By on June 24, 2021

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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33 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part II...”


  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Terrific series on a fabulous car – can’t wait to read part III! Don’t know if you have done this type of thing before (if so, I haven’t seen it), but I would sure read “car histories” for other iconic cars. There are certainly a lot of them out there that merit such a look – although the Avanti story is certainly a unique one. Great work.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you!

      I have done a four-part on the NSU Spider, and a couple two-part ones here and there.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/07/rare-rides-nsu-new-way-wankel-spider-1965-part-i/

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2021/06/rare-rides-the-1990-chrysler-lebaron-gtc-turbo-convertible-variable-driving-excitement-part-i/

      https://www.google.com/search?q=ttac+rare+rides+part+ii+site:www.thetruthaboutcars.com&client=ms-android-att-us-revc&prmd=nsvi&sxsrf=ALeKk01Fq-a0SVrVuoYl_Nbtp6QqQB7xmw:1624551347351&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjN2Oiv1bDxAhUEZN8KHYCwA-UQvbADegQIAxAB&cshid=1624551442684&biw=360&bih=579#ip=1

    • 0 avatar
      NigelShiftright

      There are a lot of great model histories at this site. Read them soon, the owner has said that he may not keep the site up forever….

      https://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories-by-era/

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      If you haven’t found it already, hit a site called Curbside Classic (curbsideclassic.com) which will have what you’re looking for. The site originally started out of some articles here of the same name. It’s amazing the stuff they cover, things like “Why did the 62 Dodge and Plymouth end up looking like that?” and a lot of histories of Marques you’ve barely heard of.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    I think I’ll wait for an Avanti II with a factory trailer hitch to show up on BaT. “Only one ever made — I know what I’ve got.”

    • 0 avatar
      kenrand65

      I own a 1970 Avanti II with a factory trailer hitch. I drove it to the factory in the late ‘70’s. They remembered the car. The car was built for one of the owners daughter. She was moving to Texas and needed to pull a trailer with her stuff.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    I think spookiness said it best yesterday. I really want to like this car, but I just can’t. The proportions are just bad from every angle. Looks like a kid tried to draw a sports car and just made all the angles and windows wrong. The history is interesting (not criticizing the piece) and the performance specs are impressive. But I think it’s a car people had to convince themselves to buy, not lust after.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    As with most things that tried to imitate early ’60s style, the original was the best. None of the ones in today’s picture are as beautiful as the one in yesterday’s picture.

    Corey, I should echo the praise for these multi-part Rare Rides. They’re really interesting reads.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The Avanti II was a nice effort, but it just couldn’t match the original and then the proportions got wack followed by the 4-door and it was over.

    Long live the original

  • avatar
    jeffmete

    I took a tour of the avanti assembly plant in the early 80’s. Seems they were using gm trans and engines at that time. I remember they fabricated a lot of thing in-house, including the drip rails.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    I recall reading in an auto mag years ago(I’ve long forgotten the name)that Nate Altman originally approached Checker Motors and AMC to see if they were interested in building the Avanti. Both companies turned him down so he decided to build it himself at the South Bend plant.

  • avatar
    Mkz

    I like reading as much as the next guy, but had no idea reading can be this entertaining. I tip my hat to you sir.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Brochure:
    “Aside from its distinctive design, the factor that most sets the Avanti apart is the fourteen weeks of hand workmanship that goes into each automobile.”

    Well, that’s how you go out of business – distinctively.

  • avatar
    kelleysdad

    Pictures do no do the Avanti justice. It was a rare beauty and not weird looking at all as some have commented. Much more impressive than anything on the road in its early production. I guess it is in the same league as the DeLorean, Tucker, and Bricklin.

    • 0 avatar
      amwhalbi

      Absolutely. As I said yesterday, the car looked much better in person than in pictures. Pretty intoxicating at the time, at least to this (at the time) young lad.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Yes, times got pretty dark, but the later switch to a backbone chassis was interesting.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Today’s wholesale absurdity, the MY13 Volvo C70 hardtop convertible:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/203501460377?hash=item2f61a1db99:g:ZuUAAOSwS91gw17~

    Adjusted MMR: 11,6 (grade 3.0 used) but sure pay $18K and then for the timing belt and dog knows what else is dealer only.

    However… someone did pay $20,8 for one with 36K on the clock, I imagine the buyer purchased it for their own use but if you had to retail it what can you get? $24,9? $29,9? Are there really people who are going to pay north of 25 for a cherry one of these, even in the armpit of New Jersey?

    LOL while we’re at it, someone in the Steel City paid $18,1 for a similar example which is still way high but a little more grounded to this planet. Rahal is not advertising it and I can’t find it on Autotrader but I’ll keep my eye out (won’t be hard to spot in that condition). Some of those other ones, damn. I look like a genius in my older but cherry C70 MK1.

    6/2/21 $20,800* 36,587 – – 5GT/A Black Regular Northeast New Jersey
    5/5/21 $18,100 38,973 3.9 5GT/A Black Regular Northeast Pittsburgh
    6/16/21 $15,400 72,675 3.7 5GT/A Black Regular Northeast New Jersey
    4/28/21 $14,100 84,237 4.1 5GT/A White Regular Northeast New Jersey
    6/15/21 $12,800 100,153 3.5 5GT/A Red Regular Northeast New England
    4/20/21 $7,900 138,227 – – 5GT/A White Regular Northeast Baltimore-Washington
    5/24/21 $7,100 122,942 – – 5CY/A – – Regular Midwest myCentralAuction

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      That’s quite a spike in price for the MK11 C70. The super in the building next to me picked up a clean silver/pewter 2009 from Florida last year for around $7k. I still see some MK1 C70 in the $3-4k range but those are probably spiking due to the summer season.

      • 0 avatar

        I forget the gen 2 C70, and $18 for one that looks worn out is nuts.

        Also the first C70 was much better looking.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Something I’m still trying to figure out is why the MK1’s valuations are so much lower than then MK2. After putting mine back together I’d say, well its such a PITA thats why… but other than the power window regulator (which I HOPE was improved) they’re rather similar. Generally speaking the P3 platform models Ford introduced in 2006 are worth much more than the equivalent P2 models (despite carryover drivetrain), and the MY06 C70 uses the Ford/Mazda/Volvo designed P1 vs the pre-Ford Volvo designed P80. I suppose there’s an element of that going on but in my mind it does not justify such a crazy split between them. MK1s just looking at the numbers are almost free at the auction, but their condition is usually poor and they have several pricey parts. But looking at those last two MY13s above…. 7,1 and 7,9 for rough sounding examples… boggles my mind.

        @Corey

        I agree, it also has a trunk for my golf clubs whereas the MK2 really does not.

  • avatar

    First time I saw Avanti in 2011 or 2012 on parking lot near our office in Foster City, CA. Someone was commuting in this car. I don’t remember though was it original or not. In the best engineering traditions of Silicon Valley despite of years working on latest Android smart phones from OEMs like Motorola, Sharp, Toshiba, LG and etc I nevertheless personally owned my sons (who bought iPhone) old Moto KRZR dumbphone and so have no habit of taking pictures using its horrible camera.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I had to look this up because I swear I remember this from a long time ago, but there was one time in 1989 when Wheel of Fortune offered an Avanti as a grand prize. Now that would have been one to take home. Not sure if the next week they swapped it out with their trusted Subaru Justy!

  • avatar

    Additional kudos, Corey! Thanks for putting this look together. Look forward to Pt. 3.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Very cool article. Some time ago my dad dabbled in flipping cars and he had an ’82 Avanti II for awhile. I drove it to college for a few months and he even offered it to me. The uniqueness of it was cool, but I passed because as others have said, I just couldn’t warm up to the styling. It was an overall nice car, but ours had a 305 so it was just average from a performance standpoint.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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