Keith Barnwell’s fascination with Studebakers began when his dad, Millard, bought a 1954 Commander. At various times he has owned two 1963 Larks, a 1953 Commander, a 1955 President and a 1967 Avanti. Now he has only one, a 1963 Gran Turismo Hawk that his father bought new.
Barnwell, 68, of Leavenworth, said he restored a 1955 President after his return from Vietnam in 1969. He installed a 289-cubic-inch Studebaker V-8 from a 1963 Studebaker Lark and changed the color from salmon to Cascade Green and Sherwood Blue. “I was embarrassed by the pink,” he said with a grin.
Barnwell was born and raised in Leavenworth. He is a Vietnam vet who served in the Army in 1968 and 1969. After the Army he went to work as a civilian draftsman in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. He got a master’s degree and became a management specialist working in the commissary, with assignments overseas, also in a civilian capacity.
He retired in 1993 and went to work in the Lansing Correctional Facility, a job from which is also now retired.
Barnwell taught himself to work on cars and motorcycles by maintaining them. One of his earliest projects was restoring a 1940, 45-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson. He said he has been riding motorcycles for 54 years, and his current bike is a 2005 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Custom.
Barnwell started restoring the Hawk in 1995 after his father passed away. Working in his small garage, he removed all of the paint down to bare metal and repainted it metallic blue. Although the color is not standard for a ’63 Hawk it gives the car a bright, bold personality while looking as if it came that way from the factory.
He restored the interior as well and added a few modern conveniences such as a tachometer and a stereo. He also replaced the original Stromberg carburetor with a Holley and installed an electric fuel pump. The engine has more than 100,000 miles and has never been rebuilt, he said. The transmission is a three-speed manual with overdrive.
In 1958, Studebaker became the American importer for Mercedes-Benz, and when Studebaker ceased producing cars in 1966 many of the dealers continued by selling the German brand. Studebaker’s association with Mercedes was instrumental in Barnwell’s purchase of a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S five years ago.
Putting it back in original condition is an ongoing process. So far he has restored the interior and overhauled the Hydrak automatic clutch. The next step is stripping the paint, a process he knows well based on his experience with his dad’s Gran Turismo Hawk. Judging by his work on his father’s car, the final result will be most rewarding.