Avanti II

When Studebaker closed shop in South Bend Indiana in 1963, the Avanti motor cars brand began a journey that may have been the most unique of any American automobile. What would emerge was the Avanti II.

1981 avanti II
1981 Avanti II

It would be an understatement to say that there were interested parties for the Avanti motor cars brand when Studebaker broke up. The first parties to acquire some of the Studebaker tooling and brands were actually the local car dealers. This was quite different from past mergers and break ups when large competitors would pick off certain popular brands. This entrepreneurial venture was the beginning of what would be called the Avanti Motor Corporation.

The Avanti II and Nathan Altman

When it comes to the Avanti car models the distinction is made between those built by Studebaker and those produced by the Avanti Motor Corporation. The automobiles produced by the latter were branded as Avanti II’s. This all began when a South Bend Indiana Studebaker dealer realized that the Avanti was a special car. The dealer, Nathan D. Altmen, wanted to do anything he could to keep the Avanti from fading away to history. This was the beginning of his efforts to save the car. From that point on, the Avanti would have many twists and turns.

avanti II
Front end Avanti II

During Altman’s rounds in Detroit, he couldn’t find any automaker interested in acquiring the Avanti brand. Eventually, Altman was able to work out an arrangement with Studebaker and formed the Avanti Motor Company with his brother and another dealer named Leo Newman.

The group purchased six buildings from Studebaker. One of the buildings had been used for final finishing of the the Studebaker Avanti. Another move made by the new company was to hire a designer. After initial reluctance, Studebaker designer, Eugene Hardig, signed on as vice president of engineering.

After successfully negotiating the rights fee and the purchase of parts, tooling, etc from Studebaker, the very first Avanti II was built on July 22, 1965 and was introduced to the public on August 2nd. This car was different. Since the Avanti II was not a typical car, Nate Altman decided to offer it in a different way. Altman’s Avanti II was available in literally any combination of fabrics the customer was able to acquire. For any customer who preferred not to supply hsi or her own fabric,  the Avanti Motor Company had about 400 selections to choose from.

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1981 avanti II car
1981 Avanti II profile

Another New Owner, Stephen H. Blake

Unfortunately, Nathan Altman became seriously ill in April of 1976, and while Nate’s brother took over the management, Leo Newman himself died in 1980. Eugene Hardig was also getting up in age. It eventually became apparent that the company, if possible,  would have to be sold. The next owner of the Avanti Motor Company would be a real estate developer and car enthusiast by the name of Stephen H. Blake.

After acquiring the car company Blake set out to essentially change everything about the car. This included everything from the design itself to some of the materials used in it’s manufacture. In addition, his management style was impulsive and very different from that of Nate Altman. Blake’s impulsive decisions were blamed for a perceived lower quality automobile. In addition to this, Blake had terrible problems with the car’s new  paint finish which resulted in angry buyers. Many brought the cars back to Blake and wanted their money returned. Stephen Blake’s company went into a downward spiral and he literally couldn’t pay his bills. The company was eventually auctioned off in 1986 to help pay creditors.

studebaker avanti
1963 Avanti built by Studebaker

Yet, Another Avanti Owner, Michael Kelly

A man named Michael E. Kelly purchased the company in 1986 along with a partner R.J. Cafaro who was involved in real estate. Cafaro eventually took over the entire company in 1988 and moved the production to Ohio. Kelly again entered the picture and the car company moved yet again to Cancun Mexico in 1991. Kelly ran into serious legal trouble, was jailed and the last Avanti was produced in 2007 in Mexico.

Beyond a doubt, the Avanti Motor Company had one of the most turbulent existences of just about any automaker to date. After the Studebaker years, the Avanti was redesigned and then redesigned again with many peoples hands in it. The most stable era of Avanti’s  post Studebaker years was the Nathan Altman era and the designing of Eugene Hardig. The car is a good collectors automobile and is considered a rare find.

(Photos from author’s private collection. The 1963 Avanti from the public domain)