Freestyle Friday

Some of you may know that, after a very successful stint as the head football coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, Vince Lombardi was an assistant coach at Army under the legendary Earl “Red” Blaik. It was from there that Lombardi jumped to the NFL as an assistant coach with the New York Giants in 1954.

Whose departure created the vacancy that Lombardi filled at Army? It was Sid Gillman, who only coached there for one season (1948) in between successful tenures as head coach at Miami of Ohio and the University of Cincinnati. Of course, Gillman was a revolutionary coach in his own right, pioneering the use of the vertical passing game in pro football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Going back to Gillman’s one season at Army, I am puzzled by why he left Miami of Ohio, where his teams had a 31-6-1 record in his four seasons as head coach. At Cincinnati, Gillman’s teams were 50-13-1; he then became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 1955. The Rams played in the NFL Championship game that season.

I don’t know why Lombardi succeeding Gillman at Army is just now coming to the forefront of my consciousness, if I have any. It is ironic, of course, that the two coaches had diametrically opposite views about pro football offenses. Lombardi’s pet play was, of course, the power sweep, which was really just a play from the single-wing days of football. He believed in running the ball as the primary focus and using the run to set up the pass.

As stated earlier, Gillman believed in throwing the ball as the primary focus of an offense. Love him or hate him, Al Davis took that philosophy to the Raiders. Davis coached under Gillman with the Chargers from 1960 to 1962. Davis once said, “Sid Gillman brought class to the AFL. Bring part of Sid’s organization was like going to a laboratory for the highly developed science of professional football.” Davis also remarked, “Sid Gillman was the father of modern-day passing.”

Bill Walsh, who coached under Davis with the Raiders, said this about Gillman, “He was so far ahead of his time, people couldn’t totally understand what he was doing. He was one of the great offensive minds in football history. He was a mentor to me and had a lot to do with any success I had. There’s a lineage between Sid Gillman and what you see on the field today.”

Thanks, in part, to rules changes implemented in the NFL beginning in the late 1970s, modern pro football offenses much more closely resemble Gillman’s idiom than Lombardi’s. I don’t watch too much of the football talking head shows, but it seems as though Gillman is more or less forgotten today. Maybe if more people knew that one succeeded the other as offensive line coach at Army under Red Blaik, Gillman would be remembered more. Of course, maybe he wouldn’t.

I did not intend to write 500+ words on Sid Gillman this morning. I also did not mention that Gillman was Jewish and felt anti-Semitism played a role in his not getting the Ohio State head coaching job in the 1950s. At times, Lombardi believed anti-Italian prejudice hindered his advancement in the coaching profession. Again, I am struck by the parallels and differences between the two legendary coaches. I haven’t mentioned, until now, that Gillman was really the pioneer of the use of film study in football (his father owned a movie theater and the younger Gillman would take the football segments out of newsreels so he could study them) while Lombardi was also ahead of the curve in the use of film.


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This recent piece in Mac’s Motor City Garage begins, “While the Studebaker Avanti is celebrated as a masterpiece in American design today, it was the product of a rush job by an automaker that was almost out of business.” Also from the article:



The post is worth reading even if you’re not a big fan of the Avanti. I am, of course, and the car was listed among just seven in my first Ultimate Garage for my previous blog that was hosted by the Evil Empire, AKA Google. If the legislation permitting low-volume replicas of classic cars were really meaningful, maybe we would see the production of a modern Avanti.








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Start The Plants Day

Today is supposed to be the day that General Motors plants resume operation. This is meaningful to me because that means production of the C8 Corvette is supposed to restart.

Criswell Chevrolet of Gaithersburg, Maryland is one of the largest Chevrolet/Corvette dealers in the country. One of their salesmen, Mike Furman, does a feature for Corvette Blogger called Corvette Delivery Dispatch. Here is part of what he wrote in the latest Dispatch:


“…I am sure the World events have impacted each and every one of you. The question I keep on getting…’Are a lot of people canceling?’ It’s actually the exact opposite…I am writing 3-4 deals per day every day. I have a tremendous allocation and a big following along with a pretty darn good reputation…”


Of course, he is a salesman–and a successful one–so it’s his job to minimize negatives and to maximize positives. Still, I think interest in the new Corvette is genuinely strong. It’s just too bad that its production has been severely affected by the UAW strike and the coronavirus.

Mike Furman spoke at a banquet during the Corvette Caravan last August. He was extremely personable and patient answering dozens of questions about the new car, which had been officially revealed the previous month. Of course, a photo of a C8:


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This picture is from the Detroit Free Press. Supposedly, when production resumes GM/Chevrolet will be building model year 2020 Corvettes, but it is not clear if everyone who ordered a 2020 model will be receiving one and not a 2021, instead. ***OK, just received an update. GM has notified Chevrolet dealers that model year 2020 Corvettes will be manufactured through October. The start of regular 2021 model year production will begin on November 2nd, assuming no other setbacks.*** My question: If 2,700 2020 Corvettes were made before the shutdown, can they produce the other 37,000-ish cars by the end of October?


According to 365 Days of Motoring (incredibly, the site is not secure so I will not link to it), on this day in 1868 the three oldest Studebaker brothers–Clem, Peter and John M.–formed the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. The company would continue to make vehicles for not quite another 100 years, with Studebaker ceasing to manufacture automobiles in March, 1966.

I have written a lot about Studebaker on this blog and shown a lot of pictures of Studebaker vehicles. My wonderful wife and I have even joined The Studebakers Drivers Club. I have to admit, though, that my interest in their cars has waned in recent months as has my interest in defunct American makes, in general.

Part of the reason for the diminution of my interest has to be my search for a Corvette companion/grocery car in which the search has morphed from looking for a nostalgic car to looking for a modern car. Inherent in that change is the reality that I am not super-wealthy nor do I possess much experience in working on cars. In addition, something John Kraman told me while my wonderful wife and I were in Arizona for the March Mecum auction has stuck with me. He said that it would take multiple iterations of repairs to get an older car to the point where it would be reliable. If my wonderful wife and I are going grocery shopping or are going to take some friends somewhere, we can’t worry about the car.

That being said, I will always have fondness for Studebaker and other defunct American makes. Which Studebaker is my favorite? Based on the length of time I have admired the car and its initial effect on me, it has to be this one:


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From the Classic Auto Mall a picture of a 1964 Avanti. For you Studebaker enthusiasts, which one is your favorite? 56PackardMan is no longer in the blog world, but his favorite–the 1953 Commander Starliner–is his favorite car, period.







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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 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 [2008], 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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