Thursday, February 18, 2010

1990 Avanti 4 Door

I like the Avanti. For many years that affection was more for the company than the car.

Great Britain has (Or had. Sadly, the number has dwindled.) a number of small "cottage industry" car manufacturers. Bristol, TVR, AC, Jensen, etc. (Even Aston Martin and Lotus would have been in that category at one time.) For most of the 1960s - 1990s we had just one; Avanti. (Some might argue for Excaliber, too, but I never really thought of them as a car manufacturer, per se. They were more of a replica manufacturer. Garish replicas, at that.)

You have to give the company and its owners some credit for keeping the car in production from 1965 - 1991. 26 years is a long time. Think of some of the "bigger" names and better funded companies - Bricklin, Delorean, to name a few - that lasted just 1/10th of that time, and you realize what a difficult task it is to start and operate a small car company. Had things gone just a little better, Avanti could have been America's answer to Bristol.

I wrote about an Avanti convertible in an earlier post. (You can find it here.) I mentioned that I never had any great urge to own an Avanti, but after talking to an owner at a car show in 2006 or 2007, I started to understand the car more. Now, if I had the storage space and unlimited car funds that I so crave, I would buy one. (I've met more Avantis owners since that car show. They seem to be a friendly bunch of people who, at least based on my recent experience, love their cars and love to talk honestly about them. The Avanti owners I've met are genuine car geeks. One guy, at a 2008 show in Connecticut, offered to let me take his Avanti for a drive after the show. I declined, telling him I was afraid of wrecking it. His response was, "That's why I have insurance". When was the last time you met the owner of a classic car with an attitude like that?)

This is not the car I'd buy, though. I'd prefer an Altman or Blake built coupe (In my eyes, adding two more doors to the Avanti didn't quite work from a styling perspective), but since I've never seen a 4 door Avanti in person, I was intrigued by this car.

Look at the interior and you can see why I said this could be America's answer to the Bristol. There's leather and wood everywhere and picnic tables in the back. The dashboard is straight out of the Bristol / Rolls Royce school of design.

Like all cottage industry cars, a lot of what makes the Avanti function is from a major auto manufacturer. In the case of the Avanti 4 door, it's GM, more specifically, the Chevy Caprice.

Although there are claims of a few (maybe 8) Avantis being sold in 1991 (probably leftover 1990 coupes and convertibles), 1990 was, for all intents and purposes, the last year of the "classic" Avanti and the four-door its last car. If you're looking for a little piece of American automotive history, this would be a cool car to have.

Located in Los Angeles, CA, click here to see the eBay listing.

Avanti weirdess...

Avanti is still around, sort of, maybe. A man named Michael Kelly, who had a history with Avanti, was involved for awhile. Kelly bought Avanti from Stephen Blake in 1986. He sold his interest in the company in 1988 to JJ Cafaro. The company was sold again in 1998, and Kelly re-joined the operation as a partner in 1999. He became sole owner in 2001.

From 2001 - 2004 Kelly produced 320 Avantis based on Pontiac Firebird platforms. (One of which is for sale on eBay now. You can see that listing here.) In 2005 he produced 40 or so Avantis based on a Ford Mustang platform. Then he ran into a little problem...

In December 2006, Kelly was arrested. Kelly is suspected of running a $400 million Ponzi scheme from 1992–2004 (before it was fashionable to do so). As of 2008 (the date of the last published article I can find about him) he was still in prison awaiting trial (and, apparently, filing for extensions and changing lawyers at a pretty amazing clip). You can read all about him here.

As late as 2007, David Sharples, a former MG-Rover director, was running the company (now based in Mexico) and claiming that cars would be built. The company website still exists. It shows pictures of the car, which I find much less appealing than the older models. However, to the best of my knowledge, no cars have been produced since 2005.

Who knows? Maybe there will be another Avanti someday.


Anonymous said...

Avanti may have been a cottage industry manufacturer, but their eponymous car didn't spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. All this great info and history and not a single mention of Studebaker?

Just A Car Geek said...

Yeah, I blew it there. I was going to link back to my earlier post about the Avanti convertible, where I mentioned a bit of the history, but forgot to include the link.

I've corrected that.


Anonymous said...

"New manufacturing facility in Cancun" Sorry, but that just sounds too cool. Who wants to work in Detroit (OK, no one works in Detroit any more) when they could work in Cancun!

Chris Keen said...

This story sounds like the story of a lot of other small manufacturers... DeLorean, that guy who built the Eleanor-style Mustangs, Vector, and even TVR...

Your last couple of posts are really hitting the automotive oddballs out of the park. Cool.

Anonymous said...

I have always wanted a 2001-2004 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Avanti version. So few made, Ihave seen only one, Black over Black, Camel Interior, excellent cond & NOT 4-sale. Just love that car in Convertable form. Any color, will do.