The hurdle many owners encounter is a big one-any money spent on a restoration is just being thrown down a rat hole

The Avanti may be one of the most polarizing designs ever created. Those who love it really love it and those who don't appreciate it loathe it. But among the former, at least six intrepid souls have been passionate enough about Raymond Loewy and Tom Kellogg's creation to keep the car from dying-even when all but the nuttiest should have been looking for a wooden stake or a silver bullet.

The Avanti IIs sold to the public in 1966 were really the first "continuation cars," built long before that dubious term was coined. Studebaker, which had been building wagons since the mid-19th century, finally expired that year. It built its last cars in exile in Hamilton, Ontario. The consolation prize for the city of South Bend, IN-Studebaker's former main manufacturing center-was the sale of the Avanti rights, tools, molds, and part of the plant to local dealers Leo Newman and Nate Altman.


Newman and Altman shopped the idea of reviving the Avanti to Checker Motors. Checker refused, deeming the car both uglier than their Marathon and unable to accommodate roof lights, a meter and more than two fares in the back seat. Newman and Altman decided to go it alone. Improbably, things worked out for them; having access to Studebaker's tooling and development work gave them a head start over other cottage industry manufacturers.

Soon, Avantis were being turned out again on Lafayette Ave. in South Bend. Aside from looking under the hood, the only way to tell an early II from a Stude was by the badging, and by the fact that the car had lost its pronounced forward rake.

Wisely, the pair decided to substitute Chevy's 327, one of the sweetest small-block V8s ever, for Studebaker's uninspired 289-ci lump. They also decided their future was not in competing with volume-produced cars-so they turned the Avanti into a handbuilt, made-to-order car that would appeal to someone who wanted something a bit more exclusive than a Thunderbird or a Riviera.


Ordering an Avanti in the '60s and '70s was not unlike having a Savile Row suit made. My own circa-1977 recollection of then Sales Manager Chuck Solliday's office was that of a relatively small room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with phone book-sized volumes containing paint, carpet, cloth, leather, and suede samples.

Solliday evidently followed the prime directive of non-interference with customer choices as I witnessed a metallic lime green car with silver leather nearing completion. My dad and I chose a much more restrained (although no less '70s) shade of dark metallic brown with saddle leather and brown suede inserts.

From 1966 until 1983, when Stephen Blake bought the company, there were few substantive changes. The 327 gave way to the 350- and 400-ci units, and 305-ci Chevrolet engines were used as well. In general, post-1973 cars suffered just like other American cars as a result of emission controls. They also grew ugly rubber rams mounted on impact cylinders under the main bumper. Most owners remove these nasty appendages.


Dynamically, it's best not to expect too much of an Avanti II. They were still based on the totally conventional Lark chassis, an X-frame with a live rear axle and leaf springs. For this reason, Road & Track called the Studebaker Avanti "a Lark in a gilded cage." Power steering is typically numb and the rear end comes around quite easily, especially in the rain. Modern tires do a bit to curb this. At least Avantis stop well, with four-wheel disc brakes.

Avanti IIs face few restoration hurdles other than the big one- any money spent restoring an Avanti II will never be recovered. Best to find a well-cared-for example (and there are plenty) and drive the wheels off it. Try to find one in a color you can live with, without a worn-out interior and without a rusty frame or "hog troughs," which are Avanti-speak for the torque boxes that mate the frame to the body. Replacing them is a nasty and costly job. Trim parts are available and mechanical items are NAPA stuff.

Avantis were built to order and interesting options like the Blaupunkt Berlin stalk radio and smoked glass moonroofs abound. Avoid Avanti IIs without air or with the anemic 305-ci engine. The most common wheel choices were chrome Magnum 500s just like a Mustang-these actually look good on the car. Less common were the star-pattern Studebaker wheel covers and the holy grail-a set of real Borrani knockoffs.


The earliest Avanti IIs were probably the most appealing and the best performing, with the 327/300 motor and an available Borg-Warner T10 four-speed. An Avanti so equipped is rare and probably a better car than a supercharged Studebaker R2. The early cars also had most of the vintage Stude touches like a funky two-spoke steering wheel, additional trim on the hood bulge, glass headlight covers and more attractive gauges.

As a collectible, the Avanti II market will not be heating up any time soon. Studebaker-built Avantis will always be more desirable and currently, even the AMC AMX is far more collectible. Unless original Avantis shoot out of sight, IIs will always be fairly hopeless. Those polarizing looks will always work against it. But if you can live with this fact, an Avanti II provides you with a distinctive and in most cases a very well built car with adequate performance, so there's absolutely no harm in shelling out $12,000-$14,000 for a decent one.

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