In our last entry of the Studebaker Avanti series, things were at a low point. In the late Eighties, Avanti Motors Corporation was renamed AAC Inc., and the oft-edited Avanti coupe and convertible models were joined by a new luxury sedan. After the sedan failed to bring new customers to Youngstown-based AAC, operations shut down in 1991.
But after a few years, a familiar face returned to rescue Avanti.
Michael Kelly never lost his feels for Avanti, even while he was busy running resorts and conning retirees. In 1999 Kelly purchased the AAC assets from John Cafaro with partner John Seaton. The pair knew it was time for a more considerable Avanti rework.
In 2000 the AAC operations were moved from Youngstown to Villa Rica, Georgia. Production started that year as a new Avanti design debuted, an attempt to bring the Sixties Loewy vibes into modern times. The initial run of the new Avantis was based (rather obviously) on the contemporary Camaro chassis. The Camaro-based Avanti lasted only through 2003, as once again Avanti based its cars on a GM platform about to end production. Speaking of GM, around that time AAC debuted a Hummer H2 competitor, the concept Studebaker XUV (that’s worth separate coverage).
2004 saw another platform swap, and the new Mustang became the Avanti’s platform donor. Avantis were then powered by the Mustang V8 (a V6 was optional), as the car stepped away from GM power and platforms for the first time since 1965. With their chassis and engine supply assured, Avanti was poised to continue production and Kelly planned to grow the brand once more.
Things were quiet for most of 2005, but the breezes of change were blowing. In early 2006 Avanti moved house once more when Kelly relocated production to an all-new plant in Cancun, Mexico. But that operation was not in business long. The last Mustang-based Avanti rolled off the line in Medico in March 2006. By the end of 2006 Kelly’s non-Avanti, Ponzi-type activities caught up with him. He was arrested by the FBI in December.
As Kelly was detained, the factory and Avanti showroom in Cancun remained in suspended animation through 2011. At that point, the assets were sold off, to yet another Avanti entrepreneur. We’ll pick up next time and bring Avanti into the present day, and discuss the Rare Ride subject which generated this journey.
[Images: AAC Inc.]