The Avanti

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Scott: All right, Ben, I think we've got another interesting one to talk about today.

Ben: Yes, Scott, I was just about to say you look very interested.

Scott: I am.

Ben: It's usually -

Scott: Interested or interesting?

Ben: Interested.

Scott: Oh.

Ben: I think you're taking that the wrong way.

Scott: Yeah, we'll see.

Ben: No, you've got your thing going on. I think you're a fascinating person. Actually, this is something I want to go ahead and talk this one out with you. Man, we've gotten a lot of feedback from our podcast on specific models of vehicles.

Scott: Yeah, you're right; we have, like, Model T.

Ben: The Mini.

Scott: The Mini is another good one. We've done a lot of military vehicle specifics. Yeah, we've talked about certain types of cars, we've talked about muscle cars, we've talked about different specific vehicles that, like you said, people get - it kinda perks up their ears. Did we talk about the Tucker? I don't know.

Ben: We touched on the Tucker, yeah.

Scott: I'm going to have to look back because we've had a lot of episodes at this point.

Ben: We have had a lot of episodes. Everybody's listened to most of our episodes.

Scott: It's all right here in the mind. I've got it all trapped up here. I don't know; I don't have a list.

Ben: And right here in the heart.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: So for everybody who's listened to all our episodes, thank you guys so much. We appreciate it.

Scott: That's right. That's a lot of time to dedicate to this.

Ben: We will try to be funnier.

Scott: Attempt, attempt.

Ben: Yes, so -

Scott: Sorry if I jumped on you here, but this is kind of a unique one because this is one that is an offspring of another company that has a long, long history. And for those of you who don't know what we're talking about - of course, you probably looked at the title of the podcast, I would think - bu t we're talking about the Avanti. And the Avanti kinda, it was brought on, I guess, by someone within the Studebaker Corporation from back in the early '60s. And it happened really quickly, the Studebaker did; I'm sorry, the Avanti did.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: And the problem was Studebaker shortly thereafter went away.

Ben: Yes, in 1961, right. We're talking about Sherwood Egbert. He was the new guy on the block, by which I mean the president of Studebaker, but he was the new president and he wanted to get more younger car customers, right, car buyers.

Scott: Yeah, that's right because, I mean, I can show you a picture here of what Studebakers looked in the '50s, and they had kinda this bullet nose design. They were big. I mean, they were cool looking to look back at them, but looking at this compared to what he was aiming for, it just doesn't seem to match up.

Ben: And also, if you see that '50s Studebaker, it has kind of a '40s feel to it.

Scott: Yeah. You know what one good thing we can mention that maybe people are familiar with this already and they don't even know it.

Ben: What's that?

Scott: The Muppet Movie.

Ben: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scott: Fozzie Bear drove a Studebaker like the one I'm talking about. Now there were a lot of different body styles. He drove one that looks a lot like this Commander that I've got here, a photo of it here anyways, but, yeah, Fozzie Bear drove one of those when they were headed out to - was it California?

Ben: Wouldn't that be a cool - we just gave people a neat little piece of movie trivia. Now don't force it in conversation, guys, wait until it's on, especially if you have friends who think you don't know diddly about cars.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: Then when you see the drive, go, "Oh, I love Studebakers."

Scott: And do you know where that car is located right now?

Ben: No.

Scott: That car is in South Bend, Indiana, in the Studebaker Museum.

Ben: That's right, there is a museum.

Scott: It's on display.

Ben: I really want to go to that museum.

Scott: I have in my hand right now the brochure. I was just in Indiana not long ago and I picked up the Studebaker National Museum handout brochure. And it's not mentioned here on this, but I know that the Muppet vehicle is on display in the museum. They've got something like 70 cars. $8.00 admission, come on, how can you go wrong.

Ben: Are you kidding?

Scott: No, $8.

00Ben: You can't beat that with a stick.

Scott: $8.00 for adults and kids are $5.00.

Ben: I would try to - do you think I could pass off as a child?

Scott: It's open seven days a week. I'm looking at the thing right now. Yeah, you probably could.

Ben: Thanks, man.

Scott: Maybe I could push you in a stroller.

Ben: Sure. I'll probably have to shave. My hairy baby and I.

Scott: Maybe, that's right. I'll dare anybody to call my baby ugly.

Ben: $3.00, man. We could probably buy something at the gift shop.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: Yeah, so the men he contacts, the men he asks for -

Scott: That's right; we were way back there at that -

Ben: Yeah, yeah, that's right; we were still at that point. He asked a fellow named Raymond Loewy, and I hope I'm pronouncing that name correctly -

Scott: I think that's right.

Ben: - to help him attract these younger buyers. And as we said, the Studebakers of the time were more of an, I don't want to say an old people car.

Scott: No, no, it was just a typical sedan that you'd find from back in the day. It's a taller vehicle. It was huge. They were big cars relatively speaking to today's cars. I think they were smaller than a lot of the cars that were coming out of Detroit at the time, but they were big vehicles compared to what they were looking for. They were looking for something sleek and stylish.

Ben: Sexy.

Scott: Yeah, exactly.

Ben: Something that an early 20s guy with money to burn would see and say, "I want to take my girl out in that."

Scott: Exactly, yeah, yeah. So yeah, in what was it, early 1961, Loewy did a bunch of sketches, and actually you can find these sketches. I think they're somewhere online and they're in a museum somewhere. The idea was that here's this kinda sporty, sexy sports car that would come out of Studebaker and, of course, Egbert said, "Let's do it. This is a good design. Let's do it quickly." One of - this is incredible for the time that we're talking about here, because we're talking early '60s. By 1962, early 1962, so that's a little bit over a year later, it was ready. The prototype was ready for debut.

Ben: Which is just, for anyone who doesn't know how long it takes to take a car from paper to prototype, that's -

Scott: Well, now it's a lot shorter.

Ben: Now it's a lot shorter, but at the time.

Scott: In 1962, come on. That took a long, long time because they had - I think they were just starting to do clay modeling, thanks to the idea of Harley Earl and General Motors. That was kinda his thing. And they just realized that, yeah, we can do clay modeling a lot faster than we can make a full metal mockup, so they did that and they make scale models within a week. I think they had a clay model in five weeks of the Avanti. Then they had a full scale mockup, a prototype of this thing, ready to go just a little over a year later. And I think, I'm going to double-check this, but I thought in my reading I found that they debuted this thing at the Indianapolis 500, at the track during the month of May.

Ben: Yeah, I found the same thing.

Scott: Okay, were they - I think that was because the pace car that year was a Studebaker Lark vehicle for 1962, and I think that that's why they brought it out as kind of a, "While we've got our product on display here, by the way, we've got this new Avanti that we're coming out with soon. You may want to take a look at this." And here's a sporting crowd that would be interested in such a vehicle.

Ben: Do you want to do some timeline stuff or do you want to talk about what makes the Avanti different?

Scott: You know what? I do want to do some timeline stuff because the Studebaker history, that's the beginning part of this. And we'll find out that Studebaker goes away, Avanti carries on, which is kind of a unique part of this whole story. That's why this is so intriguing.

Ben: You don't see that happen.

Scott: No, no, this just doesn't happen because when the company, the parent company goes, usually every bit of it goes. It's like, okay, let's say Pontiac went away. Now of course, General Motors owned Pontiac, but let's say that someone decided to continue making these Solstice roadster, but they didn't. No one's kept that. No one has said, "I have an interest in that vehicle, let's carry it on."

Ben: And it's sorta, for a non-car analogy, it's sorta like Coca-Cola closing and someone else going, "You know what? I will just make Sprite."

Scott: Yeah, that's right. They're, like, "I like Sprite so much I'm going to buy the rights to make Sprite."

Ben: And that's all we're going to make.

Scott: We're just going to make Sprite, yeah, that's right.

Ben: And this is what has happened with the Avanti.

Scott: Yeah, exactly, this is the same thing. Now a lot of the Studebaker history goes way, way back, and I'm going to go through it quickly here.

Ben: Let's run it through. I love their timeline.

Scott: Believe it or not, Ben, and when you hear this number don't freak out. We're going to through it quick. Studebaker history timeline starts back in 1730s.

Ben: I'm freaking out. Wait, I'm freaking out.

Scott: The 1730s, that's when members of the Studebaker family, which was something else, I mean, it was changed to Studebaker, arrived from Germany in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And the strange thing about this is that it goes from way back then and then you would think, like, okay, well, that's just the arrival of family. Nothing is going to really happen until the early 1900s, right?

Ben: Sure.

Scott: Not the case.

Ben: Not the case.

Scott: Not the case. Studebaker built Conestoga wagons back in the day, pre-car days.

Ben: No way, Oregon Trail.

Scott: Yeah, that's right, a lot of the vehicles that people used to head west for the gold rush. And they supplied wagons for the Union soldiers in the Civil War. Later, they worked on cars. We'll get through this as we go through. In 1831, the town of South Bend, Indiana was formed, right, so this is the founding of the company.

Ben: Studebaker pre-dates -

Scott: Exactly, pre-dates the city that it called home. So in 1852, they actually opened the brothers, Henry and Clem, Studebaker -

Ben: The Studebros?

Scott: Yeah, that's right, but there were actually many other brothers. There were five brothers, five daughters, et cetera. They opened up a blacksmith shop and they build their first vehicle, which was a farm wagon. So this is 1850, right. By 1853, one of the Studebaker brothers headed out to California to strike it rich. He had something like $.50 in his pocket when he went out west. Now can you imagine doing that today? Well, equivalent $10 or whatever it would be, I don't know. But didn't find any work doing that, so he came back. They started creating these wagons and they sell, they open up a dealership for wagons in - let's see, where was this - in Goshen, Indiana. So it was not in South Bend yet, but this is in 1857, Ben! They start selling their wagons in 1857. So this company has an incredibly long history. In 1858, the guy that went out west comes back. He has $8,000 now at this point because he had made money working on the tools of the gold rushers, I guess. The wheelbarrows pick axes, things like that because he had these blacksmith skills. Learned what to do, made a pretty good amount of money for that time. Invested in the company and they started the Studebaker family business of making wagons. So they started supplying wagons for the Union Army in 1862. In 1877, now, that's a long time ago, 1877, annual sales exceeded $1 million in 1877.

Ben: What? $1 million 19th century dollars?

Scott: $1 million in 1877, so you can imagine what that would be worth today. That's a huge company of its day.

Ben: I mean, you could be Scrooge McDuck with that much money.

Scott: That's exactly right.

Ben: You could swim through it.

Scott: That's exactly right. That's a lot of money in 1877. Now in 1878, the wagons were exhibited and won worldwide awards at the Paris exposition. 1888, this is a good time period for them, President Benjamin Harrison ordered Studebakers for the White House.

Ben: The Presidential Wagon?

Scott: The Presidential Wagon, well, the carriages. The carriages he would use, so probably a lot more stately than what we're talking about, not farm wagons.

Ben: I imagine, I was assuming.

Scott: Now, here's where we get to the motorized part of this. In 1896, this is the very dawn of what we call the modern automotive era where this is when you've got the - Mercedes is messing around with the first combustion engines and et cetera. Studebaker starts experiments with power vehicles in 1896, so their right on the forefront of all of this.

Ben: They were quick.

Scott: Yeah, they're quick on it. And by 1902, the Studebaker we call a car was an electric vehicle, 1902.

Ben: I did not know that.

Scott: Didn't see that coming.

Ben: I did not see that coming.

Scott: Yeah, the first Studebaker automobile was an electric car. All electric. If you remember, we've talked about that in the past that electric cars were, at one time, everywhere. They were far more popular to have or more prevalent than the gasoline powered vehicles at the time. Now we didn't know the story behind what happened there. But they didn't start gasoline powered production until 1904, so again, still very, very early on in the game, 1904. By 1920, they quit making horse drawn vehicles altogether, and that's when they were just making automobiles. So 1920, we're getting into the modern era of automobiles here.

Ben: And the 1920s, just on a person opinion note, the Studebakers that came out I think in the '20s were some of my favorites.

Scott: Really?

Ben: I could never own one.

Scott: Well, the 1920s cars were beautiful.

Ben: It's just it's impractical to own one, they're so big.

Scott: Yeah, they're gorgeous though. I know what you're saying.

Ben: Yeah, they're beautiful.

Scott: To go along with that, in the late 1920s, they bought, they acquired the manufacturer of Pierce-Arrow. And if you know anything about Pierce-Arrow cars, they're these extremely stately looking limousine type vehicles.

Ben: They're iconic, yeah.

Scott: They're beautiful, beautiful cars, and you'll see them at concourse shows now. A lot of people collect Pierce-Arrow vehicles, and it's really, I don't know, just gorgeous cars. In 1939, so we're getting into the war years, they start supplying the Allies with equipment for World War II. First they came up with trucks and airplane engines, and they had something called a Weasel Personnel Carrier that they had. It looked a lot like a tank. So if you look up the Studebaker Weasel, you'll find some information about that. Kind of a unique name to it. I thought it was kinda interesting that they did that even. Then after the war, which ended in 1945, and this is pretty key here, Life magazine did a ten-page spread on Studebaker because they were the first car company to produce a post-war automobile. I didn't know that. Do you know everybody suspended production during the war years?

Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scott: In 1946, Studebaker fired up production again. They were the first one to produce a post-war automobile. I thought that was interesting.

Ben: That's surprising.

Scott: Yeah, it is, it kinda is. I just had never heard that little fact in any of this history, so I thought that was kinda cool. Now, here's where we get to the Avanti. So as you see, that's a long, long history going way, way back. In 1962, here it is, the Avanti was introduced at the Indianapolis 500. Remember the pace car was a 1962 Lark. That same year, the Avanti that we're talking about - and if you haven't seen a photo of this, take a look online! Just do a keyword search on Google and you'll find it. It set 29 stockcar records at the Bonneville Salt Flats that year; 29 records, speed records.

Ben: I think it's safe to say that a lot of other car companies did not see this coming.

Scott: No, no, no, this is now the world's fastest production car, the Studebaker Avanti, if you can believe that. When you look at it, you would never guess that today, but back then, you've got to remember what this looks like compared to - again, look back in their product line where it's coming from, and you'll be shocked to see the difference in design.

Ben: And a lot of that is due to the team that they have engineering this vehicle.

Scott: Exactly, exactly. And they did have a good team of engineers working on the vehicle, you mentioned the names, but here's the problem. 1963 things started going a little bit wrong for Studebaker. I don't know exactly what was happening there, we're not really getting into that today, but the automobile operations in South Bend, their headquarters, were shut down in 1963. Now, this is just one year after they come out this fantastic new design and they actually made quite a few vehicles. I've got a production number somewhere here, but they made something like 4,600, or something like that, up to that point, maybe even a few more at that point.

Ben: Oh, yeah, they had built, like, 20 a day for a while.

Scott: Not bad, not bad, because they are handmade, well crafted vehicles. It's tough to get them through at this point. Here's where a little bit of a twist comes in.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: Do you want to take this where -

Ben: Are we talking about 1964?

Scott: Yeah, that's what we're talking about here. This is really interesting in the history of the vehicle because this a real pivotal point. This could have gone either way.

Ben: Okay, so correct me if I'm wrong on this, Scott. It's very nice of you to toss this one my way because I love a good hero story. A good last-minute eleventh hour redemption. A fellow named Nathan Altman, and his buddy, Leo Newman; they had a dealership in South Bend, Indiana. And Altman, after you have a dealership in the hometown of this company, Altman was understandably distressed about Studebaker.

Scott: Sure, he's tied to the company and he loves Studebaker.

Ben: Right, right. Yeah, on a personal as well as a professional level! I think that is the pivotal moment here. I think that's what inspired to say, "You know what? Not only is Studebaker dying, but I can't let them lose the Avanti." He's, like, "I can't let the world lose this car." And he believes it so much that in July of 1964 he purchases all the rights, all the equipment, all the leftover parts to the Avantis.

Scott: Oh, gosh.

Ben: Then gets the assembly plant, the tooling, the body production, and the car was made of fiberglass at that time, which I think is incredible.

Scott: One interesting this is that in trying to get financing for this, he went to some of the Detroit companies. He went to AMC, he went to Checker Cab Company, and tried get funding to help him out with this thing.

Ben: What did they say?

Scott: And they said no. AMC didn't take it. I'm sorry, AM General didn't take it. Avanti Motor Company is later called AMC. That's confusing later, but AM General didn't want the car. Checker Cab Company, the owner of Checker Cab Company, who makes those - the car looks like from 1950s that it was built until, it seemed like, into the 2000s, it never changed in design. Kind of a neat design! He said, "Why would I ever want to buy rights to build such an ugly car." He just outright said the Avanti was an ugly car and said he did not want to be any part of it. So that's when Altman and Newman got together and they decided to buy it, like you mentioned, including six buildings.

Ben: Yeah, so they went all-in basically. I mean, it's difficult to emphasize how much of a crazed gamble it is to buy a line of a vehicle from a failing car company.

Scott: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, this company is going under.

Ben: On your own, you know.

Scott: I know, I know. It's amazing. This is just an incredible story. Why would he do that? He really believed in it.

Ben: He was a man on a mission.

Scott: He truly did believe in it.

Ben: And here you go, we've good some good news with that because he ends up getting the parts that he can and working on just a bit with very few modifications. He and Newman start building Avantis.

Scott: Called the Avanti II.

Ben: The Avanti II, yes.

Scott: They called it the Avanti II because it's not the Studebaker Avanti from the first two years of production, which were '62 and '63.

Ben: Right. They actually used Chevy engines.

Scott: There was a year off there where there was no production and, in '65, that's when Newman and Altman began producing the Avanti II.

Ben: Uh-huh, and they actually were building more Avantis than Studebaker was originally.

Scott: Interesting.

Ben: Yeah, I think we said earlier Studebaker built 20 a day.

Scott: Something like that.

Ben: They started out, out of the gate, building 45.

Scott: Wow.

Ben: So they really believed in this and you have to wonder what's between the lines there. Was it to the point where they were, like, "We have to sell this many?"

Scott: Yeah, but you know what? I also read somewhere that said that they were selling every car they could build it was such a hot commodity at the time. People really wanted this car. Maybe the rest of the Studebaker line was failing at that point, I don't know, but if you can sell as many cars as you make, it seems like you'd be doing all right. That was the gamble they took.

Ben: That was the gamble they took. You want to hear the next chapter?

Scott: Sure. Yeah, no problem, we've got - again, this just goes back to our timeline here, but let's see. It wasn't until Studebaker had to round out production because they had leftover parts and I'm sure it was contract deals and things happening. So the final Studebaker didn't actually roll off the line until 1966, and that was in Hamilton, Ontario. Because they production facilities all over the U.S., actually worldwide at this point, but the final one was built in Hamilton, Ontario in '66! That car is also on display in the Studebaker Museum, so they've got some interesting bits of history there as well. All right, so anyways, that another side bar. In 1982 - you know what? Let's talk about this here because I'm going to by Avanti production years. Because if we're talking about Leo Newman and Nathan Altman, they actually ran the - in some form or another, I don't know remember how this all pans out, who's in charge, what's going on in these years, but from 1965 all the way until 1983, that when the Avanti II was produced. That's a long production run for a vehicle.

Ben: Selling like hotcakes apparently.

Scott: That is a long, long production run, from '65 all the way until '83. That is when - and I'm going back and forth between two different sources here, but that's when Stephen Blake purchased the rights to build Avanti Motors, or purchased the rights for Avanti Motors to build the car.

Ben: Yes, and he had big plans.

Scott: He did, Stephen Blake did.

Ben: Are we going into it?

Scott: Yeah, please.

Ben: Okay, okay. I was giving you the look like, is this - should I do this?

Scott: No, that's all right, go ahead.

Ben: Okay. So yes, Stephen Blake, around about October 1982, he wants to make the Avanti much more prominent. So he hits the auto show circuit and he brings the vehicle there to Washington, to L.A., et cetera. He didn't want to mess with the car's design too much because he's a don't fix it if it ain't broke kinda guy.

Scott: Well, at that time, it's iconic.

Ben: Yes, exactly, but he did want to make it look - they way they phrase it on one of my sources,, is that he wanted to make it look more competitive. And that's where we see some of the contoured bumpers come in, that's where we see actually a limited edition in '84, right?

Scott: Well, actually there may have been that, but there was also a 20th Anniversary Edition.

Ben: 20th Anniversary Edition?

Scott: In '83, so that's probably what he was shopping around.

Ben: That's probably what he brought out first, yeah.

Scott: I would think so, yeah, and that's got to get some attention. I mean, here you've got a car that's been produced for 20 years and people are familiar with it because they're on the roads. They're not well hidden. A lot of people own them and later I want to tell you about a list of celebrities that owned this thing.

Ben: Yes, so Blake is actually our Take 3 at brining the Avanti back. He was advertised as the Savior of the vehicle. Unfortunately, his plans came to naught and there were some issues.

Scott: That's a good way to put it.

Ben: Yeah, there were some issues.

Scott: Yeah, so in '86 Avanti is again bankrupt and at the hands of Blake. So he sold or the assets are purchased by one Mr. Michael Kelly, and Kelly took over production for really only three years, '86 to 1988. And really, again, the production numbers for those years somewhat low I'm going to say because it looked like there was only about 350 maybe produced. A lot of those were convertibles at that time, but in those three years then, Kelly moved the production to Youngstown, Ohio, and then he sold his share of Avanti to the partner that he had gone in with; John Cafaro I think is his name. Is that the right way to say that?

Ben: Well, I'll go with that. You say Cafaro and I'll say Cafaro, and we'll just cover our bases.

Scott: That's all right. And then under the Cafaro or whichever one I was going to say, he ran it from '89 to '91, and it looks like only about 300 vehicles were made in that three-year period.

Ben: But he was doing that on purpose because he wanted it to be sort of a hard to find, very luxurious -

Scott: Create a demand for the vehicle.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: I see, I see. Hold back on production, create a demand.

Ben: Yeah, make it the Mercedes Benz, the Jaguar, the BMW.

Scott: And you know what? That may be where the price went up too because I was looking at what a 1991, the base price of a 1991 Avanti.

Ben: What was it?

Scott: $66,000, Ben. $66,000 in 1991!

Ben: Wow.

Scott: I know. Back in '63 now, of course, inflation and all that you have to account for, but it was about $6,500 in 1963, which I think was still expensive at the time.

Ben: So they're building a premium on their [inaudible].

Scott: Exactly, yeah, but $66,000 in 1991, that was a big chunk of change, so I can understand what's going on here. He's, like you said, holding back production, boosting demand and therefore price.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: Becoming a little more exclusive. So I guess there was an effort to reorganize the corporation and that didn't go so well in '91. So from 1991 that's where we begin this big long dry period where there no Avantis produced. Actually, '91 there were seven cars produced according to records.

Ben: Wow, that's just depressing.

Scott: And in '92, from '92 all the way until the year 2000, production numbers remain at 0, so it's just inactive, just sitting out there waiting for something to happen.

Ben: But this is not the end of the movie.

Scott: No, that's not the end. So in 2000, actually in 2001, Avanti Motors was resurrected and it was produced in - I'm going to say this name and you tell me if it's right - Villa Rica.

Ben: Go for it, man.

Scott: Villa Rica, Georgia, okay. And it was really, it was a restyled Avanti. It was based on the Pontiac Trans Am, and I guess, well, it's not completely redesigned because if you look at it, you still see clearly the original Avanti lines to it, but it's a rework that's admirable.

Ben: Is it a gritty reboot?

Scott: Yeah, that's a good way to say it, yeah, but it's a Trans Am or they called it maybe a Formula based version. In 2001 there were only something like 54 of these things produced, so production goes way down at this point and it remains kinda low, in the low 80s, even down to 46 I think in year.

Ben: They're not breaking triple digits.

Scott: No, exactly, and in 2005, they switched it over to be a Mustang GT based vehicle in Villa Rica. Now, okay, so here we're getting to the end here.

Ben: I just want to point out that the person who saved Avanti at that time in 2000, a returning guy, Michael Kelly. Michael Kelly came back.

Scott: Really?

Ben: Yeah, he came back as chairman in 2000.

Scott: Good catch. I didn't even mention that.

Ben: That's it.

Scott: All right, well, that's all right. So in 2000, he picks up again with - it's the same guy from back in, when was it?

Ben: '86, the new Avanti [inaudible].

Scott: So the same guy repurchases the company again, I guess. All right, so in 2005 - remember I mentioned in 2004 they had this next generation Avanti that they built on a Mustang GT platform, right?

Ben: Yes.

Scott: In 2005, there's kinda this mention of a partnership between Avanti and Ford, which was great news for Avanti, right, because they get to tie themselves to one of the Big Three automakers. Great news, here's the problem. On December 22, 2006, Michael Kelly was found guilty of operating a Ponzi scheme. That he scammed elderly people out of all of their money, just the typical thing that we hear nowadays of what happens in these things. We're talking in the neighborhood of $420 million, something like that. And he had just moved the operation to Cancun, Mexico, so he was going to - you're rubbing your face there because you hadn't heard this part, right?

Ben: NO, this is -

Scott: Yeah, this is sad news for Avanti because it was on its way back. It had this partnership with Ford all lined up and things were going well. Unfortunately, there' this Ponzi scheme that the founder is involved in, or the current owner, Michael E. Kelly! Like I said, we're talking $400 million plus in funds that were scammed from elderly people, so he was jailed without bond and that's effectively the end of the Avanti Motors Corporation. Now he did move operations down to Cancun and there were cars in production because I have a photo here of Avantis being produced in a factory supposedly in Cancun, Mexico on October 23, 2006. Now that's just three months ahead of time when the announcement came that he was involved in this what would you call that, what type of problem is that?

Ben: What, a Ponzi scheme?

Scott: Yeah, what is that?

Ben: It's fraud.

Scott: Fraud, yeah, so he's involved in fraud. Three months later they - I mean, of course, all along he has been or at a certain point anyways. So this is just three months ahead of time, but there are cars on the production line that I see here people are working on.

Ben: Scott, didn't you go to Cancun earlier this year?

Scott: I did.

Ben: I'm putting the pieces together. I got my eye on you, Benjamin.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, investing in Avanti, sure.

Ben: Won't even give me one.

Scott: As you notice, I've been wearing these AMC shirts around.

Ben: Yeah, I figured, I thought -

Scott: Did you wonder what that stood for?

Ben: Well, we have AMC as our movie theaters.

Scott: Yeah, sure. So earlier I mentioned that there was some exclusivity to these cars a time in history and actually right now how many Avantis have you ever seen on the road? Have you ever seen one?

Ben: None, not one.

Scott: I happened to have seen a lot in Indiana because -

Ben: Makes sense that makes sense.

Scott: That makes sense, sure. Just a few, maybe even just a couple months ago, I followed one here in Georgia for a time on the way into work. Just by chance, I was behind this Avanti. It had historic plates. I think I tweeted about it that day because it was so unusual. And we have an article on our site that's - I probably recommended it because it was how Avanti cars work.

Ben: Nice.

Scott: And I thought, well, it's a good tie-in and it was an interesting car. It looked beautiful. It was a blue car, white interior. Someone was smoking the driver's seat, which I thought was a little weird.

Ben: Why would you smoke in a car like that?

Scott: Anyways, it was a pristine version. It was Avanti II, but I had no idea what year it was.

Ben: He should buy a smoking car.

Scott: Yeah, that's exactly right.

Ben: Anyway, you know what, my car, but so who owns these things?

Scott: All right, so there's some celebrity owners throughout the years and they're listed by year. It looks like the latest that they go up to here is about 1988 and I don't know if that's the year of vehicle. I believe that is. I think we'll start out this list with - I'll go down the list as on the Avanti Owner's Club site. I think that something like where it came from. Shirley Bassey, that's a singer from England. You probably wouldn't know that one. No?

Ben: No, I don't.

Scott: Okay, Ben. Johnny Carson, you probably know him.

Ben: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Scott: Host of the Tonight Show.

Ben: Yeah, we used to hang.

Scott: That's right. Richard Carpenter, who is part of the singing duo, The Carpenters, of course!

Ben: Yes, yes.

Scott: Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper owns a - or maybe he's actually sold it by this point I think, but Alice Cooper owned one. Jimmy Dean from Jimmy Dean Sausage who was also a popular entertainer in the 1950s. He was an Avanti owner. Dick Van Dyke owned one and his vehicle is in the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles, California. Then there's Fremont Ellis, who is an American impressionist painter, and here's a funny thing about this one. The Studebaker and one of his paintings were traded for the 1967 Avanti II, so he had one of the original 1963 Studebakers and one his paintings that he traded for a more modern version of the Avanti.

Ben: We should start painting.

Scott: Yeah, not a bad idea. Make a lot of money doing that apparently.

Ben: Wow, maybe.

Scott: Trade it for cars. Dr. J., Julius Erving.

Ben: No way.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, from the Philadelphia '76ers, he owned one. Ian Fleming. Now that says something to me. When I read that one, here's a guy that writes the James Bond novels. What do you think he's going to drive, an Aston Martin?

Ben: I was assuming.

Scott: He drove a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, or at least for a time he did anyways. I thought that was kinda cool. Andy Granatelli, who was a test driver, Indy 500 legend, STP pitchman! You probably have heard the name from the Indy 500.

Ben: Yeah, that's his daily driver.

Scott: Maybe.

Ben: He's, like, "This is the slow one."

Scott: Al Jardine from the Beach Boys.

Ben: I can see that.

Scott: He had a convertible, red convertible with a tan interior. You can picture that, right?

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: DeForest Kelly, who was from the original Star Trek.

Ben: Yes, Dr. McCoy.

Scott: Interestingly enough, that vehicle appears in one of the scenes in San Francisco, from the fourth Star Trek movie, The Voyage Home, just as in the background, it's on the street.

Ben: He's, like, I'm just going to park my car here, guys.

Scott: Well, isn't that kinda cool? I mean, that's kinda neat to be able to kinda make it a -

Ben: Make a cameo.

Scott: Yeah, exactly, cameo. Sandy Koufax from the L.A. Dodgers, pitcher! Michael Landon owned one. I'm getting to the end of my list here, by the way. Michael Landon owned one, of course, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza. That car is currently owned by Richard James. You know what? That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I think that's one of the owners in the owner's club. So anyone from the Owner's Club probably knows.

Ben: Congratulations.

Scott: Yeah, they just mentioned Richard James there. Let's see, Barry Morrow, who wrote the Rainman screenplay. Ricky Nelson -

Ben: Ricky Nelson?

Scott: - owned one. Rod Serling owned one.

Ben: Oh, my gosh. You know he's my hero.

Scott: Yeah, creator of The Twilight Zone, so you know that guy, right. I think it's been sold at this point. Herb Shriner, who's a '50s TV personality. Unfortunately, he and his wife were actually killed in his Avanti, let's see, in California somewhere, in 1970. Anyways -

Ben: Well, don't let in there [inaudible] bring you down.

Scott: No, no, I'm not. Gene Siskell owned one.

Ben: There you go.

Scott: Frank Sinatra owned one, Frank.

Ben: Old blue eyes himself.

Scott: So that's a long list that I just went through there, but it just gives you an idea of the movers and shakers of the day were driving around in Avantis and it had some prestige tied to it. If you had one, it was a unique vehicle.

Ben: Then I think - oh, God, I wish I could see one in real life.

Scott: It's easy enough. You can look it up online and find maybe a local museum that has one or something like that because they're around.

Ben: Good call.

Scott: There were an awful lot of them made. There's a good chance you're going to see one soon.

Ben: Yes, these are not mysterious, one-of-a-kind cars, plus they aren't -

Scott: No, you'll spot them on the road occasionally and in museums.

Ben: So I guess that about does it for us here.

Scott: Yeah, I've got more stuff, but I'm not going to read it because we've just gone way too deep on this thing.

Ben: Have we?

Scott: There's a list of standard features, optional features that are kinda interesting because it was a little unique, but really I think people should investigate it on their own. I'd like them to see this car and see what it looks like because if you do know what it looks like, you can maybe watch for it on the road someday and see if you can spot one. Like you said, they're not all that rare. Kinda fun to watch for!

Ben: And if you're sitting around listening to this right and you're having a hard time walking around your house because of all the piles of money you have, and you're wondering, "What can I do with all this money. It's a fire hazard at this point."

Scott: Sure, try to find one of those Cancun built cars. They've got be worth something, right.

Ben: Yeah, pick up an Avanti or perhaps an Avanti II if you can find one.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, from back in the day.

Ben: I think there was also a four-door model briefly. However, in the meantime, if you have any questions, we highly recommend the article that you mentioned earlier, Scott, How Avanti Cars Work, on our website. We also have pretty much anything you would want to know about automotive topics on our same website. If you want to talk to us directly, you should check us out at Twitter. We're entertaining, we're funny, and we're very short. We don't speak very long on Twitter.

Scott: No, it's really short, just a few characters.

Ben: You have to say under 140 just to ballpark it.

Scott: That was our decision.

Ben: Then on Facebook, you can find us. You can also check out our blog on the website, and if you have any questions, if you have an Avanti story, I'd love to hear from a driver.

Scott: If you have an Avanti, send in some photos.

Ben: Yeah, you can send those to our grateful attention at -

Scott: -

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