Q: Greg, I enjoyed your articles on the Studebaker and Nash cars. When did the Avanti produce its last car as I know it was built in Canada after Studebaker ceased making cars in America? Thanks much and keep up the fun columns about yesteryear. Charles L., Illinois.
A: Charles, I still receive several letters a year on the Avanti and we last reported on it last year. (Andy Granatelli drove an Avanti to speed records at Bonneville).
To answer your question, Studebaker moved to Canada in December of 1963 and built cars there until 1966. However, contrary to popular belief, the Avanti was never built in Canada and has been an America-made production car until assembly went to Mexico late in its life.
The Avanti name, tooling and plant space were sold in December of 1963 to South Bend, Indiana auto executives and Studebaker dealers Nate Altman and Leo Newman. They continued to build what they called the Avanti II in South Bend, Indiana, from 1966 through 1991. They even purchased a portion of the original Studebaker South Bend plant, which they upgraded for Avanti only production. The duo hoped to build 350 Avantis a year, but never reached 200.
Low production, however, didn’t mean low quality. All Avanti II models were pretty much handmade and featured fiberglass bodies and even a Corvette engine for a few years. Newman and Altman produced the new Avanti from 1965 to 1982 when Avanti was sold to Stephen Blake. Blake dropped the “II” nomenclature, and marketed his Avanti until 1985, when he closed after only three years.
In April of 1986, Michael E, Kelly became the new owner of Avanti, and re-named the company The New Avanti Corporation. He built a convertible, coupe, and a new luxury stretch coupe. Kelly’s Avanti’s also utilized technology from General Motors platforms starting in 1987. Thus, the new Avanti discarded the old Studebaker frame, which dated to 1959 Lark years at Studebaker. Kelly’s Avanti could also have its drivetrain serviced by any GM dealer in America.
After Kelly moved his Avanti operation to Youngstown, Ohio, in 1988 with partner JJ Cafaro, financial problems ensued and Cafaro took over in August of 1988. Sales approached 350 for 1989, the highest ever for the post-Studebaker Avanti, but by 1991, the company filed for bankruptcy after its last 15 cars were sold.
Later, Kelly again got involved and built an Avanti on the Firebird F-Body chassis, with all Firebird mechanicals. The company built these “new” Avantis through 2004 but Kelly got himself into trouble and the FBI arrested him on fraud charges. Dave Sharples took over the company and built the Avanti on a Mustang chassis in Mexico.
The final Avanti to my recall was a Ford based V6 available in 2006 as a 2007 model. By 2011, the Avanti factory in Mexico was empty and no further activity ensued.
As to the future and another Avanti re-appearing, never say never as kit cars and replicas are big business nowadays.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars, old-time racing and auto nostalgia at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org)