By on June 29, 2021

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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15 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part V...”

  • avatar

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…man, did this car get awful looking.

    • 0 avatar

      The Camaro-based design is obviously a Camaro, but obviously an Avanti as well. The Mustang-based design is neither obviously a Mustang, nor obviously an Avanti. By default the Camaro is the winner of that duel.

      But the original design is clearly superior to all that came after…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    These things are starting to feel like kit cars – a real buzz kill.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Part V published, takes us into the 21st century yet still no mention of Andy Granatelli?

    There was a time when his name was inextricably linked to the Avanti story.

    Does the ‘younger’ generation not even remember him and STP?

    • 0 avatar

      You’ll have to fill in the blanks and document this knowledge. Granatelli’s wiki doesn’t even mention Studebaker, or Avanti.

      • 0 avatar
        Greg Hamilton

        Andy Granatelli Avanti:


      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        STP was purchased by Studebaker in 1961. Granatelli was assigned to the Studebaker project by Egbert. Granatelli set 2 speed record in the Avanti which is what provided it with its original desirability/reputation. He also helped to build and design the superchargers used in the Avanti.

        To anyone of a certain age, Granatelli and the Avanti were inextricably linked.

        Sherwood Egbert assigned Granatelli the task of putting the Avanti through its paces. Granatelli set two major American class C records: a two-way flying mile record of 168.15 mph, and a standing start mile record of 92.03 mph. Two new engines, developed through the efforts of the Granatelli brothers, were known as the R3 and the R4. Buoyed by these new engines, Studebaker tried for performance records in the summer and fall of 1963. To add some excitement, the Granatellis put together a mind-boggling R5 Avanti, known as the Due Cento equipped with twin superchargers.

        The company had big ambitions for its “halo” car, and in trying to prove its credibility as a properly fast car, took this project very seriously. To start with, they used an engine that only found its way into nine Avanti’s – this was a supercharged 304.5cu in engine which produced some 400bhp. Then, to help things further, Studebaker enlisted the help of no less than Anthony “Andy” Granatelli, who by this time had already established himself not only as a leading racing driver, but also as a team owner/manager. He just happened to also be the owner of the company which produced the supercharger used on the Avanti…

        Andy Granatelli’s first job for his new bosses was to work on Studebaker’s newest car – and Raymond Loewy’s most famous, if perhaps not his loveliest creation – the Avanti. The challenge was simple – make a 289cu in (4.7-litre) engine perform like a 400cu in (6.5-litre). The solution – the Paxton Model SN supercharger (designed by Granatelli himself) and at the suggestion of engineer Ed Winfield, with added STP – a Studebaker product whose initials stood for Scientifically Treated Petroleum. This eventually led to a decade-long connection between Granatelli and STP, more on which later.

        Before taking on this challenge, Granatelli was persuaded by Sherwood Egbert, President of Studebaker, to take on the role of President of the company’s Chemical Compounds Division, whose main product was… STP. Originally created by German scientists during WW2, the abbreviation stood for Scientifically Treated Petroleum, though Studebaker sometimes referred to it as Studebaker Tested Products in some of their advertising. Over the coming years the names STP and Andy Granatelli were to become inextricably linked.

        Granatelli and his team spent several months in 1962 and ’63 testing not just the Avanti, but also the Studebaker Hawk and Lark, but it was in the Avanti in particular – driven by Granatelli and Paula Murphy (who became known as the First Lady of Speed) – that all manner of speed records were set in one ten-day spell, 370 of them! Murphy, then just 28 years old, became the world’s fastest woman in a production car, achieving speeds in excess of 160mph, and Granatelli himself piloted the same Avanti to an average two-run speed of 170.75mph, which at the time made it the world’s fastest production car, though with that supercharged R-3 engine, it was of course some way from being a regular Avanti.

        Despite Studebaker’s demise as a car manufacturer, Granatelli continued to run STP and over the next few years

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Corey, I have posted a much lengthier explanation but come on, does your generation not even know about STP and that it was a Studebaker owned company/product?

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    If I remember correctly, the redesigned Avanti sold by Michael Kelly and built on a Mustang platform was designed by Tom Kellog who had a hand in designing the original Avanti. I still prefer the original to Kellog’s redesign.

  • avatar

    Time to leave well enough alone. It didn’t work when they tried to resurrect the Dusenberg, Auburn, Stutz and others, sometimes there’s no improving on a classic original and it’s best that it remain in the past

    Fortunately there are plenty still available on the classic car sights, if you want one bad enough $50-75K should cover it

  • avatar

    You really are doing the Rocky franchise with this series.

  • avatar

    Hecho en Medico?

  • avatar

    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.

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