In 1961, Studebaker Corporation was the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the United States. Its new president Sherwood Egbert conceived the idea of introducing a new car to enhance its model offerings and highlight the advanced thinking the automotive division was capable of. To execute the design of the new automobile, he retained world-renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Loewy, with his design team of John Ebstein, Robert Andrews, and Tom Kellogg conceived and executed the design of the new car in less than 60 days. A clay model of the car was delivered to South Bend, Indiana and was approved for production. On April 26, 1962, a new automotive star was introduced to the public. The 1963 Studebaker Avanti was an instant hit with the public and automotive press. Studebaker only built the Avanti for two model years (1963 & 1964) and ceased automotive production in the U.S. on December 9, 1963. Studebaker transferred its automotive production to Canada and announced the Avanti would no longer be built. (Contrary to a popular myth, the Studebaker Avanti was never built in Canada.)
Two successful Studebaker dealers in South Bend, Indiana, Nathan Altman (Nate) and Leo Newman, refused to let the Avanti die. Early in 1964, Mr. Altman approached Studebaker about purchasing the rights, tooling, machinery, equipment, etc. necessary to build the Avanti. A deal was negotiated and ownership of the Avanti was transferred early in 1964.
The new owners established the Avanti Motor Corporation and began handcrafting their version of this exciting automobile. The new model was called the Avanti II. The new Avanti differed from its predecessor in that the customer would dictate the exterior and interior automotive colors and trimmings making each one a custom automobile. The Avanti II was in continuous production from 1965 to 1982 when the company was sold to Mr. Stephen Blake.
Upon taking control of the company, Blake embarked on making changes at Avanti. One of the first items on his list of things to do was to drop the "II" designation and return the car to its original roots. Next on Blake's list was to introduce a special model to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Avanti's introduction. The 1983 20th Anniversary Model was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show. This all black, no chrome, euro-tech look Avanti was a radical departure from previous editions. The Anniversary car was followed by a special limited run of touring coupe editions.
Late in 1984, work began on two projects that would point the way Mr. Blake felt Avanti should be heading. The first was the development of a convertible to complement the existing coupe. The second project was the Avanti GT, a mid year replacement for the coupe with a custom chassis and suspension. Blake's Avanti Motor Corporation, while completed, did not actively pursue either project. Early in 1985, Blake announced that he was closing the business after only 3 years of production.
In April of 1986, Michael E. Kelly, another South Bend native and entrepreneur, purchased the assets of the Avanti Motor Corporation. Kelly embarked on an aggressive program to restore the Avanti to prominence in the limited production automotive field. His company, the New Avanti Motor Corporation, produced the convertible, the coupe, and a new model, the luxury stretch coupe. Unlike their predecessors, the new models introduced by Kelly rested on General Motors platforms beginning in 1987. This change was significant, as the Avanti no longer used the Studebaker frame and the technology, which dated back to the late 1950's. Additionally, the car now possessed a powertrain which could be serviced by any GM dealer.
Late in 1987 Kelly added a partner, John J. Cafaro, and plans were made to transfer production from South Bend, Indiana to Youngstown, Ohio. The move took place during the 4th Quarter of 1987. For model year 1988, they introduced a special run of 25th Anniversary coupes, which immediately sold out. The 25th Anniversary coupes were all built as luxury stretch coupes, finished in pearl white, and carried Paxton superchargers under the hood. In 1988, Kelly sold his interests to pursue new business opportunities.
John J. Cafaro became Avanti's fifth owner in 1988. He changed the name of the company to Avanti Automotive Corporation. For model years 1988 and 1989 the company continued to build the convertible and coupe and began to develop a four-door model and new convertible. The 1990 four-door model met resistance in the marketplace and production ceased in 1991. After a small number of the new convertibles were built and sold in that model year, Avanti ceased production in Youngstown, Ohio.
Avanti lie dormant for a number of years until late 1998 when the assets of the former company in Youngstown, Ohio became available for purchase. An Avanti enthusiast, Jim Bunting had retained Tom Kellogg to design the next generation Avanti. Jim Bunting also retained Bill Lange of Hot Rod Garage fame to build three cars of the next generation Avanti, which he called the AVX. One of each model was built, including a coupe, a convertible and a t-top coupe. Bunting decided after building three vehicles he did not want to proceed any further with production. John Seaton purchased those assets as well as the assets of the former company in Ohio.
Throughout this time period, Michael Kelly, still an Avanti enthusiast had been following the progress of these projects. Kelly's desire to produce the Avanti again was evident as he contacted Seaton and they formed a partnership to revive the Avanti. On August 25, 1999 the Avanti Motor Corporation was formed with Kelly as Chairman and Seaton as CEO. An appropriate facility was located in Villa Rica, Georgia, and six months were devoted to modifying the facility and prototyping the new Avanti. The 2001 Avanti was introduced to the public on October 6, 2000. The new Avanti coupe and convertible have been in production since that point. On November 4, 2001 Kelly purchased Seaton's stock and again became the sole owner of the Avanti Motor Corporation.
In 2003, Kelly begn to diversify the products that were being built. They created the SVO (Special Vehicle Operation) division. This division is responsible for producing component vehicles.
It has been said in the past that "The Legacy Continues". Though a legacy is typically something that is left behind, Avanti still means "forward"!
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