The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part III


Our history of the Studebaker Avanti continues today, after Parts I and II explored the birth, death, rebirth, and continuation of the Avanti by the aptly named Avanti Motors Corporation.

When we concluded last time it was the dawn of the Eighties, and that’s where we pick up today.

Avanti Motors was building its Avanti II slowly but surely at the start of the decade, complete with the strangled 305 V8 and three-speed automatic from the Corvette. But change was in the air. Nate Altman passed away in the late Seventies, and his brother Arnold continued to run AMC in the Eighties. But in 1982 after 18 years of continued Avanti II production, Altman decided it was time to pass the Avanti on to its next owner. On October 1st of that year, Avanti Motors was purchased by real estate magnate Stephen H. Blake. Because the company was an Indiana staple and production still occurred in South Bend, the state of Indiana chipped in with $1.9 million in loans to Blake at purchase.

Wanting to turn Avanti around, Blake took action to make further modernization and changes to the Avanti II. It seemed apparent to Blake that early Sixties tech and components didn’t have much appeal to the well-heeled Eighties consumer outside Rolls-Royce. But it took a couple of years before his dreams were ready for production, so meantime from late 1982 through 1984, Avanti II continued in production on its original Studebaker chassis.

In 1984 a new, updated Avanti was ready. It dropped its II moniker and was notable for new Eighties-approved rectangular headlamps and body-colored bumpers. Blake’s solution also involved a swap to the much more modern Monte Carlo chassis, which happened after the ’84 rework – likely late in 1985 or early 1986. The G-body Monte was a good fit for the Avanti because it could accept Chevrolet V8s, and had a wheelbase just one inch shorter (108″) than the original Avanti’s 109 inches, an easy stretch.  Avanti’s rear end was reworked by an engineer formerly at Pontiac who Blake hired, Herb Adams. Adams implemented a torque tube on the Avanti, along with the rear end from a 1985 C4 Corvette, and a new independent rear suspension.  A new body style also appeared, one far from Avanti’s original intent: A convertible.

Blake’s company was more serious about build timelines and efficiency than Altman-era AMC and got builds down to between eight and 10 weeks per car. Would the rapid build-to-order timeframe and reworked luxury design be enough to get Avanti Motors in the black, and give the Avanti a new lease on life?

No, not at all. After the development dollars (and Indiana’s loan money) were spent, Blake seemed out of ideas and out of cash. In short order after the introduction of Avanti (Mark II), Avanti Motors Corporation declared bankruptcy. In February of 1986 Blake resigned, and once again Avanti Motors was up for a resale and a rethink. Worth a watch, MotorWeek got hold of an Avanti late in 1985, complete with its new contemporary luxury interior but old Studebaker platform.

In Part IV we’ll head into the Nineties, and see if Avanti received a reprieve from its struggle bus status.

[Images: Avanti Motors Corporation]

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