You know what the Chevrolet Corvette has deserved all of these years? Local competition. Do you know how many times the Corvette actually got competition? Three times. Only Ford, American Motors and Studebaker really put forth an effort into a homegrown sports car that wasn’t completely and utterly about straight-line performance. The Thunderbird originally matched the very early Corvettes in basic idea: a roadster that was supposed to appeal to GIs that had developed a taste for European flavors. Then the T-bird morphed into a four-seat personal luxury machine before the term was even created. American Motors had the AMX, which was a very worthy offering. Sure, it was more musclecar than sports car, but it didn’t embarass itself by any measure. If AMC had more cash, the proposed AMX/3 could’ve been a fresh chunk of bad news on top of the Corvette team’s Corn Flakes, but that didn’t happen either.
Then there was Studebaker, who was in serious trouble and tanking fast when the Avanti rolled out. Whipped up in forty days and using a modified Lark convertible chassis and the 289 Hawk engine, the Avanti was a kind of Hail Mary play for the company, which would be closing the doors three years after the Avanti production was ended under Studebaker’s name. The Avanti carried on through a series of owners with changes through 2006, when then-owner Michael Kelly was arrested in Mexico regarding a Ponzi scheme he had been running. The newer the Avanti, the more likely it’s to be treated like a kind of odd attraction, like seeing a Zimmer or a DeLorean in person, but the Studebaker cars…class. Pure class. And while this is an Avanti R1, which should be a naturally-aspirated 289 car, this one has been upgraded to R2 specification, which added on a Paxton blower that bumped horsepower up to 290. And then there are the wheels, a factory option that traded out the stock units for Halibrands.
The only thing you could ask for on this particular car is a four-speed…that slippery body, blown V8 and sumptuous interior almost feels let down with an automatic. Almost. How can you say no to a car that ran 168 MPH at Bonneville in 1962?