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How Avanti Cars Work

Avanti Changes Hands

The 1989 Avanti Coupe Convertible was a bold new step for Avanti -- it was the company's first convertible model.

Avanti might have died right there had it not been for Michael Kelly, a 36-year-old Texas ethanol baron who acquired Blake's interests for just $725,000 in April 1985. Operating as New Avanti Motor Corporation, Kelly's regime began building Blake's convertible alongside the familiar coupe in 1987.

Both models received new seats, a "cockpit" dash, altered bumpers, and improved cooling and climate systems. The coupe still listed for about $30,000; the convertible was some $10,000 more. With this changing of the guard, no 1986 Avantis were built.


Even more ambitious than Blake, Kelly moved production to a new plant in Youngstown, Ohio. This occurred in August 1987, thus closing the old Studebaker factory at last. Avantis would still be mostly hand-built, but the modern facilities promised great strides in quality -- and volume, which Kelly predicted would eventually reach an unprecedented 1,000 cars a year.

To achieve that, Kelly literally stretched the Avanti line by adding three new models: a 117-inch-wheelbase Luxury Sport Coupe, an even longer four-door Luxury Touring Sedan on a 123-inch chassis, and a jumbo limousine on a huge 174-inch span.

Purists moaned, though designer Loewy (who died in late 1987) had mocked up a pair of "Avanti-styled" sedans as '65-66 Studebakers. At least the LSC looked as good as the standard coupe, a tribute to the "rightness" of the original design.

Besides 40 LSCs, Kelly's company managed 50 Silver Anniversary coupes in 1988 to honor Avanti's 25th birthday. These carried Chevy 305 V-8s that were muscled up to 250 bhp (from 170 standard) via Paxton superchargers supplied by the Granatelli brothers, just as in Studebaker days.

Appropriately, the anniversary models were painted pearl silver. Interiors featured black or red leather, an "entertainment center" with TV, power moonroof, compact-disc player, and cellular telephone. There was also a fortified suspension with fat tires on handsome alloy wheels, and bodies gained a front spoiler with fog lamps, rocker-panel skirts, and reshaped bumpers.

Exceeding projected first-year production by 50 percent, New Avanti built 300 cars in 1987, the level Blake had hoped to attain but didn't. But Kelly, too, soon overreached himself, and this (plus legal hassles from one-time backers) forced him to sell in August 1988. The buyer turned out to be his principal partner, shopping-mall developer J.J. Cafaro, who changed the company name once again, this time to Avanti Automotive Corporation.

Both LSC and the planned limo were forgotten, but Cafaro did introduce a four-door Touring Sedan for 1990, though on a trimmer 116-inch wheelbase. Improbably, he claimed its body was molded directly from one of the old Loewy sedan mockups that had sat for years in the South Bend attic gathering dust and pigeon droppings.

Though distinctive, the four-door wasn't as handsome as the classic coupe, but was definitely built better. High-tech composites replaced steel for its roof and (belatedly adopted) door beams, and Kevlar was substituted for fiberglass in the floorpan, bumpers, and seatbelt and body mounts.

Cafaro's operation managed 150 Avantis in 1988 and some 350 in '89. Most were the standard coupe. The 1990 target was 500 cars, but actual output was much lower. There were heady plans for '91, including a switch to the 245-bhp Corvette L98 engine, plus a new chassis (engineered by Callaway Technologies) with all-independent suspension and the four-wheel disc brakes from Ford's Thunderbird Super Coupe.

But these plans were derailed by a sharp recession that hurt sales industrywide. Instead of building its planned 1000 cars in '91, Avanti Automotive Corporation filed for bankruptcy. The firm produced only 15 cars that year, mostly convertibles with a few cosmetic changes and body-material substitutions like those on the sedan.

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