Avanti II / Avanti
AVANTI II 1965-1982
The original AVANTI could have been the car to save Studebaker from extinction had it been introduced without pre-production problems that badly delayed its entry into the American automotive scene. Those delays, the first of a chain of ill-fated incidents that would dog the car for its entire lifetime, had resulted in prospective buyers cancelling their orders to purchase alternative vehicles such as the Chevrolet Corvette.
After a last minute failed attempt to obtain backing for future models, Byres Burlingame, who had replaced the late Sherwood Egbert as president of
Studebaker, closed the South Bend plant in Indiana and moved Studebaker to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1963.
Realising the AVANTI's un-tapped potential, Leo Newman and Nathan Altman, partners in a South Bend Studebaker dealership, bought the AVANTI name,
production rights, tooling and a portion of the old Studebaker plant in South Bend and began turning out a revised version called AVANTI II in late 1965. The
wheelbase of 109 inches was retained from the original model.
Having a fibreglass body meant that there were no tools or sheet metal dies to maintain and it could be built by hand on a small assembly line, catering for
the requirements of individual customers as the construction of each car progressed.
Production of the AVANTI II continued through 1982, by which time optional extras included power steering, air conditioning, tinted front and rear
windscreens, electric windows and an AM/FM radio.
Early AVANTI II's had vinyl interiors, but now, textured vinyl or leather upholstery and trim were available. The car could be painted in any colour or
style depending on the customer and this 'custom' approach resulted in better sales at a price that was, by now, well over the price of the original AVANTI.
When Studebaker moved to Canada, the supply of V8 engines dried up and the change was made to a General Motors V8 in 300hp tune as fitted to the Chevrolet Corvette. Buyers could now choose between a fully synchronised 4-speed manual gearbox or a 'power-shift' automatic allowing manual hold on first and second gears. The Corvette engine with an automatic box gave a 0-60mph time of under nine seconds and a top speed of 125mph.
Visual differences between this and the original AVANTI was that the car now had a more level stance, the AVANTI logo's had Roman numeral II's and the wheel openings in the body were of reduced radius. Most of the changes that took place on the car in the 1970's were to meet U.S. federal safety and emissions regulations.
When Altman became hospitalised several times, there was a visible decline in the quality and workmanship. Certainly very little money was being put into
updating the car.
Several offers to buy the company were rejected, but eventually in 1976, the members of the board agreed to negotiations with a young enthusiast named
Stephen Blake who was a construction magnate in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, Altman's untimely death came only days after the family had agreed to negotiate and it would be another seven years before Blake officially became the owner of the AVANTI Motor Corporation in October 1982.
AVANTI 1983 to date
Blake immediately started to make changes. He re-arranged work flow to improve efficiency and quality, dismissed the old dealers and set up contracts with new dealers that could input the required expertise for future updates. As a result of this, tougher paint was used and the sometimes outlandish 'special' interiors and paint finishes were reduced. Optional colour coded bumpers, black trim, square headlamps, re-vamped interiors and minor chassis modifications were introduced and a greater use was made of General Motors products, including engines. Most of the changes were brought together in a special 20th Anniversary model released in 1983 in single body colour black, white, red or silver.
Blakes future plans included a convertible and the replacement of the live axle with a new independent rear axle designed by Herb Adams. But Blake outstretched his credit with his bank and was forced to declare bankruptcy in June 1985.
In April 1986, the AVANTI company was taken over for nearly three quarters of a million dollars - only a fraction of what the company was really worth - by 36 years old Michael Kelly, an ethanol baron, who renamed it New AVANTI Motor Corporation. The promised convertible was finally produced alongside the coupe, with a new dashboard and seats and slightly revised bumpers. In 1987, the company was moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where the production of three long wheelbase cars was envisaged; a Luxury Sport Coupe (117 inch wheelbase), a slightly longer Luxury Touring Sedan (123 inch wheelbase) and an even longer Limousine (174 inch wheelbase). They apparently went no further than the prototype stage, although a few Paxton supercharged standard coupes were produced.
Kelly commemorated the AVANTI's Silver Anniversary by issuing fifty special Paxton supercharged Luxury Sports Coupe's painted appropriately in pearl silver with a choice of red or black leather upholstery, a power operated roof, TV, CD player and cellular telephone. The suspension was 'beefed-up', special alloy wheels were fitted and the spoiler had fog lights built-in. But the apparent 'jinx' hit the car again and Kelly had to sell the company in 1988 due to questionable business deals.
The new owner was a shopping-mall developer named J. J. Cafaro who continued building the existing models under the new title of AVANTI Automotive
Corporation. He announced the possibility of a new sedan with 116 inch wheelbase based upon Raymond Loewy's abandoned range of 'AVANTI-styled' Studebakers for 1966.
Unfortunately, the bad luck that had followed the car from it's inception struck again in the shape of a sharp recession and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991.
From 1991 production was temporarily stopped, although three prototypes af a new advanced range based on the general AVANTI design were drawn up in 1993 at the request of Jim Bunting, an AVANTI enthusiast. Known as the AVX (first two letters of AVanti and X for experimental), the first prototype was ready for appraisal in 1997.
But although it was very well accepted by AVANTI enthusiasts, Bunting decided not to pursue the idea.
In 1998, the assets of the Youngstown, Ohio company were purchased by John Seaton who was later contacted by previous owner of the company Michael Kelly and in 1999 they became partners in the AVANTI Motor Corporation and set-up their business in Villa Rica, Georgia.
Kelly bought out Seaton in November 2001 to become the sole owner of the AVANTI Motor Corporation for the second time.
The Studebaker name was re-introduced by the AVANTI Motor Corporation in 2003 on a series of rugged utility vehicles that strongly resembled the General Motors Hummer. GM threatened legal action, but a few minor modifications had the dispute settled amicably without going to court.
In 2006, the AVANTI Motor Corporation moved into ultra modern manufacturing facilities in Cancun, Mexico close to Kelly's home and Real Estate businesses.
The move meant the availability of a suitable workforce, plus lower labour rates and overheads resulting in costs being substantially reduced and consequently higher profits.
AVANTI still continued American based operations in Morrow, Georgia and have a North American sales and distribution facility in Atlanta.
The Cancun site has production capabilities and a building devoted to fibreglass constructions, a CNC engineering room with research and development area and a large showroom.
For visiting enthusiasts, a Museum on the first floor is dedicated to AVANTI/Studebaker memorabilia.
An arrangement with Ford gave them Ford technical expertise and the coupe and convertible AVANTI's for 2006 became available with 210hp V6, 300hp V8 or supercharged 460hp V8 engines built by Ford. A Mustang chassis was used, fitted with all round disc brakes and optional five speed manual or automatic transmission.
Interiors were in leather and multiple options included a DVD/navigation system.
In 2006, Englishman David Sharples, a former director of MG-Rover joined the company in the position of president.
But barely twelve months later, Michael Kelly was again arrested by the FBI and charged with multi-million dollar Real Estate fraud that targeted senior citizens and relieved them of their retirement money.
The man that had everything still wanted more and wasn't bothered where it came from.
Sharples was quoted as saying that the AVANTI programme will carry on without Kelly, who now has no part in the company's future and it is hoped that a figure of 200 vehicles per year will be produced.
Had the AVANTI story so far been fictional it would have been rejected as too unbelievable. The fact that it is true makes one wonder what the future holds for a car that has accumulated such a huge following and enthusiasts wait with baited breath for the next chapter.
Source: Reg J. Prosser