Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part IV

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

We return with more Studebaker Avanti history today after the first three chapters brought us through the mid-Eighties and the first bankruptcy of the Avanti Motors Corporation. AMC built the Avanti as a standalone model since Studebaker ended its production in 1964.

We rejoin the action in a darkened room somewhere in South Bend, Indiana. A questionable new owner enters, stage left.

Immediately upon AMC’s bankruptcy and the resignation of its former owner Stephen Blake, company ownership passed to Michael Kelly. A con man and resort owner, Kelly enjoyed stealing millions in retirement money from senior citizens and was eventually arrested by the FBI in 2006. During the 1985-1987 period, the company continued to (slowly) build the reworked Avanti on the Monte Carlo platform. Kelly’s first ownership of Avanti was very short-lived, and by 1987 the brand was in new hands again.

John Cafaro was next to take the helm, and the first thing he did was to secure outside financial assistance. Indiana wasn’t playing ball this time, but Ohio – John’s home state – offered up funds. Cafaro moved production from the original Studebaker South Bend factory to Youngstown, Ohio in 1987. The move prompted a change in the company name, to AAC Inc.

Other problems at AAC came fast and heavy, as 1987 was the final year of the G-body Monte Carlo. Presumably, there were signs of the G-body’s demise when Avanti started using it late in 1985. One might speculate its near-match wheelbase and acceptance of the V8 Chevrolet engines upon which AAC relied made it the most affordable solution, though a short-term Band-Aid.

Shortly thereafter in 1988 or 1989, AAC ran out of Monte Carlo chassis, and the underside of the Avanti changed once more – this time to the B-body Caprice. Caprice had a much longer wheelbase than the Monte Carlo at 116 inches and was not an easy plug-and-play like the G-body.

1988 was also a time of celebration at Avanti, as that year marked 25 years of production for the legendary nameplate. A limited run of ’88 examples were called “Silver Anniversary,” and featured additional luxury trimming, and plaques.

By that time, interiors were an absolute mishmash of old and new, American and European touches, all assembled in Youngstown. Avanti also took a page from Lincoln’s book and sold a two-tone Avanti LSC in 1988.

In 1989 something very special and very questionable happened to the Avanti line. Cafaro felt the original coupe Avanti and its convertible spawn weren’t enough, that the design just wasn’t exciting anymore. The solution was obvious: Design a new Avanti sedan!

The sedan did not prove popular, which made sense given its appeal to a slim subset of an already slim group of customers who were very die-hard about the Avanti being vaguely original. Just 90 Avanti sedans were built. Cafaro and his Youngstown factory were another short-lived piece of Avanti history. The plant shut down in 1991 after producing 405 total cars. Three years later the plant was still for sale and filled with the carcasses of incomplete Avantis.

A silent few years fell over Avanti, as collectors and enthusiasts continued to gather annually in South Bend and hope it was not the end for their favorite car. Turns out their hope was not for naught, as like a phoenix the Avanti was about to rise again. Until next time.

[Images: YouTube, Avanti Motors Corporation / AAC]

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2 of 18 comments
  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on Jun 28, 2021

    I remember seeing an Avanti display at a new car show around Harrisburg, PA in the late 80'early 90's. I loved the look and thought the convertible was great looking but I did have concerns about chassis rigidity. Would anyone else want to see the Avanti as a two-door shooting brake?

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jun 28, 2021

    If they were still around they could have made a shooting brake Avanti and an Avanti suv. Or how about a crew cab 4x4 Avanti truck. It could have been much worse than a 4 door or convertible.

  • SCE to AUX Probably couldn't afford it - happens all the time.
  • MaintenanceCosts An ugly-a$s Challenger with poor equipment choices and an ugly Dealership Default color combination, not even a manual to redeem it, still no sale.
  • Cha65689852 To drive a car, you need human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.Unfortunately, these days even human brains are turning into mush thanks to addiction to smartphones and social media.
  • Mike1041 A nasty uncomfortable little car. Test drove in 2019 in a search for a single car that would appease two drivers. The compromise was not much better but at least it had decent rear vision and cargo capacity. The 2019 Honda HRV simply was too unforgiving and we ditched after 4 years. Enter the 23 HRV and we have a comfy size.
  • SCE to AUX I wonder who really cares about this. "Slave labor" is a useful term for the agendas of both right and left."UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor"... but what will the UAW actually do if nothing changes?With unrelenting downward pressure on costs in every industry - coupled with labor shortages - expect to see more of this.Perhaps it's my fault when I choose the $259 cell phone over the $299 model, or the cheaper parts at RockAuto, or the lower-priced jacket at the store.Do I care about an ethical supply chain? Not really, I just want the product to work - and that's how most consumers are. We'd rather not know.Perhaps the 1990s notion of conflict-free, blood-free, ethically-sourced diamonds will find its way into the auto industry. That would be a good thing.