There’s an incredible backstory as to why Tom Pratesi has this absolutely beautiful 1961 Studebaker Hawk – his third – which replaced his former 1961 Studebaker Hawk. Just telling you a tree fell on his second one doesn’t give the full story.
Tom got his first Hawk while he was in the Air Force in the mid 1960s. He got his second one in 2012. After a complete restoration, he kept it in the garage on his property in North Carolina. Originally, Tom had 24 trees on the property. Over time he had 22 of them removed. Then, on August 6, 2020, a storm blew through the Carolinas, and one of the two trees that were left was blown down. On to the garage. On to the Studebaker. They were both destroyed.
Tom is a member of the North Carolina Studebaker Drivers Club (one of the club members is Kevin Studebaker, a descendant of Studebaker family). It was a fellow club member who told Tom about this Hawk for sale in Columbia, South Carolina. Tom went to check it out, liked what he saw, and bought his third Hawk.
There was a Studebaker Avanti in my hometown growing up, but occasionally seeing that one is pretty much the extent of my experience with the cars. As a true Studebaker aficionado, Tom filled me in on some of the company history.
“Studebaker was started in 1852 in South Bend, Indiana, manufacturing wagons,” Tom told me. “Their first car was electric. One of those cars was owned by Thomas Edison, who drove it into the early 1920s. They went out of business unfortunately in 1966. It was a great loss. They’re great cars.”
Tom’s car was well traveled. It was built in South Bend, Indiana and delivered to the original owner in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Then it went to Davie, Florida (near where Tom used to live), and on to Arizona where it was disassembled, sold and shipped to Kernersville, North Carolina where it was restored. (The build sheet shown in the picture below is a reproduction, but accurate for the car.)
And that restoration was a complete one. The body-off rebuild covered everything: engine, transmission, suspension, interior, and paint. Everything is so well done, the Hawk took first place in its class at the 2004 Studebaker International Meet in Charlotte N.C.
Tom’s Hawk has a 289 cubic inch V8. But Tom said, “It’s a Studebaker 289, not to be confused with a Ford 289.” Tom’s got the four-barrel version which put out 225 horsepower from the factory. It’s almost completely stock, except for the electronic ignition in place of the original points and condenser system. Tom has the Studebaker Flight-O-Matic automatic transmission in front of a Twin-Traction posi rear end.
That rear end is suspended on leaf springs, with coil springs up front. Some really stiff front bushings were used in the rebuild, and Tom reports that the ride is a bit harsher than he’d like because of the bushings. To replace them requires removing the entire front end, and that’s not something Tom wants to take on right now.
The Hawk has power steering and manual brakes. Originally equipped with four wheel drum brakes, Tom installed a front disc brake kit from Turner Brake. Tom said the Turner kit gives his Hawk excellent stopping power compared to the drum brakes.
The interior was completely redone as part of the restoration. The headliner, upholstery, carpet, and dash pad were all replaced. The factory air conditioning is still working great. It was upgraded with a new factory-style evaporator coil, and a new modern compressor.
The body is all steel, and has been through a series of paint jobs. It was originally Desert Sand from the factory, then brown, and is now the eye-catching white with blue trim that you see in the pictures.
I would not have guessed that Studebaker parts are readily available, but Tom told me they are. Studebaker International in Indiana has a large inventory of original and remanufactured parts. And Tom even found a stop light switch at his local O’Reilly Auto Parts store. “It wasn’t meant for a Studebaker,” he said,”but it was the exact same switch.”
As big of a Studebaker fan as Tom is – and he’s a big one – he’s really just a car guy. “I’ve been into cars all my life,” he said. “I’ve had a ton of them.” That includes 11 Corvettes. His current ‘Vette is a 2006 he bought brand new.
His love for cars goes back to his childhood. “My grandfather owned a beer distribution company in Brooklyn, New York,” Tom told me. “I can remember as a little kid standing on the seat of a Mack truck and watching the beer trucks go by for the Schaefer brewery.”
But as you can guess, Tom really loves Studebakers. “Studebaker people are good people,” he said. “I bought my first one while I was in the Air Force in the 60s. I always said I was going to get another one, it just took me a little longer than I expected.”
His latest is a great example of the Studebaker legacy.