Burke Bros. Bonneville “Bucket List” Studebaker Avanti

I’m going to put this out there up front… I will not be able to do this story justice.  But, its such a great story and a cool car that you are going to get it and you are going to like it.  Ok, I got that out, now on to the man and the machine.

The man is cancer survivor and current cancer fighter Dan Sallia.  The machine is the historic Burke Bros. Bonneville record holding 1962 Studebaker Avanti.  I originally found Dan’s story on landracing.com in a build thread he started there.  That led me to his more detailed build thread on RacingStudebakers.com where I spent about 4 hours reading through the posts during 2 separate nights, checking out the pictures and soaking in one of the coolest car-guy stories I’ve ever heard.  I knew I had to share it the MyRideisMe.com readers.

Dan and the 1962 Burke Bros Studebaker Avanti Bonneville land speed racer
Here’s Dan working in the engine bay of the Stude.  Now THAT is a setback motor!

Dan has been racing against Cancer for about 4 years and has had 3 tumors.  Recently another tumor was discovered, so Dan is working with his doctors (one doctor is actually a land speed racer!) and treatment options.  The future is unclear.  Dan has a “Bucket List” (like the movie) with 4 items on the list.  #4 is simply the dream to drive a Studebaker at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The first opportunity was a ’53 Coupe, but that fell through.  Then a fellow Stude enthusiast contacted Dan.  He said that he had just purchased “an old Bonneville car” from eBay.  This guy offered to loan Dan the car to fulfill his Bucket List Dream #4.  After doing some research on the Avanti, it was the World Famous #90 Bill Burke car.  Yes, the same Bill Burke who ran the first Belly Tank Lakester in land speed racing.  Wow!

Dan says, “The car set a number of records, 15 that I have been able to verify so far. One is still on the books, 239.208 in C/CBFALT in 1979.” Burke Bros Avanti as received by Dan Sallia

This is how the car was received by Dan.  Upon quick glance, it appears to be decent, and it is, BUT…ya, there’s a but.  The car saw the Bonneville Salt Flats for 36 years (1963 – 1997, as documented by the Bonneville decals).  That will and did take its toll on the Studebaker frame metal, suspension joints, steering, brakes, you name it, the SALT finds it way into everything.  Dan had a lot of work ahead of him to get the car race ready and SCTA inspection ready to go 200MPH.

After getting the car, Dan mentions, “I couldn’t help but be in awe of the car.  I have seen many articles over the course of my life that were written about this car and it’s accomplishments.  So you have to know that I am both honored and consider it a priviledge to be offered the chance to restore this car to it’s true purpose and glory.  This car deserves to be reunited with the salt.”

Burke Bros Avanti Bonneville Nationals 1981 Inspect stickerBurke Bros Studebaker Avanti Bonneville Inspected sticker from 1997

Let’s talk about the Studebaker Avanti and its Salt History and Destiny for a sec’.  Bill Burke bought the car while working for Hot Rod Magazine in 1962.  It was delivered to Grantell Enterprises and came with a 229 cu in Paxton blown engine in the car and a 304 cu in engine in a crate.  The car was born to break records at Bonneville, literally, as the President of Studebaker assigned the car for this specific purpose, Land Speed Racing.

The "California Sunshine" Studebaker Avanti of Bill Burke
Here is an old picture of the #90 Bill Burke Avanti at Bonneville.

It’s first run in August 1963 netted the E/Gas Supercharged Coupe class record at 147.36 MPH.  In August 1966, with a 427 Ford engine, the Stude broke the B/Gas Coupe record going 175.699 MPH.  By 1968, Bill bumped the same record up to 182.867 MPH.  1972 saw a switch to a Hemi and set the C/Fuel Coupe record at 221.812 MPH (Red Hat!!!).  In August of 1979 the “Avanti that could” set the C/Classic Blown Fuel Altered record at 239.208 MPH, a record which still stands today, some 31 years later!  Whoa!  That is SOME history!  In all, 6 different people got into the 200MPH Club.  The car has actually gone as fast as 252 MPH one way.  That is a blazing Studebaker, no doubt!

Back to Dan the man… After getting the Avanti home, it was inspected and looked over at Eddies Custom Cars.  A plan was then developed to make the dream come alive.  Dan asked for help, support and donations from fellow Studebaker racers and owners.  The response has been spectacular.  It’s far from over though, there are still many parts and money needed.  I’ll put the current list at the end of the story.

Twin supercharged 304 ci Avanti race engine

The Engine… let me pass along some Studebaker engine knowledge your way.  The engine seen above in all its RED and CHROME glory is a 1963 304ci Avanti engine.  Avanti engines came in 5 flavors (R1-R5).  R2, R3 and R5’s came factory supercharged.  This red beaut’ is an R5 clone.  It appears that only 3 known R5’s were built by Grantell to race at Bonneville.  A mechanical fuel injected R5 engine powered another ’63 Avanti to a 196 MPH record in 1963.  Holy Salt!  Dyno testing of this beasty showed 575 HP in 1963.  Dan’s borrowed engine is a modern version of the R5, but it has ported heads and a bigger cam.   Dan’s plan is to use this engine at El Mirage in May to get his 125, 150 and maybe 175 MPH licenses.  Remember, El Mirage is a much shorter course than B’ville.

Dan Burke Bros Bonneville Avanti record holder bucket list dream
Dig this Vintage styled lettering Dan had painted on the door.

Dan is being very careful not to alter the original design of the car and the intents of the builders.  He has huge respect for the history this car has.  Dan said, “I have followed this car through three decades and just to be offered the use of the car was very overwhelming and still is.”

Dan 1962 Avanti Bonneville record holder

Dig this “Bonneville rake”.  Here is the unmistakable side profile of a Studebaker Avanti.  It certainly is unique and has a fairly flat and low hood.  That’s the best way to describe it.  It also has a pretty short rear overhang.  I think Studebaker was ahead of its time with this design.  It looks more like early 70’s sports coupe doesn’t it?

If Dan’s story alone wasn’t enough, check this post about his crew chief Jim.  “I met with Jim Moore my crew chief. He is doing a lot better and is back in fighting mode. He is out of the wheelchair and today he walked 1.4 miles unaided. How’s that for forty days of work. He is meeting with the doctors and has contacted my favorite cancer fighting place, my second home, The City of Hope to get a second opinion. I took him some things that will help him learn about this amazing treatment center. I also took him a bottle of my cancer fighting suppliment. He is really determined to beat this and he plans to go to Utah in August. This made my day.” Can’t wait to meet you Dan and Jim and your crew at B’ville. Dan Burke Bros California Sunrunner Avanti

The first time I saw an Avanti was at Bonneville.  This face “only a mother could love” (or “real” hot rodders) is … sorry, I have no words.  It’s funky and I like it.  I wonder if those “front wings” that protrude ahead of the headlights act as stabilizers?  It sort of looks like a Hammerhead shark now that I think about it.  Mean!  Frame restoration on the Bonneville Avanti
Nice fresh gray paint over the refinished underpinnings of the Avanti.

Here’s some comments from Dan on the underside frame fun he had: “WOW! What a day. I spent six hours working and documenting the underbody of the Avanti. It took 45 minutes just to get the car into the shop. Didn’t realize that the steering linkage was rusted up and you couldn’t turn the steering wheel. Didn’t know the rear brakes were rusted tight. It took five people, four wheel dollies, a truck towing the car onto the rack. But we made it without doing too much damage.

Removed the rear drums and found the entire brake system is rusted up. Will need new wheel cylinders and adjusters. Not even Rusty could free them up. Although if I tried them tomorrow they might be free. I had to remove one of them to make the car able to be pushed, so I will check that one this weekend.

The bottom of the frame will need to be replaced on both sides at the bend (drop) point behind the axle. Nothing major and also some work will need to be done on the right hog trough front and back. Strange thing, the frame is worse on the drivers side and the hog trough is worse on the passenger side. Go figure. Here are a few pictures from today’s adventure.”

Dan takes the Avanti to car shows at Morro Bay

Dan and the Avanti frequent local car shows in the San Luis Obispo area to show off the car, talk cars and take donations.  They thought of a great idea to let friends and car nuts donate some cash to be able get their name on the hood.  The Avanti usually ends up being the talk of the shows too.

As evidence of the great support Dan has received, within one day of posting his “Needs List”, Dan had these things crossed off the list:  Parachute, Battery, Shifter, Air/Fuel ratio meter

The Avanti for Dan has been its own type of therapy.  Dan has been able to keep busy working on the car, tracking down parts, and talking with people.  This has allowed him to distract himself from the cancer at least a little bit.

At one of the recent events, Dan got to “drive” the Avanti on the street.  haha  Well, sort of…check out this picture below.

Dan drives the Burke Bros Avanti down the street
Looks like he’s getting away from the pushers.  Go Dan!!!

Dan's wife helping with the Avanti restoration

I had to post this picture of Dan’s wife Kathy.  Grease Girl will love this one.  Kathy is doing some fiberglass hood repair here.  It has got to be amazing to have a supportive wife like Kathy behind Dan while battling cancer and trying to finish this big of a project.

I can’t wait to here how the license runs go at El Mirage in a couple weeks.  Come August (100 Days until Speedweek 2010), Dan’s Avanti will be the first car I track down.

Thank you for the inspiring story and project Dan and Kathy.  I’ll be glued to your build thread at RacingStudebakers.com to follow your progress.

Please see the current Needs List below.  Hopefully you can find a way to support Dan, whether its giving $$$, loaning parts or your prayers, Dan and Kathy will gratefully receive anything you can give.

See you on the Salt Dan!


See the Update Story.  Dan made it to El Mirage Dry Lake for some speed runs.

Current Needs List for Bucket List Avanti

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