by Paul Williams
Nearly 40 years ago the Studebaker car company introduced its radical Avanti
coupe to an unsuspecting public. The fiberglass car was unlike anything on
American roads at the time. With its low-front and high tail, it
anticipated today’s wedge-shaped cars by at least three decades.
The car was packed with futuristic details and clever design touches. Check
out the wheel wells, for instance. The shape outlines the trajectory of a
satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere: an ellipse. No kidding!
Avanti was the creation of US design-icon Raymond Loewy, and his team of
In early 1961 Studebaker gave Loewy carte blanche and six weeks to come up
with something that would really make a statement. They told him to go for
it, make it futuristic and fabulous (but keep the old mechanicals and
chassis, if you don’t mind). The car was to be the first of a new line of
Studebakers, and its success was critical for the future of the company.
It was one of Loewy’s team, Tom Kellogg, who largely transformed Loewy’s
sketches into a final form.
Studebaker introduced the car in 1962 to a public and press that didn’t
quite get it. Some loved the Avanti with a passion. Most were indifferent.
Many found it ugly.
Hopes for the car, and the company, quickly faded. Studebaker quietly
disappeared in 1965, the last of their sturdy but dull sedans built in
Hamilton, Ontario with GM motors. They pulled the plug on the Avanti in
1964, after producing 4643 cars.
But this is a car that refuses to die.
In late 1964 Nate Altman, with his business partner Leo Newman, ran one of
the most successful Studebaker dealerships in the US. They purchased the
tooling, equipment and factories associated with the Avanti. They bought
everything they could. Then they set about producing the Avanti II.
That car stayed in production for nearly 20 years, but by the early 80s it
was a shadow of its former self. After two decades and about 2000 Avanti IIs, the company was headed for bankruptcy. Again a white knight appeared,
this time in the person of Stephen Blake, who purchased the company in 1982.
Blake had big plans for the Avanti. NASCAR and IMSA racing programs were in
mind. Blake saw the car as “an American Rolls-Royce with Porsche
characteristics.” He expected to build 1200 cars per year.
Blake was out by 1985, after which the company went through a succession of
problems. New owners with big plans, big hearts and little business sense
came and went.
Just when you thought the Avanti was going to finally retreat to the classic
car shows where it probably belongs, the revived Avanti Motor Corporation
(with the unfortunate AMC acronym) has introduced its new T-Top coupe and
Convertible at the 2001 Chicago Auto Show.
Michael E. Kelly, owner of a chain of Caribbean resorts, is the chairman of
the new company, located in Georgia. Operation of AMC is in the hands of
Tom Seaton, former clothing company executive and die-hard Avanti fan.
“My vision was to restyle and re-engineer, being absolutely certain the new
motor car retained all the DNA of the original ’63 Avanti,” said Mr. Seaton.
He even found Tom Kellogg to redesign and update his original creation.
It’s too bad, though, that the opportunity wasn’t taken to shorten the front
overhang of the car, long a criticism of the original vehicle. He did deal
with the windshield rake, though. It’s now much more steeply and pleasingly
“We’re targeting a new market this time, 25-and-over drivers, the dot-com
generation with upscale lifestyles,” added Mr. Seaton.
click image to enlarge
Photo: Avanti Motor Corporation
2001 Avantis come with a 5.7-liter LS1 GM V8 engine, 4-speed automatic or
6-speed manual transmission, ABS and full power equipment. Interiors are
covered in 350 square feet of top-grade leather.
Coupe is US$69,000 and the Convertible is US$83,000.
“I promise you,” pledges Mr. Kelly, “The Avanti 2001 has taken flight, and
it’s never coming down!”