Avanti History (1965-1991)
With the Studebaker company's demise in December 1963, the Avanti seemed destined to become another footnote in classic car history. But Nate Altman, an Indiana Studebaker Dealer, knew there was still a great deal of interest in the car. Determined on keeping the Avanti alive, Altman approached every major automobile manufacturer in the America, with no takers. Even American Motors Corporation, who seemed like a good choice, was not interested the car.
With surprisingly little interest from major car manufacturers, Altman, with his business partner Leo Newman, bought the rights to the Avanti, along with the tooling and space in the former factory. Altman also struck a deal with Molded Fiberglass of Ashtabula, Ohio, who had supplied the original Avanti bodies, to continue making the body parts.
Avanti Motor Corporation
The new company, called Avanti Motor Corporation, brought onboard former Studebaker chief engineer Eugene Hardig. With the Lark convertible chassis retained, Hardig's first task was to replace the now obsolete Stude engine. An easy choice was the lighter, more powerful 327-cid small-block Chevy engine, the same one used in the Corvette. Because the Chevy V8 was slightly taller, the hood and front fenders needed to be raised. This gave the car a different stance than the original Avanti. The lighter Chevy engine also gave better weight distribution, which had a favorable effect on handling.
Renamed the Avanti 2 (often spelled Avanti II) the new car was introduced to the public on August 2nd of 1964 and released as a 1965 model. Each car ws hand-built, which gave a higher-quality build finish. Options included power steering, air conditioning, electric windows, and AM/FM radio. Altman encouraged customers to pick and choose any paint and interior combinations they wished. Even though the new cars were built on left-over Studebaker frames, they were quieter, faster, and better-mannered than the original Studebaker Avanti.
Production continued through the sixties and seventies, with 1978 being the Avanti Motor Corporation's most productive year with 165 units sold. The powertrain remained Chevrolet, but evolved from the 327-cid engine to the 350, the 400 and, finally the 305-cid motor. For the 1981 and 1982 model years, the transmission was upgraded to GM's durable Turbo Hydra-matic 400. The Avanti Motor Corporation operated in the black every year of it's existence.
In April of 1976, Nate Altman passed away. His brother Arnold, who had been with Avanti Motor Corporation from the beginning, assumed leadership. Six years later, in October of 1982, Arnold Altman sold the Avanti rights to real estate developer Stephen Blake. A self-proclaimed automotive enthusiast, the story is told that Blake became an Avanti enthusiast the day his Maserati would not start.
Visually, the third-generation Avanti is identified by rectangular headlights and resin-molded body-colored bumpers. The 'II' was dropped from the car's name. In mid-1983, a 20th Anniversary Edition was introduced. Blake organized a national dealer network, and 1983 proved to be a good year - production reached 289 units. A new Avanti model, called the Touring Coupe, was introduced in 1984. A convertible model was offered soon after.
One event that drew attention to Blake and his company was the entry of an Avanti in the 24 Hours of Daytona competition (1983). Driven by Joe Ruttman, Mike Meldeau, and Herb Adams, the race-prepared car ran as high as 4th and finished 27th overall.
Avanti Paint Problems
In trying to further upgrade the car, paint was changed to Ditzler Deltron urethane to give the cars a better gloss and deeper finish. After the 1984 models were already out, it was discovered that the new paint did not adhere properly to the Avanti body panels. Many of the 1984 cars had to be repainted under factory warranty, at great expense. Blake's company soon declared bankruptcy and he resigned in February 1986.
No cars were built in 1986. In March of that year, Mike Kelly, a native of South Bend, Indiana, acquired all of the assets and rights to the Avanti. He changed the name of the company to the New Avanti Motor Corporation and announced the revival of Avanti production in South Bend.
Kelly and his company were faced with modernizing the chassis, meeting government regulations, and establishing supplier relationships. The first major change was the new platform - the 1987-89 cars would be based on the GM G-body El Camino and Monte Carlo chassis.
In 1988, John J. Cafaro purchased Kelly's 47.5% share of the N.A.M.C. The company was moved to Youngstown, Ohio, and renamed the Avanti Automotive Corporation. The system of borrowing mechanicals from GM had worked well over the years, but the Monte Carlo was taken out of production after the 1988 model run.
In July, 1989, Callaway Advanced Technology, of Old Lyme, Connecticut, was reportedly hired to design and engineer a new frame and suspension for the Avanti. A front end redesign would have a greater slope to the hood, as well as front fender flaring to accommodate wider, performance tires. Meanwhile, with several lawsuits and judgments pending, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991.
From 1992 through 1996, no Avantis were built. In 1997, original Avanti designer Tom Kellogg got together with a collector named Jim Bunting. Their design mated a modernized Avanti body on a GM F-body platform. Three of these "AVX" prototypes were built.
It was not until 2001 when the Avanti Motor Corporation resumed production of the car. After first being built on the F-body frame, the last examples were built on a Ford Mustang platform. The last Avanti built (to date) is 2007.
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