up and down the strip. I met Nick Berger at one such weekend event.
Nick is a passionate car guy who has collected a couple of historical beauties. Besides the Avanti we will share with you here, he has a D’Agostino T-bird getting a fresh coat of paint at The 401k Club Hot Rod Shop. He was pleased to find that Bernt Karlsson was there as he originally painted the car quite a while ago. Nick’s 2008 Big Dog chopper, was painted to match the Avanti down to the ghost flames and gold leaf, the T-Bird has a similar red/gold leaf motif.
On to the Avanti
Studebaker referred to the new Avanti as “America’s Only 4-Passenger High-Performance Personal Car!” Only 1200 were made in this, the first production year. The fiberglass body was stretched over the Studebaker Lark Daytona Convertible chassis. This one features a modified 289 with AC and a Paxton supercharger making it an “R2″, quite a rare car, and one you wouldn’t think would be modified. Yet, Nick isn’t your average guy either and the modifications made are simple enough not to take away the true essence of the Loewy design.
The custom touches start at the nose with a hand-formed fiberglass air dam featuring frenched driving lights. The hood bubble was scooped and all seams and braces shaved and filled along with the door handles. Nick did all the work himself in his home garage or at night school at Goldenwest College.
Under the scooped hood is the Paxton supercharged 289 with AC and custom bracketry and polished Sanden compressor. Exhaust roars out the Corvette side pipes. Nick added a V12 Jag rear-end and widened it about 8″ which gave him four wheel independent suspension and 4 wheel disc brakes. Most likely the only Avanti with these features. The interior features a full-length custom made aluminum console covered with matching black leather. The upholstery is a 3-tone custom made to match exterior gold-leaf striping.
Nick bought the Avanti in 1968 because he needed a 4-seater. His other daily driver was a ’68 Jag E-type which he slightly customized. He drove the Avanti to work each day to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard where he worked as a sheet-metal worker.
I was carrying on quite a bit in the first paragraph, and what I was leading to is the neat collection of trophys, awards and ribbons from Nick’s adventures with the Avanti and the T-bird. His house has original Calder and Dalí works, the furnishings are vintage moderne. He has a great eye for the oddball stuff that becomes valuable collections. Not afraid to drive any of his vehicles, you are sure to see him cruising Southern California.