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Avanti ad Alice (or 3000km at 38℃)


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(Fixed some broken links, and updated my status)

After years of scanning ads and eBay for Avantis, it wasn’t until I transferred to Oz for a system engineering position that I started to get serious. Originally, my wife was budgeting for me to get a right hand drive Ford Falcon GT, Holden Monaro coupe, or the like to eventually take back stateside. But, I spotted 63R3318 on-line, and spent a year going back to the listing. Finally, the combo of a drop in the asking price and the value of the Australian dollar made it much easier to sell my wife on a change of plans.

I flew in to Brisbane late on a Thursday, met with the seller the next morning, and checked the car out. Spent about a half hour poking at it, took it out for a long spin around town, and I decided to take the leap. We killed some time at his Studebaker parts shop, took care of business with the state transport department and the bank, and 63R3318 was mine.
Only 3000km and two and a half days planned drive time between me and home in Alice Springs. Initially, it was a relaxing meander through residential streets, enjoying the burble of the engine. I hit the Ipswich Road artery heading west, and bogged down into the evening rush hour. The temperature was in the low 30’s C (90’s F), and 63R3318’s temperature gauge didn’t take long to validate my research… the bugger was going to overheat.
A note on the prices: that's cents per liter, translating to US$3.10/gallon for 98 premium.
I pulled into a petrol station and guzzled soda for a half hour or so until the traffic looked to be moving, and got back into it. Ipswich Road soon became the Ipswich Motorway, and an interchange later, I was on the Warrego Highway headed due west, leaving Brizzy and heavy traffic behind. The Warrego remained a four lane divided freeway out to Toowoomba, where it narrowed back down to a two lane road, typical of most Australian national highways outside of the capital cities.
My goal for the first day was an easy 475km (295mi) drive to Roma, a major southeastern Queenland ag town. It would have been much easier, but for my late start. The sun set shortly after crossing the Great Dividing Range into flat, fenced farmland. However, fences don’t slow down Skippy, and he and his mates like to feed at night. So, when I caught up to a road train, I kept within a couple hundred meters of his taillights the rest of the way to Roma. I rolled in shortly before 11pm, and managed to catch one of the motor inn managers still up and about.
Looking for someone to plow the road come nightfall
Saturday morning, I should have been on the road by 6am. But, I took my sweet time getting up, wasted over a half hour trying to get a Macca’s breakfast ordered via a video kiosk, and wasn’t out of town until 9. It was over 1300km (800mi) to my next intended sleepover in Mount Isa, and I knew I was in for the hard yards. As the Warrego Highway gradually curved west to northwest, the flat grain fields gave way to low hills and a mix of pasture and woodland. A very pretty drive. In the meantime, the temperature climbed back up to the mid-, then high 30s.
I knew 63R3318 didn’t have a/c, so I was prepped with t-shirt and shorts, a beach towel over the seat, and the windows and vents set for max air flow. The lack of buffeting was an unexpected bonus. Nevertheless, I’m trying to protect what’s left of my hearing, so I wore noise cancelling headphones almost the entire way, except when police cruisers came into view.
Even if I had a/c, I wouldn’t have been able to use it. While attempting to keep my speed around 80mph (130km/hr), the temperature gauge kept wandering to the middle of the hot quadrant, so I slowed to keep it close to the 3/4 mark. I rolled into Tambo for lunch, a small, picturesque farm town. The lady behind the counter at the road house was good with stories, interested in the car, and whipped up an excellent burger.
After Tambo, the country reverted to the norm for the far outback: flat as far as the eye could see and beyond, broken only by the increasing number of thunder storms on the horizon. At one point, an eagle dropped a snake onto the bitumen ahead of me. I put the reptile between my wheels, and watched in the mirror as the raptor dropped down to retrieve its prey. It occurred to me that I was intended to help subdue dinner, and that I had fallen down on the job.
I linked up with the Capricorn Highway at Barcaldine, a center for the pastoral industry, and birthplace of the Australian labor movement. Turning left and west onto the Capricorn, Barcaldine gave way to Longreach which gave way to Winton where, as I pulled into a petrol station, I found that at some point after Longreach my hydraulic brakes had failed.
The sun set while I was refueling in Winton, and it being beyond trading hours anywhere but the roadhouse, no automotive repair was available. Driving in the dark without a bull bar, spotlights, or adequete brakes is not a winning combination in countryside lousy with cattle, sheep, and kangaroos. But, just as I was about to throw in the towel and find a room for the night, a critter plow of a road train eased by headed northwest. Once again, I pulled up a few hundred meters back, and we caught up to and drove through one of the thunderstorms sweeping western Queensland. The strobes from many lightening flashes didn’t turn up anything that I might regret hitting.
Ready for bulls, sheep, 'roos, emus... or eagles putting on a feed
While I hoped to make Mount Isa, the truckee shut down at midnight in Cloncurry, 120km to the east. All of the motels were dark. I got lucky with a call to the Wagon Wheel, where the manager had woken up, and was having problems falling back asleep.
Sunday morning, I was up at 5:30am, on the road by 6, and rolled into Mount Isa by 7. Downtown Mount Isa presented a problem, besides being coated in lead from the adjacent mine and smelter, in that there are seven traffic lights along a 500 meter stretch. Low gearing and a firm handbrake got me to a stop at the first, while luck and an utter lack of morning traffic got me through the rest non-stop.
The remaining 640km to Tennant Creek was blessed with no stoplights, moderate temperatures, and only a handful of roadtrains and caravans, all of which 63R3318 made short work. The roadhouses were uncrowded, allowing me all the time I needed to crawl in at handbrake speed.
Summer storms fill streams and billabongs all across the normally dry bush
At Tennant Creek, I fueled up, ate an early dinner, and gave it my best shot to get my average speed due south high enough to make Alice Springs before the Skippy witching hour. I didn’t yet have complete faith in the fuel gauge, and made it a point to stop at just about every roadhouse to top off. So it was I set up to ease into Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia, 130km south of Tennant Creek. The roadhouse’s north drive way provides plenty of room to slow down, dipping down below grade into a normally dry billabong before climbing back up to the bowsers. My approach was beautiful, marred only by the crowd of Aboriginal men working on a couple of Holden sedans, completely blocking my way.
And I though the space aliens were at Pine Gap
I was going 20 mph, already in 1st, the handbrake handle almost in my lap as I considered my options: turn to the right into some boulders, to the left into the now full billabong, or hope for a hole in the crowd. A gent next to the water was trying to move a battery, so after leaning on the horn to catch his attention while waving my other arm, he moved, and I ran over the battery.
In three years in Oz, I’ve never found the bad side of an Aboriginal man out bush, but this was liable to break my streak. I immediately got out of the car, and went straight to the fellow I’d almost bowled over. I apologized, told him my brakes were crook, and that I’d buy him a new battery right there and now. Apparently, that was the right approach, and he and his mates were quickly molified.
Fortunately, the roadhouse did have a few new automotive batteries in stock, so I was only $150 poorer for the experience. The white fella managing the store and his two Asian female clerks, both apparently pretty fresh off the boat, asked several times if I was actually helping the black fellas outside. The sign under the counter does say “No humbugging”, but I assured them I wasn’t getting played. Money is a bit tight for most Aboriginal folks out bush, so I did have a few others suggest that they could use some help as well, in particular the lady who noted that I was driving a pretty flash car.
But, I was experienced enough to set a polite but firm scope on any assistance. I almost always stop for folks stuck out bush, who turn out always to be Aborignal. While my relocation guidebook warned not to stop for anyone away from towns unless they were on fire, the lore from my mates at work is that you can always count on Aboriginal folks to stop and assist. So, I pass it forward.
On the flip side, I'd lost a half hour off of my driving time to sunset. Fortunately, the normal speed limit on the Stuart Highway in the NT is 130km/hr with a couple of experimental sections marked as “Drive To Conditions” (eg. crank it). I managed Ti Tree by sunset, still 194km (118mi) short of Alice Springs. Fortunately, a couple of tradies in an electricans rig I had passed a few k before rolled in, and they weren’t fussed about letting me dog their tail the rest of the way to town.
What can your R3 really do?
Unfortunately, they had been having fuze problems all the way south from Katherine, and about 15 minutes south of Ti Tree, their electricals were finally beyond their ability to repair. There’s no mobile service out bush once you’re more than 20 or 30km outside of a town. We tried flagging down a large Ford F150 (RHD!) pickup headed south, but he didn’t even slow down. White fellas, pfft! I got the office number for the tradies’ boss, fired up 63R3318, and dropped the hammer to try drafting the Ford the rest of the way to Alice.
It took ten minutes to catch sight of his tail lights, in the interim avoiding a handful of steers grasing along the roadside. Having caught up, I was in a bit of a pickle: I needed to stay close enough so that any large mammals he scared off didn’t drift back to the verge, but far enough back so that I could react if he plowed into something big. He was moving a wee bit north of the speed limit, not my first choice.
But, I did get the car into my driveway in one piece, plus the better part of a kilo of locusts and other debris.
The morning after
A few days later, I took the car over to a brake & clutch shop to get the brakes sorted. I didn't know to ask, but fortunately the owner put the car on a four point lift, so we didn't add cracked bodywork to my problems. He appeared to want to rebuild the brake system from stem to stern, but after a phone chat with the previous owner and his mechanic, he thought better of it. I let him sell me on a master cylinder rebuild and a system flush while addressing the actual problem: a break in the hydraulic line between the master cylinder and the front-rear brake tee.
With 63R3318 now safe to drive, I made the mistake of taking it down to the NT Motor Vehicle Registry for inspection. The guys in the pit told me everything was good save one issue, for a pass I needed get all of the oil and brake fluid cleaned from the undercarriage. The office gave me a five day permit to address the inspection results. The Volkswagen dealer's shop does a bit of everything, and came recommend by my boss: his dad works there. The blokes in the shop are old enough to have seen Australian-assembled Studebakers, but this was their first Avanti. They got 63R3318 cleaned up, sealed the oil drip between the block and the transmission... and as authorized by the NT government, reinspected the car themselves. A pass!
I now have the car properly tagged, with personalized plates due in a couple of months: "IMUA". One guess for the meaning in Hawaiian. I've loaded up with shop manuals, parts catalogs, jack stands, grease gun, and a maintenance schedule. The car drew a lot of attention, a few older blokes having noted the engineering error in the location of the steering column. I had the only Avanti in town, but I've since moved to the UK. So, if you see an Avanti in Yorkshire, give me a wave!


Edited by cmholm
Fix broken image links
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Wow, that's a great story! I'm worn out just reading it. Well done, and how did you manage to get such good pictures on this forum?? :D

Sounds like things down under a little different than we are used to up here. That was quite the adventure.

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Sounds like it was a real adventure cmholm! You drive with more abandon than I would dare with my 76 or 89. The brake booster went out on my very first Avanti, a round headlight 64 during the summer of 1966 and I went off a gravel road and just about rolled the car over in a ravine. You had quite a ride. Keep us informed on how you are getting along with the car after getting it home.

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I got the brakes fixed, a bit of a chore as the guy at the brake and clutch shop appeared to want to reengineer the car from stem to stern. No more driving until I schedule a morning to pass safety and get some new tags on the car.

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  • 1 month later...

Great story.

I noticed there was a member in Alice Springs just before I headed off to Ayres rock for Christmas . I wondered if there was an Avanti there, I guess there is now.

I will drop in next time.

Have fun and if you need any parts send me a line.


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From what I here, quite a few Avantis have been exported to OZ from the U.S. over the last ten years......ENJOY!!!!

Your right, there must be about 40 here maybe more.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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