Most everyone has heard of the fabled Studebaker car company and the exquisite cars they designed and built in the mid-century. And many know that this brand is long gone today. What isn’t widely known is what happened immediately after the main plant in South Bend rolled the last car off the assembly line and closed the doors forever. As the Phoenix who rises from the ashes, so did the Avanti. And what a story it is.
Join us today as we stroll back into the heart of The Motorcar Gathering 2012 held at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Victoria late in 2012 with our feature photoblog series “The Toads At The Gathering“.
This is the Avanti, born of the troubles experienced at Studebaker and built with components and designs acquired through partnerships, passion and vision. On December 20th, 1963, the main Studebaker plant in South Bend shuttered forever. A group of stalwart believers joined forces to try to create something from the remains of that venture, and by taking components from Studebaker, Chevrolet and Ford, they created something unique and very special. These cars are carefully designed and crafted at the Avanti Motor Company, they are not just a bunch of disparate parts thrown together to make a platform. These were finely crafted and built cars that today have quite the following.
After passing through various ownership groups over the years, the Avanti managed to celebrate 25 years of automotive excellence and design in the late eighties, and eventually the company was mired in a scandal as the company was bought with the intention of resurrecting it in Mexico with a fresh partnership with Ford. Alas, the economy and the law caught up with M.E. Kelly in the late 2000’s and the car company suffered its final blow and today is no longer active.
In the car circles I grew up in, the Avanti was spoken of in hushed circles, almost as if we were discussing that ever-elusive unicorn that everyone seems to be chasing around after in the forest. This perception of the car was backed up by a car that was just as much at home rolling up to the opera on a Friday night as guys and gals dressed in their very best black-tie outfits mingle with the who’s-who of society, as it was rolling up to the track on the weekend and leaving many high performance cars in its dust. Particularly in the late sixties, the Avanti Motor Company was using engine and drive-train components from the Chevrolet Corvette, making for a car that had a reputation that was not to be trifled with.
But, the Avanti was much more than this. This interior shot of one on display at the car show showcases the incredible amount of detail that went into the design. This isn’t wood veneer (at least I am quite certain it isn’t) that we are looking at here, and the leather is of the finest quality. It was this attention to the finer details that helped to create a gentleman’s car, one that was as fast as it was elegant.
Although the lines were rather simple, they were no less gracious. When taken in as a whole, the smooth and cultured lines of the car create a flowing silhouette, one that is as much at home cutting through the wind on the highway as it is displayed at a car show.
As a young man, I recall a particular event. Being a car fan of the highest order my entire life, I came across a gentleman who was just climbing out of his Avanti in a parking lot one day. Not being sure what I was looking at exactly caused me to strike up an inquisitive conversation with the gentleman, who was all too happy to talk to me. As soon as I had realized that his car had a small block Chevrolet motor in it from the Corvette group, I just had to hear it run. He obliged me, and the dulcet tones that emitted from the twin exhaust pipes was a sound that remains with me today. Since then, I keep a constant vigil and lookout for these cars on our roads, and every time I see one that sense of excitement is actually quite overwhelming. And as such, you can just imagine how terrific it was to come across two models of this vintage car at the show, and to have a chance to check them out close and in person.
Sometimes the best stories are those that are slightly obscured from the forefront of history. More can be learned about the Avanti Motor Company on Wikepedia for those with a deeper curiosity.
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