By on June 28, 2021

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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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part IV...”

  • avatar

    I never knew they produced so few of the 4drs, though I can see the lack of appeal. However there used to be one that I regularly saw in my area in the late 90’s early 00’s.

  • avatar

    Why didn’t Leno buy this? If anyone could have made this work, it would have been him.

  • avatar

    It just amazes me that these things got built at all for so long. I know it’s not a popular opinion around here, but I always thought they were some the ugliest cars made. I can see the appeal back in the 60s, as they looked stylish and futuristic for the time (although still ugly in my opinion). But as the decades wore on, the design became woefully dated, and with every change they made, it just got uglier and uglier. The sedan was the epitome of ugly from every angle.

  • avatar

    The stretch is awful and the four-door worse. I’m going to go look at Part I to clean my eyes.

  • avatar

    This is where Avanti lost the plot, the convertible, stretch and 4-door were a horrible bastardization of the original design. Shame on them

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree. Four models for a limited build company was 3 too many, though I do like the convertible version. The 4 door should have been left in someone’s imagination.

  • avatar

    I know for a fact that in southern NH back in 1992 there was an Avanti dealership there. I saw it while visiting family. It was there for some years after (but not many). I do not know where they were getting their cars from. I do remember it well however. Perhaps some dealers were left with inventory and trying to move it? Who knows..

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That linked article is a sad story about an obsessed employee who can’t move on, working alone at the abandoned Avanti factory without pay. That’s just crazy.

    This car was pathetically out of step with anything from the 80s or 90s. No wonder sales were so low – not because the car was exotic.

  • avatar

    That four door is an abomination. It should be dropped via helicopter into an active volcano.

  • avatar

    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?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

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

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