Avanti History (1965-2006)
Article by Mark Trotta
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, to no avail. 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 Studebaker 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 slightly different stance than the original Avanti. On a positive note, the lighter Chevy engine gave better weight distribution, which had a favorable effect on handling.
Renamed the Avanti 2 (often spelled Avanti II), the new car became available on August 2nd of 1964 as a 1965 model. Each car was 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.
As production continued through the sixties and seventies, the Avanti II remained Chevy small-block powered, but evolved from the 327-cid engine to the 350, then the 400, and finally the 305 motor.
Read: Chevy Small-Block History
During 1975, Avanti Motor Corporation was the 7th largest automaker in the United States, behind #6 Sebring-Vanguard but ahead of #8 Excalibur Motors. The company operated in the black every year of it's existence.
Nate Altman passed away in April of 1976, and his brother Arnold, who had been with Avanti Motor Corporation from the beginning, assumed leadership. Avanti Motor Corporation's most productive year was 1978, with 165 units sold.
For the 1981 and 1982 model years, the transmission was upgraded to General Motor's durable Turbo Hydramatic 400.
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 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 Avanti 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.
Another Ownership Change
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.
In 1990, Avanti built a four-door sedan, which was based on a Chevrolet Caprice chassis. With several lawsuits and judgments pending, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991.
From 1992 through 1996, no Avanti cars were built.
In 1997, original Avanti designer Tom Kellogg got together with a classic car collector by the name of Jim Bunting. A new design mated a modernized Avanti body onto GM's 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, new models were built on a Ford Mustang platform starting in 2004.
Is The Avanti Car Still Made?
In early 2006, Avanti production moved to a new plant in Cancun, Mexico. All Mustang-based Avanti's were fitted with V8 engines, with the option of a Ford V6 engine. With legal troubles shutting down production, the last Avanti built (to date) was 2006.
Read: Investing In Classic Cars