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How Avanti Cars Work

The Avanti Experimental AVX
The 1998 AVX stood for "AVanti eXperimental," since it was created during a period when Avanti didn't technically exist as a company.

A postscript to the Cafaro bankruptcy concerns one Robert Lucarell, who stayed as caretaker for the Youngstown plant. Lucarell sold handfuls of assorted leftover parts to die-hard owners, all the while insisting that the car and the company he loved would rise yet again. "Avanti is still a going business," he told Automotive News in May 1994. "I am here selling parts and helping people fix their cars over the telephone every day."

Among those customers was Jim Bunting, a retired advertising executive in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who'd bought his first Avanti in the mid '80s and became a fan. Bunting was intrigued by a two-seat Avanti drawn by the late Bob Andrews, a member of the Loewy team, and decided to build a real one.

But no crude hatchet job would do, so he contacted Tom Kellogg, the team member who had done considerable detail work and most of the renderings for the Avanti project. Kellogg obliged with drawings of how the two-seater should look, but sent along a sketch with a playful note reading, "Let's do this one next." It showed a modernized Avanti of the sort Kellogg had been doodling for years, with the basic look evolved just as Studebaker might have done had it not folded.

Bunting loved Kellogg's "Avanti for the '90s," and decided to make it real. To keep costs reasonable, he started with a '94 Pontiac Firebird -- a good choice, as its outer body panels were easily swapped for a new Avanti-look fiberglass skin custom-tailored by Kellogg.

The transformation took place at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, shop of hot-rod builder Bill Lang and was finished in January 1996. By that point, other people had seen the car and wanted one, too. Bunting then showed it -- still in primer and a bit rough -- at a major swap meet, where more favorable inquiries convinced him to offer copies.

After further tweaks by Kellogg, the finished car was unveiled in June 1997 at the combined meet of the Studebaker and Avanti clubs. Because rights to the Avanti name were in limbo, the car was christened AVX -- "AVanti eXperimental."

Incorporating AVX Cars in Lancaster, Bunting contracted with Lang's Custom Auto to convert post-'92 Firebirds at the rate of two a month. The initial price was $33,900, plus the donor coupe or convertible. Echoing Newman & Altman, AVX owners could have their car most anyway they liked.

"Nothing is too outrageous," Bunting told Collectible Automobile® magazine. Several ready-made packages were contemplated: two for brakes, three for suspension, and four engine upgrades, including a Paxton-supercharged Corvette LS1 V-8 with 455 bhp up to an incredible 650.

While the AVX was well-timed for the late-1990s luxury-car sales boom, Bunting quickly found that running a car company, even a tiny one, was more than he bargained for. Thus, after overseeing the build of three prototypes (a coupe, a T-top coupe, and a convertible), he sold AVX Cars to investor John Seaton.

Surprisingly, Seaton soon teamed up with none other than Michael Kelly, who had never lost his enthusiasm for things Avanti. In August 1999, they formed a new Avanti Motor Corporation in Villa Rica, Georgia, just west of Atlanta, with Kelly as chairman and Seaton as CEO.

To the undoubted delight of Avanti enthusiasts, the new concern managed to acquire the assets of all the preceding Avanti companies and even artifacts from the Studebaker days. It also held title to the Avanti name and logo, which would soon grace converted Firebirds based on the AVX design.

For more on defunct American cars, see: