Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part II

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the studebaker avanti story part ii

In Part I of the Avanti story (which received some great comments) we reviewed the coupe’s design and very short original production timeline at Studebaker. But the car was so unique and so modern that two enterprising Studebaker dealers knew they couldn’t let Avanti die after just two years.

Today we take a walk through the next couple of decades, as the Avanti strayed further and further from its true self, ravaged by the passage of time.

After Studebaker concluded its Avanti production at the end of 1963, the company was quickly approached by South Bend Studebaker dealers. Arnold and Nate Altman and Leo Newman were all about Avanti and felt it had a life ahead of it. Studebaker agreed to sell the Avanti’s name, production rights, tooling, extant parts, and the coupe’s space at the South Bend plant. Included in the deal were Studebakers truck production rights, as it ceased producing the Transtar and Champ pickups by 1964. In short order, Avanti was back in production!

Now built under the new AMC, that’s Avanti Motor Corporation, Avantis were built slowly and by hand. The company was profitable not because of the Avanti, but because AMC produced Studebaker truck parts. The company never built any new trucks, though it could have.

The NOS Avanti parts dried up in short order, and by 1965 AMC needed to get a little creative to continue production. Enter Avanti II. Introduced for the ’65 model year, the most notable change was a power swap: Gone was the 4.7 supercharged Studebaker engine, and in its place was a small block Chevrolet 327 (5.4L) V8 from the Corvette. Power was up to 300 horses, though the rest of the car (in ’65) remained largely the same as before.

The Avanti II continued its life as a custom-order car, and Avanti Motors required 10 to 12 weeks lead time to build an Avanti dependent upon colors and trim chosen. Interior components drifted away from the Loewy-designed originals and more toward more current trim sourced from various places. Think lots of walnut, aftermarket gauges, and disco color themes.

Over time the 327 was replaced by a 400, then a 350, and by 1981 was a Chevrolet 305. Tracking alongside the decline of the Corvette, the 305 brought with it malaisey electronic engine controls, a total of 155 raging horses, and a GM TH-350 three-speed automatic.

Much like the rest of the auto industry, the early Eighties were a dark time for the Avanti II. But the coupe still had a good 25 years of life left in it, and things got a whole lot darker. More to come in Part III.

[Images: Avanti Motor Corporation]

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  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jun 25, 2021

    Me thinks the one I remember had a small block 305 because it sounded exactly like a Camaro of the 70s. Off the cuff, I could see an electric startup buying the design/name.

  • Redbat01 Redbat01 on Jun 27, 2021

    Unfortunately, the Avanti II lost the nose-down rake that made the original Studebaker version look aggressive. Compare the front wheel openings and you'll see. There is a noticeable difference in the front fenders. By jacking up the front end, the Avanti II lost part of the visual appeal of the original version's styling. I read that it was necessary to jack up the front end of the Avanti II to accommodate the Chevy engines, but I'm not sure that's true, given that the Sting Ray's hood was quite low.

  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
  • Zerofoo I was part of this industry during my college years. We built many, many cars for "street pharmacists" that sounded like this.Excessive car audio systems are kind of like 800 HP engines. Completely unnecessary, but a hell of a lot of fun.
  • DedBull In it to win it!
  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.
  • Jeffro As I sit here this morning with my 2 day old TRD OFF ROAD 4RUNNER tucked safely away in the garage, my head spins with this weird desire to locate a 85 LTD equipped with the epic 😵‍💫2.3 and the FOUR ON THE FLOOR. THE HOLY GRAIL. Ying and yang baby!The search begins.