Even the best researched efforts can result in an occasional flub. In this post I noted, based on Richard Langworth’s excellent book about Studebaker, that December 20th, 1963 (today is 12/20, by the way) was the last day that Studebakers were produced in South Bend, Indiana. However, subsequent to writing that I have unearthed evidence (which was not hard for me to find in this age of Internet) that production, at least part of it, ended a bit later. The last car, however, was an Avanti, serial number R-5643. The production order for that car actually shows the build date as 12/26/1963 and the car was still in the plant on 12/31/1963, as evidenced by the note written by a worker that was found in the trunk of the car a year or two later by the owner. Here is a photo of the note:
So, maybe I shouldn’t be writing this today, but should have waited until the 26th or even the 31st. What does the “C” in OCD stand for? Oh, you want to see the car…
From a thread on forums.nasioc.com a picture of the last South Bend Studebaker, the Avanti with serial number R-5643. In 1979, the car was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society, which operates the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum in Cleveland. Except for a couple of events, the car has been in this building ever since.
Studebaker built fewer than 5,000 Avantis (3,834 for model year 1963 and 809 for 1964). The car, obviously, did not save the company. Why does the car have such a strong hold over so many? The Avanti Owners Association International (AOAI) still exists and, apparently, has thousands of members. Of course, the car was “saved” even after Studebaker stopped production. From ateupwithmotor (hey, Aaron, we miss your posts):
“On July 1, 1964, only a few months after the South Bend factory shut down, local Studebaker dealers Nate Altman and Leo Newman signed an agreement to purchase the Avanti name, the rights to the design, all of the associated molds and tooling, and about 500,000 square feet (46,400 square meters) of the now-shuttered South Bend factory complex. Altman and Newman also hired Gene Hardig as chief engineering consultant, along with a number of other laid-off Studebaker employees. Their plan was to resume production of the Avanti as an exclusive, limited-edition luxury coupe.”
Nate Altman died in 1976; after producing about 2,400 Avanti IIs, Altman’s family sold the company to Stephen Blake in 1982. He had to sell in 1985 and the company, sadly, became kind of a hot potato passing from owner to owner and, also sadly, moving out of South Bend in 1987: first to Youngstown, Ohio and then Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Villa Rica, Georgia and Cancun, Mexico. The last move came in October, 2006. In late December of that year Michael Kelly, in his second stint as Avanti company owner, was arrested by FBI agents. He was subsequently charged with 14 counts of fraud in connection with what the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged was a $340 million Ponzi scheme to defraud investors in Mexican time-share properties.
The last Avantis, as of this writing, were built in March, 2007. OK, so why does the car have such a grip on the psyche of so many automotive enthusiasts? Maybe I am not one to answer this question. I still like the look of the car, but not as much as I did even 2-3 years ago as, for some reason, the styling has taken on a dated quality in my mind.
Maybe for some the Avanti is kind of a tragic hero, a revolutionary force—at least externally—launched by a dying company in an effort to save itself, but the effort is doomed by exogenous and endogenous forces. However, the hero returns to “prove” its worth by outliving its parent by decades. Will the car ever return? If it were up to me and I had a net worth in nine or ten figures, then I might try to revive the car. “If” might be the biggest word in the English language. I’ll leave the last word to Aaron Severson from his wonderful Avanti article:
“As of this writing , the Avanti appears to finally be dead, but that’s been said before. Considering its history, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if a design that has flirted with the Grim Reaper more often than Harry Houdini had at least one more miraculous escape up its sleeve.”
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P.S. A comment by Bill Pressler on “The End At South Bend:”
“Avanti R-5643 is indeed the last car built in South Bend. It is in the Crawford Museum in Cleveland. The last car built on the ‘regular’ assembly lines on 12/20/63 is 64V-20202, the red Daytona Hardtop in the SNM [Studebaker National Museum]. The last vehicle assembled in South Bend was made on 12/27/63–a Diesel truck…”
So, Langworth was right, in a way, and Avanti R-5643 was the last car built in South Bend.
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