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Sports Car Avanti Resurrected

January 7, 2000

VILLA RICA, Ga. (AP) _ For nearly 40 years, sports car enthusiasts have adored the Avanti, a smooth, stylish coupe that has always turned heads but rarely turned a profit.

Introduced by Studebaker a year before the automaker went out of business in 1963, new Avantis are gearing up to hit the road again, this time from a small factory in this town west of Atlanta.

``I’ve concluded that the car is cosmic,″ said Tom Kellogg, who helped with the original Avanti design. ``It has some sort of personality or spirit that keeps finding people to take it over and stroke it and keep it going.″

Avanti Motor Corp., formed in 1964 after Studebaker’s demise, continued production of the car until it went bankrupt in 1985. The following year, a new Avanti Motor Corp. formed and resumed production, first in South Bend, Ind., and then in Youngstown Ohio, where the last line of Avantis was produced in 1991.

Now two businessmen have given up six-figure salaries and cushy corporate jobs to bring the Avanti back to life.

``We’re just living a dream because we love the car so much,″ said John Seaton, former president of a Carrollton clothing company and the new president and chief executive officer of Avanti Motor Co. ``We’re ready to go at 4:30 a.m. and do whatever is necessary.″

Seaton and John Hull, a former corporate accountant from Trumbull, Conn., Avanti’s chief financial officer, answer their own phones and help unload equipment.

Avanti enthusiasts are glad the car is back in production. Steve Kolish, a retired airline mechanic in Niles, Ill., bought his Avanti 20 years ago and estimates he has spent upwards of $50,000 in upkeep and restoration.

``We’re a unique bunch of sick people,″ he said.

The original Avanti design was by Raymond Loewy for Studebaker as a way to save the flagging company.

Kellogg was on Loewy’s staff and was called upon to update the sleek car known for its squared off front end, distinctive sweeping fenders and trademark backside.

``I’ve talked to Avanti owners everywhere trying to figure out what it is they like about the car,″ said Kellogg, now 67 and based in Irvine, Calif. ``They all have different answers. So I had to go with my gut feeling.″

A prototype of the new design was unveiled in December, with plans calling for a hardtop and convertible version of the two-door coupe that retains many of the instantly recognizable features of the original, including the round headlights.

Seaton, Hull and former sole owner Michael Kelly form the partnership that owns the privately held Avanti Motor Co. The first car is expected to roll off the line by the end of 2000 and cost under $100,000.

In keeping with Avanti tradition, the Fiberglas body, the leather interior and all the other trimmings will be assembled by hand, while the guts of the car will be a souped-up Corvette engine and updated suspension system.

Initial plans call for the plant to produce about 300 cars a year.

For Kolish, the wait could not be over soon enough.

``The look of the rear end is what captured me and led me to buy one,″ Kolish said. ``It will be nice to see that rear end on the road again.″

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