By on June 25, 2021

Our history of the Studebaker Avanti continues today, after Parts I and II explored the birth, death, rebirth, and continuation of the Avanti by the aptly named Avanti Motors Corporation.

When we concluded last time it was the dawn of the Eighties, and that’s where we pick up today.

Avanti Motors was building its Avanti II slowly but surely at the start of the decade, complete with the strangled 305 V8 and three-speed automatic from the Corvette. But change was in the air. Nate Altman passed away in the late Seventies, and his brother Arnold continued to run AMC in the Eighties. But in 1982 after 18 years of continued Avanti II production, Altman decided it was time to pass the Avanti on to its next owner. On October 1st of that year, Avanti Motors was purchased by real estate magnate Stephen H. Blake. Because the company was an Indiana staple and production still occurred in South Bend, the state of Indiana chipped in with $1.9 million in loans to Blake at purchase.

Wanting to turn Avanti around, Blake took action to make further modernization and changes to the Avanti II. It seemed apparent to Blake that early Sixties tech and components didn’t have much appeal to the well-heeled Eighties consumer outside Rolls-Royce. But it took a couple of years before his dreams were ready for production, so meantime from late 1982 through 1984, Avanti II continued in production on its original Studebaker chassis.

In 1984 a new, updated Avanti was ready. It dropped its II moniker and was notable for new Eighties-approved rectangular headlamps and body-colored bumpers. Blake’s solution also involved a swap to the much more modern Monte Carlo chassis, which happened after the ’84 rework – likely late in 1985 or early 1986. The G-body Monte was a good fit for the Avanti because it could accept Chevrolet V8s, and had a wheelbase just one inch shorter (108″) than the original Avanti’s 109 inches, an easy stretch.  Avanti’s rear end was reworked by an engineer formerly at Pontiac who Blake hired, Herb Adams. According to reports, the plan was to implement a torque tube on the Avanti, along with the rear end from a 1985 C4 Corvette, and a new independent rear suspension. But it never happened. A new body style did appear however, one far from Avanti’s original intent: A convertible.

Blake’s company was more serious about build timelines and efficiency than Altman-era AMC and got builds down to between eight and 10 weeks per car. Would the rapid build-to-order timeframe and reworked luxury design be enough to get Avanti Motors in the black, and give the Avanti a new lease on life?

No, not at all. After the development dollars (and Indiana’s loan money) were spent, Blake seemed out of ideas and out of cash. In short order after the introduction of Avanti (Mark II), Avanti Motors Corporation declared bankruptcy. In February of 1986 Blake resigned, and once again Avanti Motors was up for a resale and a rethink. Worth a watch, MotorWeek got hold of an Avanti late in 1985, complete with its new contemporary luxury interior but old Studebaker platform.

In Part IV we’ll head into the Nineties, and see if Avanti received a reprieve from its struggle bus status.

[Images: Avanti Motors Corporation]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part III...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    A “fairly quick” [email protected]

    The early 80s strikes again!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So shouldn’t the Avanti Part IV follow the Rocky franchise and go to the Soviet Union to avenge the death of Studebaker?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    These early-’80s Avantis did a pretty decent job of updating the styling and incorporating some ’80s touches (the body colored bumpers, etc). The later models got some really questionable styling updates.

    But I have a feeling Part IV is going to include the toxic waste dump known as “Avanti Sedan.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This chapter seems kind of sad to me. The square headlights ruin the original appeal, sort of like an actor who’s had too much plastic surgery.

    That “easily serviced General Motors 305” is a subtle clue that:
    – Avanti didn’t realize that people buying their cars weren’t interested in their serviceability, and
    – using a malaise-era bread-and-butter engine was a new low for the marque, and a far cry from the twin-supercharged engines of the past.

    Marketing the virtues of a hand-built car alongside the catalog engine was just a terrible idea, telling me they lost the plot years earlier.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Even in 1984, shouldn’t Blank et al have known GM was going front wheel drive and dropping the RWD G-body within a few years? Given the production rate, they would only be able to deliver dozens before GM pulled the plug on the frame they were using. Now Panther, that would have been the ticket.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    The convertible instantly made me think of a Fox body Mustang with a weird nose.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Nothing can replace the original, the convertible and eventually the 4-door were caricatures of a car that were never meant to be. Just like any rising star that was deemed to be the “next Marilyn” or the “next Elvis” and watched their star fade miserably, these “next Avantis” just couldn’t capture the star power of the original

    Cars like the Avanti only come around once, best to grab one if you can. There will never be another

  • avatar
    craiger

    In the early/mid 70s, my older brother built a 1/25th model of this. To my child’s eyes, it looked like something from the future. I’m sad to admit it, but it hasn’t aged well.

  • avatar

    It is interesting that both Avanti and Pontiac died almost the same time.

  • avatar
    SirRaoulDuke

    I have a dream that if I won the lottery I would commission an all-out LS build of one of these square eyed oddities. A 600 horsepower 80s Avanti would be awesome.

  • avatar

    Accidentally Bill from Curious Cars has a very nice review of original Avanti with low miles including the history of Studebaker, cats, birds and goats notwithstanding:

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    The rear axle was reworked but it was a 4 link coil solid axle from a leaf sprung solid axle. The Corvette rear suspension may have been a goal but was never achieved by Blake, Kelly or Cafaro.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    For those of you who complain about ‘penalty boxes’ etc in Chapter II Corey posted the Avanti ‘spec sheet’ from late 1981. Extra cost options were power windows and door locks, trunk release, cruise control and right hand (passenger) side mirror.

    Mentioned specifically as standard equipment on this rather expensive automobile were A/C, clock, heater and electric windshield wipers.

    Clearly demonstrating just how far vehicles have ‘evolved’ during the past 40 years.

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