By on June 4, 2011

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

You find unusual cars down on the street, stored off of the street, parked by by the curbside, ready for the crusher at a junkyard, or sometimes even abandoned in Brooklyn or Qatar. I first noticed this Avanti II while I was taking my mom to physical therapy. She broke her wrist and until she had recovered enough hand strength to take the shifter out of park I was given the task of driving Miss Peshie (Mom’s Yiddish name). My intention was to drop her off at the clinic and then attend the funeral for my cousin’s mechutan. When I passed the Avanti I was little disappointed. I’ve tried to get in the habit of taking my cameras with me most places that I go so I can seize the opportunity when I find a car worthy of note. I had my camera bag with me but there was no way I could shoot the Avanti while we were both driving in traffic. When I got to the cemetery, though, I noticed that the Avanti driver was also paying his respects.

For a second I considered the propriety of the situation but I realized it wouldn’t be the first time that I photographed a car at a marble orchard so I got out my 3D rig. The car looked to be in pristine condition, with smooth and straight body panels, and flawless paint. I didn’t get a chance to talk to the owner, but from the condition of the 30+ year old car, my guess is that it’s either been restored or babied since new.

This was an Avanti II, one of the continuation series made by South Bend Studebaker dealer Nate Altman. Altman never made more than a few hundred cars a year so Avanti IIs are pretty rare.  In 1964, after Studebaker stopped US production (they continued to build cars in Canada until 1966), Altman and his partner Leo Newman bought the tooling for the fiberglass sports tourer and six buildings in Studebaker’s South Bend complex plant to keep the car in production.

Nate Altman, the Studebaker dealer who saved the Avanti, with Raymond Loewy, whose studio designed it

Since the car was essentially handmade, Altman gave customers the option of a virtually unlimited choice of interior trims and fabrics. Such bespoke treatment is now commonplace at high end companies like Ferrari and Bentley, but Altman appears to have pioneered that service.

Altman died suddenly in 1976 and Newman died in 1980. Altman’s brother Arnold sold the business to Stephen Blake in 1982. Blake era Avantis dropped the II, and incorporated body color bumpers and rectangular headlamps, so this is clearly an Altman era Avanti II, with chromed bumpers and Avanti II badging.

The original Avanti was the product of Raymond Loewy’s studio, based on a “doodle” by Studebaker chief Sherwood Egbert, who wanted a sporty coupe to use as what we’d now call a halo car for Studebaker’s boring and fading product line.

Tom Kellogg, Bob Andrews and John Ebstein’s original design for the Avanti was so successful that the car’s shape has survived a series of owners.

Michael Kelly bought the company after Blake ran into financial problems, moved production to Youngstown, Ohio and made radical changes, effectively making the new Avanti a rebodied Chevy Monte Carlo. Later versions would use a Ford Mustang platform. Kelly would sell the company in the late 1990s, then reacquire it some years later, making a big publicity splash announcing that production and corporate headquarters were relocating to Cancun, Mexico. Kelly was arrested and charged with securities fraud in late 2006. Though the Avanti Motors web site is still operating, their US phone number has been disconnected and it appears that the company is currently defunct. It’s interesting that though they’ve abandoned all of their other trademarks, Avanti Motor Corporation maintains their trademark registration on the Avanti logo and its use with cars. I think it’s a good bet that if there’s a market for perverse Packards then someone will eventually buy the rights to make some kind of replica of one of the most original car designs ever. If that doesn’t happen I expect the Studebaker museum to try and acquire the logo, as they’ve done with the Studebaker log and as the Packard club and foundation have done similarly with Packard trademarks.

Either way the Avanti is a stunning piece of design, unusual and attractive at the same time. It invariably ends up on lists of the most beautiful cars ever made (usually sharing the list with at least one other Stude, the ’53 Starliner coupe, and sometimes the ’48 bullet nose). It’s among the most distinctive car designs ever, as instantly recognizable as an XKE or a ’67 Vette. The E-Type and Sting Ray, to my eyes, though, are evocative of the 1960s, their styles declaring their eras just as surely as deuce coupes evoke the early 1930s. There is a reason why the original Avanti body styling stayed in production for two and a half decades, and that the original Avanti’s styling language was the brand’s raison d’etre with subsequent owners.  If ever the word “timeless” applied to a car, it applies perfectly to the Avanti.

If you have 3D capabilities, you can see this Avanti II in stereo at Cars In Depth.

For a more complete look at the history of the Avanti, both at Studebaker and beyond, see Aaron Severson’s usual fine job at Ate Up With Motor.

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31 Comments on “Look At What I Found!: Avanti II...”


  • avatar

    Anyone with Photoshop skills care to see what the Avanti would like like with bigger wheels? Nothing extreme, but it seems to me that this is one vintage car that would look better with 16s or 17s than it does with those 15s, which look great, but maybe a bit small by today’s standards.

    One of the first things that car designers draw are the wheel arches and the relationship between the wheel, tire and arch is one of those critical elements of a car’s design. That’s why slapping 20s on anything doesn’t always make sense.

    Some wheel arch designs, though, are more tolerant than others. The mid ’80s GM intermediates, with their square wheel arches, seem to aesthetically tolerate everything from tiny 14″ wire spoke wheels to donk sized rims. The Avanti wheel arches are also not symmetrically round. Maybe non-round arches can work with a wider variety of wheel sizes.

    Speaking of wheel arches, the Avanti’s arches are masterful. In side profile they have a slant back design that’s mirroring the angle used for the front end, rear end, and leading edge of the C pillar. That angle defines much of the car’s basic shape. It gives the car an impression of motion even when it’s sitting still, as if the car is so fast it’s making everything lean back. You can see that angle in the wheel arches in side views and in front 3/4 views, but what’s interesting is that from the rear 3/4 view, the wheel arches look more round, and perfectly frame the tires.

    Loewy had some very talented people on his team.

    Anyway, if you’d like to photoshop in some bigger wheels, even just bigger versions of those late 60s early 70s ones on the car (you can get big versions of most muscle car era styles today), I’d love to see the results.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Although I’ve always liked the Avanti I can’t agree that the design is timeless as looking at it today it clearly looks dated to me. Perhaps the later version with body colored rather than chrome bumpers would look a little less dated but the overall design, handsome as it is just doesn’t look the least bit current to me.

    I do remember when you could order the car with any color exterior/interior and choose any type of wood or metal dash inlays. As I recall in the late 70′s Avanti’s were no more expensive than Lincolns or Cadillacs of the era and much more distinctive. Wish I would have bought one then and kept it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      As I take it, “timeless” doesn’t mean that it is in-style in a later period, it just means that it has aged-well and still looks good.

      BTW, looking at this car again, I have to wonder how much of it’s form, with shorter proportions, inspired Dick Teague’s Pacer design.

      BTW2: Ronnie, the background looks familiar, is that the stone yard on 14 Mile W of Cooledge?

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      “Although I’ve always liked the Avanti I can’t agree that the design is timeless as looking at it today it clearly looks dated to me. Perhaps the later version with body colored rather than chrome bumpers would look a little less dated but the overall design, handsome as it is just doesn’t look the least bit current to me.”The Avanti got body-color bumpers, rectangular headlights, and the front turn-signals were moved from the front fenders to the bumper in 1984. Did it make it look more current? Undoubtedly. Using flush-mount, composite headlights would probably make it even more up-to-date.

      But better? Not really.

      The worst aspect about the car’s styling is the rather ungainly roof line at the c-pillar. That could use a little cleaning up and is most noticable when looking at the convertible models. It’s a shame the convertibles didn’t come along until the late eighties (ironically, about the same time as the four-door). The Avanti only lasted a few more years after that.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    One of the best looking cars of all time.

    I saw an Avanti at Mt Rushmore about 15 years ago. Took more pictures of that than the Presidents! Much, much better looking in person.

    You hit one out of the park with this one!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks. It’s mostly the luck of the draw in terms of what you come across.

      Since you like Corvairs, you might want to check out some of the pics that I took at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum. They have a nice collection of Corvairs because they were made at the Willow Run assembly plant.

      http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=2244

      They also have a very cool kinetic cutaway display used at car shows of a complete Gen I Turbo Corvair drivetrain. Here’s some video:

      http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=2153

  • avatar
    Towncar

    Yes, one of the industry’s more unique and certainly enduring designs.

    It does have a quirk I’ve always wondered about, though–why do the wipers point to the driver’s side instead of the usual opposite? (So did the ’61-’69 Lincoln sedan’s, BTW.) Did they decide it worked better? Looked better? Or was it just designer’s dyslexia?

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      It may have been because the raised portion of the hood – located directly in front of the driver – would have made it difficult to mount the wipers in the opposite direction.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I linked this to today’s Avanti post at the site of Niedermeyer pere:

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/studebaker-week-finale-1963-avanti-a-quick-homage-and-farewell/

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a fortuitous coincidence that this got posted today. I didn’t know that PN was doing Studes this week until I saw your link. I saw the car last week, was thinking about doing a LAWIF! and when I got an email from Bertel saying that he and Ed were busy and the site needed some fresh content, I dashed it off.

      Paul doesn’t like the Avanti II’s higher nose but I think that may have been done to get more air to the under bumper grille. If I’m not mistaken early Avantis had overheating issues.

    • 0 avatar

      Robert,

      Not trying to start a blog war but…

      PN guards his turf zealously and jealously. I followed your link. More fine work from PN but he thinks this post is not a coincidence and that TTAC and I are somehow copying CC.

      For the record I first posted images of this Avanti II at Cars In Depth on May 28th, three days before Paul’s first post about Studebakers and four days before he decided to make a Studebaker week over at CC.

      I have enough ideas of my own crazy self that I don’t need to steal any from PN. Have I gotten ideas for articles when reading his stuff? Sure, just like I get ideas when reading other writers’ stuff. I don’t know if I’ll post about it but while checking out the auction of Hollywood costumes, props and memorabilia that Debbie Reynolds is selling off, I found out that she owns on of the Laurel & Hardy Model Ts. I get ideas from everywhere, and when I get them from someplace online, I more often than not post a link.

      Nothing is original about the idea behind Curbside Classic. Yes, Paul puts his own spin on it, but I’m pretty sure Murilee was doing DOTS before the first CC existed. If anyone should take credit for the idea it’s MM but I’m sure he’d say that it’s not 100% original to him either.

      I try to write about other topics than what other writers address. If I do address the same topic, I try to give a unique perspective on it. Who wants to copy someone else?

      Had I known about his piece on the Avanti today, I would have added a link there like I did to Ate Up With Motor.

      FWIW, I think that anyone who reads the first sentence of this post and is familiar with other car sites knows that I hardly claim a copyright, trademark or patent on the idea of doing posts about cool cars I see when out and about.

      • 0 avatar

        Chill, Ronnie. Don’t you know when you’re being kidded? The more Avantis, the better.

        For the record, folks have been putting up pictures of old cars since Al Gore invented the internet. I’m not protective of any “turf”. I am protective of the name CC. I wouldn’t have dreamed of using DOTS, or OldParkedCars, or whatever…

        Everyone has their own style and approach. No need to be defensive :)

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry, the sarcasm wasn’t clear to me. I can’t edit stuff that’s already been posted or I’d add a link to your article in the original post.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    What’s particularly impressive about the Avanti’s advanced design is that it was based upon some pretty obsolete components.

    For example, the Avanti used a chassis dating back to the 1953 Studebaker Starliner coupe. This meant that unlike virtually every other American passenger car of that period, you didn’t “step down” into the Avanti when entering. The floor was essentially level with the door sills. This is not something that most people would notice, but it did result in less leg room than with a more modern, cow-belly chassis.

    Perhaps more obviously, the Avanti’s unusually tall cowl and flat windshield appears to be based upon the Starliner coupe’s. In the 1950s the latter was strikingly low but by the mid-60s had become rather dated. Nevertheless, the Avanti’s designers were exceptionally clever in working around this problem with one of the earliest coke bottle beltlines, a jacked up rear end that gave Studebaker-produced Avantis a pronounced wedge profile, a power dome that swept into the dash board, and subtle arches above the side windows.

    It’s too bad that the original Avanti was a commercial failure — and the final nail in Studebaker’s coffin. During 1963-64 the Avanti was even outsold by its stablemate the Hawk GT, whose body was older than the contemporary Checker. Perhaps the Avanti would have sold better if it hadn’t been priced as high as a Thunderbird and higher than a Corvette.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    When I was delivering papers back in elementary school, one of my customers had a Grand Turismo. I have had a soft spot for Studabakers ever since.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Simply drop-dead gorgeous!

    The first time I saw one of these was around 1967 in the parking lot of E.J. Korvette’s in the St. Louis area. My buddy and I were laeving the store and a gold Avanti was sitting there right outside the door. I had never seen anything like it and we practically drooled over the thing!

    I have always liked these cars and haven’t seen one in quite a while. This is one of those cars on my personal “wish list” of vehicles if only I had the money! Maybe Jay Leno could donate to my cause if I asked him real nice? Naw, not a chance, but a nice dream just the same.

    Great article, great job.

    • 0 avatar

      E.J. Korvette’s $2.99 record sales helped me build my LP collection.
      The urban legend at the time said that the store’s name came from the fact that it was started by Eight Jewish Korean war Vets. Snopes.com says that it’s not true. It was one Jewish WWII vet:

      E.J. Korvette (initially a retailer of leather goods) was founded in 1948, two years before the Korean War began, by a Jewish World War II veteran named Eugene Ferkauf. Ferkauf explained the nomenclature thusly:

      I had a name picked out for the store, E.J. Korvette. ”E” is for Eugene, my first name, and ”J” stands for Joe Swillenberg, my associate and my pal. As for ”Korvette,” it was originally meant to be spelled with a ”C” after the Canadian marine sub-destroyer, simply because I thought the name had a euphonious ring. When it came time to register the name, we found it was illegal to use a naval class identity, so we had to change the spelling to ”K.”

      I guess that by 1953, those restrictions on trademarks were relaxed and GM got to use the name Corvette.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Fascinating stuff, Ronnie – and I enjoy your contributions, knowledge and expertise immensely! Thank you!

        Korvette’s is where I bought my first component stereo system that same year as well – their “XAM” house brand with a Garrard changer. Also, a portable AM/FM Radio that accompanied me halfway around the world twice when in the service that I finally had to get rid of about five years ago, plus my first TV – a 12″ Zenith B&W! A great store at the time. Oh yes – I substantially added to my LP and singles record collection, too!

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    Beautiful car. I have only seen one once in the wild, last fall. It was parked in front of my small-town post office here in southern NH, in the driver’s seat an older gentleman reading his newspaper while enjoying a cigar. There was something very special about it.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Actually, Avanti sales were hurt by early production delays, no doubt a result of the short lead time, resulting in the cancellation of early orders.

    It’s been said here before, but what Studebaker was able to do with the limited resources it had was amazing. Outdated as the chassis may have been, it and the generation-behind V8 set speed records. Was a Corvette a better car? Maybe, but it didn’t have room for four. The Avanti did. And an R2-equipped Avanti could give any Vette a good run for its money.

    A good example of how Studebaker should have done things was the American Motors redesign for 1963. Thoroughly modern with an eye towards ease and economy of construction, the cars were just right for the company’s needs. Too bad they bit off more than they could chew later on.

    Ultimately, though, the one thing Studebaker couldn’t overcome was the fact that its leadership had simply given up.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I never mind ugly so long as it is creative and unique.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    I’m sorry, but I never “got” Avantis. They always looked ugly and awkward. I remember seeing 2-3 around Knoxville in the mid-80s, and while they were unique, I could never say that I wanted one.

    My wife saw one on the Dulles toll road a few years ago. She told me “I saw the weirdest car today, it looked old, but sorta modern”. I asked her “Was it pretty”. “No, it wasn’t pretty. Just weird.” she said. “Ah, it must be an Avanti!” I replied.

    Sure enough, I showed her a picture, and it was an Avanti.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Pretty sweet cars. The front end is definitely instantly recognizable to me (and looks good), the rear though reminds me a bit of the Jensen Interceptor (or FF).

    It’s also one of those few American post WWII cars that I believe wouldn’t look out of place on European roads.

  • avatar
    rjwebster@charter.net

    I believe the Avanti is still being produced here in the Houston, TX, area somewhere in Humble. Original parts and couple cars are available. It is a beautiful, timeless car.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Yes, there’s a lot of “Euro” influence in that design, since that front end would be more appropriate on a rear or mid-engine car – I could understand why there would be overheating issues with a V8. Still, a valiant (oops) effort, and the rare times I see one, it always draws my eye with its initial “wow” impact, but further study uncovers the basic awkwardness of the design. Further-further study reveals what has been said here; considering the chassis that the Stude engineers had to work with, it’s an amazing achievement.

  • avatar
    Joss

    British Bendix front discs..240 hp V8 and 3100 Ib curb weight but GM sold 6 X as many Corvette’s in 63.

    Stud couldn’t build the quantity and the dealers couldn’t move them off the lots – victim of a dying brand name?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I tried like crazy to get my Dad to buy one of these in the 70s. It was true – every car was a special order, and you could choose any commercially available paint color and any interior and carpet material you wanted. Dad had a series of Lincolns in the 70s, so he could have bought one of these, and went so far as to talk to someone with the company. But when he was told “it’s not going to ride like your Lincoln”,that was pretty much it.

    IIRC, this was in late 73 or early 74. Dad was a new car every two years kind of guy, but because the economy was starting to drop like a stone, he wound up not getting another car until 76.

  • avatar
    Jedchev

    Wonderful pics, Ronnie. I love the Avanti II. It’s also nice to see one that’s unmolested, with the period luggage rack and whitewalls. Nate Altman is an absolute hero to me. He did what every enthusiast dreams of and what such giants like John Delorean and Preston Tucker failed at. He built his own car and turned a profit. It’s really a shame that Steve Blake tried to change the car so much, rather than realizing that people liked it because it was iconoclastic.


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