Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part V

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

In our last entry of the Studebaker Avanti series, things were at a low point. In the late Eighties, Avanti Motors Corporation was renamed AAC Inc., and the oft-edited Avanti coupe and convertible models were joined by a new luxury sedan. After the sedan failed to bring new customers to Youngstown-based AAC, operations shut down in 1991.

But after a few years, a familiar face returned to rescue Avanti.

Michael Kelly never lost his feels for Avanti, even while he was busy running resorts and conning retirees. In 1999 Kelly purchased the AAC assets from John Cafaro with partner John Seaton. The pair knew it was time for a more considerable Avanti rework.

In 2000 the AAC operations were moved from Youngstown to Villa Rica, Georgia. Production started that year as a new Avanti design debuted, an attempt to bring the Sixties Loewy vibes into modern times. The initial run of the new Avantis was based (rather obviously) on the contemporary Camaro chassis. The Camaro-based Avanti lasted only through 2003, as once again Avanti based its cars on a GM platform about to end production. Speaking of GM, around that time AAC debuted a Hummer H2 competitor, the concept Studebaker XUV (that’s worth separate coverage).

2004 saw another platform swap, and the new Mustang became the Avanti’s platform donor. Avantis were then powered by the Mustang V8 (a V6 was optional), as the car stepped away from GM power and platforms for the first time since 1965. With their chassis and engine supply assured, Avanti was poised to continue production and Kelly planned to grow the brand once more.

Things were quiet for most of 2005, but the breezes of change were blowing. In early 2006 Avanti moved house once more when Kelly relocated production to an all-new plant in Cancun, Mexico. But that operation was not in business long. The last Mustang-based Avanti rolled off the line in Medico in March 2006. By the end of 2006 Kelly’s non-Avanti, Ponzi-type activities caught up with him. He was arrested by the FBI in December.

As Kelly was detained, the factory and Avanti showroom in Cancun remained in suspended animation through 2011. At that point, the assets were sold off, to yet another Avanti entrepreneur. We’ll pick up next time and bring Avanti into the present day, and discuss the Rare Ride subject which generated this journey.

[Images: AAC Inc.]

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2 of 15 comments
  • Halftruth Halftruth on Jun 30, 2021

    Hecho en Medico?

  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Jul 02, 2021

    Camaro chassis, but damned if the one interior shot in that brochure didn’t look more Firebird-ish. Or did they have a unique interior for the car? I’d hope so, or you’d be correct in referring to this as a kit car.

  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I bet it has some electrical gremlins as well. Nonetheless it might make an interesting El Camino pickup truck conversation with one of those kits.
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
  • ToolGuy It is raining super-hard outside right now.