A genial presence around the ASC Clubhouse, John Hora can also often be found at Hollywood-area used record shops, slaking his never-ending thirst for rare classical records. I always check the classical section when I’m at Amoeba or Counterpoint, in case he’s there. If you ask him, John will somewhat sheepishly admit that his collection houses more than 40,000 recordings, some of them extremely rare and valuable. Press him further, and you may discover that he also owns a museum-quality collection of early television technology. His other collecting passions include menus and books. You might even say he collects a certain type of Southern California post-and-beam house — he owns two of them, and they house most of his treasures.
But for the past several months, the focus has been on John’s car collection, which currently numbers 18, down from a high of 28. He recently returned from South Bend, Indiana, where he was attending the Studebaker Avanti Meet, which included a special event called Bonneville Thunder commemorating the Studebakers that broke hundreds of speed records in the early 1960s. He was also there last July for the 50th anniversary of the Avanti, which was manufactured in South Bend, today home to the Studebaker National Museum. John was a bit of a celebrity at the events – he owns the Studebaker Avanti that was the world’s fastest production car in 1963.
“It is truly a stock car,” says John. “It has a radio and a heater, and you can travel in it if you don’t mind the roll bars. It’s actually the seventh one built – serial number 7. There were four or five that the company used for different record attempts, and this happened to be the one that was most successful.”
John’s family owned a 1949 Studebaker Land Cruiser when he was a boy, but he wasn’t particularly interested in them until he traveled to New York on a documentary and saw an Avanti on display at Grand Central Station. He saw the record-setting car about 16 months later at the Pan Pacific Auto Show, still covered in salt from the record-breaking runs at Bonneville. When Studebaker announced that they were stopping production of the Avanti in 1963, John immediately ordered one. To this day, it’s the only new car he has ever purchased.
John kept track of the record-breaking vehicle until 1970, when he saw an ad for it. In San Francisco, he saw a photo in an article on racing legend Andy Granatelli and recognized the car in the background, covered in plastic. He made some inquiries on behalf of the Avanti Owners Associations – a group he co-founded – but it didn’t work out.
A few more years passed. An ad turned up in a magazine, and John called the number in Dallas. The owner said it wasn’t for sale, but offered let John see it, which he did. A year and a half later, about 1974, it was for sale. It was in rough shape, but John drove it back to California with the title in hand.
“For years, Andy Granatelli would call me every six months or so and say, ‘How’s my car?’” John says. “He wanted me to loan it to him for a display at the Peterson Automotive Museum, but I thought I’d never get it back.”
Now, the record-breaking car is one of three Avantis and twelve Studebakers in John’s collection. Another unique vehicle is a super-charged Studebaker station wagon that was used in a cross-country promotional trek designed to break trans-continental records and show off the quality and durability of Allstate Bonneville tires. An Avanti was picked off the assembly line at random for the trip, and two Studebaker station wagons went along so drivers and officials sanctioning the record could sleep between stints at the wheel. One station wagon was destroyed in an accident – and the other is John’s.
With a mischievous smile, John recalls street-racing in the super-charged, record-breaking Avanti. “The car has a big ‘9’ on the side and roll bars, so everyone wanted to challenge it,” he recalls. “It doesn’t take off so fast – it would just spin the tires – so I’d kind of tease them, acting like I wasn’t interested, until we got up to about 25 miles per hour. Then we’d get on it. We’d stay together with the big engines like the 442 Oldsmobile or the Pontiac GTOs. Then they would shift, and lose a half-car-length and never regain it. We’d wind out and run away from them. Once we were six or seven car lengths ahead, they’d slam on the brakes and turn off to avoid embarrassment. It was the world’s fastest production automobile until about ’67 or ’68 when Mickey Thompson took the records away – but his car was anything but stock.”
John notes with irony that as a kid, he wasn’t interested in cars. “I didn’t want to learn to drive,” he says. “My mother forced me when I was 17 because she was tired of driving me everywhere. I was happy with my bike. Then, I paid for a brake job, and discovered how little it would have cost me to do it myself. That’s how I got the car bug.”
Of his passion for collecting, John says, “I think it’s attention deficit disorder. I just get so excited about so many different things. I really enjoy going to these gatherings – everything except the air travel. What’s nice is that there are a whole lot of people who are as crazy as I am!”