River Run XIV Car Show

Leach’s 1963 Studebaker
Avanti unique among classic cars

Swap meet for auto parts
new addition to annual car show

By Tara C. Gentile
Contributing Writer

(May 2009) – Darrell ‘Rocky” Leach has been around the world seven times. A Navy man active for 27 years, Leach has seen it all. But no story puts a sparkle in his eye like the one about his 1963 Studebaker Avanti R2 on display this year at Madison’s 14 annual River Run car show on May 23.

Darrell "Rocky" Leach

Photo By Tara C. Gentile

Darrell “Rocky” Leach will show
his 1963 Studebaker Avanti R2 at this
year’s River Run Car Show in Madison.

The show is produced by the local car club, Choice Automobiles of Madison, or CAM. Leach has been a member of the group for six years. But he has been interested in cars since a young boy. His first classic ride was a 1939 Ford.
“I just like old cars. They’re better built than new ones,” said Leach. “There’s more to admire about them.”
Originally from Milton, Ky, Leach met his wife, Linda (also a member of the CAM car club), at an air base in California. After marrying, the two lived in the San Juan Islands, where Leach was stationed with the U.S. Navy, about 130 miles off the coast of Seattle. It was there that Leach found his Avanti.
The Avanti was originally owned by an elderly neighbor of Leach’s who asked him to take a look at the car after it stopped running.
“When I came around the corner and saw that car, my skirt blew right up over my head – blew right up over my head and stayed there,” said Leach.
Today, the car doesn’t look much different than it did when Leach first laid eyes on it more than 20 years ago.
“Same paint job, same orange leather interior, same engine. It only has 23,000 original miles on it,” said Leach.
Leach’s Avanti boasts power grip disc brakes, a supercharger, a power shift transmission and a four barrel carburetor.
And there’s even more to this unique story. The Avanti was only made for two years – 1963 and 1964. And although Leach found the car while living on the West Coast, it was actually assembled in South Bend, Ind. It was the 135th Avanti R2 to come out of the plant.
Guaranteed to run 160 mph from the factory, the car was a favorite with such Hollywood stars as Ian Flemming and Ricky Nelson. In 1963 Andy Granatelli drove a specially prepared example to more than 170 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats to showcase the car’s capabilities. This meant the Avanti was the “World’s Fastest Production Car” at the time.
But although it was an advanced vehicle with better than average performance, sales were slow. Production soon came to a halt and by 1964, Studebaker had shut down its South Bend plant.
“The Avanti is what made Studebaker go out of business,” said Leach. “In 1963 it cost $6,000 to buy an Avanti. For those who don’t know, back then, that was a lot of money; too much money.”
Out of all the car shows Leach has entered his Avanti, he said he’s never seen another one like it.
“It’s different – like me. That’s one of the things I like about it,” he said.
And although Leach will have his Avanti at the show, it will not be part of the judging since CAM members do not judge their own cars.
The River Run car show will take place on the riverfront at Vaughn Drive. Prizes will be given away throughout the day, including a $250 prize with a trophy for the Open Class Top 125 Best of Show. Other prizes include best paint, graphics, engine, interior, unfinished and People’s Choice, among others. Hundreds of different prizes will be presented throughout the show.
Car enthusiasts can register themselves and their rides by May 1 for a discounted entry fee of $15. Those who pre-register can also purchase a shirt for $10. All individuals who preregister will also be eligible for a drawing for $100. Registration on the day of the show will cost $20, with shirts available at $15. Registration opens at 8 a.m. on the day of the show and closes at noon.
New to this year’s River Run car show is the swap meet. Classic car enthusiasts are invited to trade old and rare car parts that are usually hard to find.
“This year we will also have a silent auction for charity baskets donated by non-profit organizations,” said CAM club member and one of the show’s organizers, Jeff Webster.
The CAM club also uses part of the proceeds from the show to support its charitable efforts.
“We would really like to send out a big thank you to our sponsors- which is just about every business in Madison. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have a show,” said Webster. “They are very loyal.”
The Spring Old Court Days coincides with the car show and runs all weekend. Festivities include arts and crafts booths, food booths, antiques, and inflatable activities for kids on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s just nice to be on the waterfront,” said Linda Leach. “The men can swap lies about their cars while the women can enjoy the craft festival just up the street.”

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