Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
PackardV8

The best year(s) for Altman-era Avanti and why?

Recommended Posts

As a third-generation Studebaker guy and having owned too many to count, I've never owned an Avanti II.  If one were to undertake a search, which years would you recommend and why?   Here are my thoughts and rationale:

1. I'd never consider an Avanti II with a sunroof.  I consider them an abomination in any car, but have heard nothing but problems with those  in Avanti II.  Obviously, Avanti II were often custom-ordered, thus could be had without the leaker, but were sunroofs standard in some years?

2. Many Avanti II no longer have the original engine/transmission, but which have you liked best?  The 327", 350" or 400"?  It's not a deal breaker in any case.  The engine and transmission is easily and inexpensively converted to that of one's personal preference.  The cost of a strong and reliable SBC and transmission to suit one's needs is barely antshit percentage of the cost of the car, paint and interior.

If I were building an engine for myself, it would most likely be a 400" with aluminum heads and cast iron block hugger headers, a hydraulic roller cam, GM TPI and a TH200-4R transmission.  Again, what have you liked best?

jack vines

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're considering a 'Stude Framed' Avanti, and not a later one, I think the late Altman--early Blake models offer the best comfort and convenience.....('82-'83 models)

Although the '84--''85 are nice cars, and have better brakes, things were turning south for Blake during those years and the cars somewhat reflect it.  (In my opinion!)

Totally agree about staying away from sunroofs/moonroofs....Although they were always considered optional equipment, it does seem like 90% of Avantis from the early to mid eighties were built with them. (ugh!)

I removed the moonroof that came in my '83 Avanti everyday driver....Best thing I ever did to the car!....Good luck!....Ed:D

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can only speak of 74 and 83 but the 83 is quality assembly with high end materials. The 74, I consider a kit car assembled by folks that didn't seem to care as much as the folks that did the 83. Materials are also lower quality than the 83. If I wanted to build a cruiser, I find the best 83 with Recaro seats I could find and start there unless you wanted the later style bumpers.

Of course, the 83 stickered at $33K so it had a head start on the 74. I'd also agree about the sunroof, mine doesn't leak but I don't open it and it reduces headroom. I'm 6'3" with a 32"inseam for comparison and I can't wear a ball cap in mine.

When I sent Leatherque a sample of leather from the 83 to match colors, they said it was one of the best leather qualities they had seen from that era.

JMO, Bob

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the pre-unleaded gas smog-era cars...performance was great...they were still essentially Studebaker's with the GM engine.  The parts sourcing for them is better and they're not too saddled with extras that non one seems to know where they were sourced from.  The 327 and early 350 engines were essentially equal in performance up until the compression ratios were lowered and smog equipment was added.

But...when you get down to it...after all these years pretty much every Avanti from that era needs renovations now if it hasn't already had one...or two.  Initial quality and performance doesn't mean much now outside of rhetorical purposes like this.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Avanti83 said:

I can only speak of 74 and 83 but the 83 is quality assembly with high end materials. The 74, I consider a kit car assembled by folks that didn't seem to care as much as the folks that did the 83. Materials are also lower quality than the 83. If I wanted to build a cruiser, I find the best 83 with Recaro seats I could find and start there unless you wanted the later style bumpers.

Of course, the 83 stickered at $33K so it had a head start on the 74. I'd also agree about the sunroof, mine doesn't leak but I don't open it and it reduces headroom. I'm 6'3" with a 32"inseam for comparison and I can't wear a ball cap in mine.

When I sent Leatherque a sample of leather from the 83 to match colors, they said it was one of the best leather qualities they had seen from that era.

JMO, Bob

Hi, Bob,

So you're saying from experience the last Altman Avanti II was the best in quality and materials?  This begs the question of why essentially the same facility, same employees, same basic design, made a better car in 1983 than they did in 1974?  To what do we attribute the difference?

jack vines

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's been generally accepted that after Nate Altman passed away quality control began slipping and it wasn't until Steve Blake took over that it was reversed.  We all know what eventually happened with Steve Blake but quality control did improve initially under him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, PackardV8 said:

Hi, Bob,

So you're saying from experience the last Altman Avanti II was the best in quality and materials?  This begs the question of why essentially the same facility, same employees, same basic design, made a better car in 1983 than they did in 1974?  To what do we attribute the difference?

jack vines

Jack

A fair question. My 74 and 83 both came to me with about 95K miles, the 74 was from the family of the original owner whom I spoke to several times before and after I purchased it so I know it to be original. Any service work was done by Dan Booth and I have some copies of his records. I bring this up only to let you know that there was not a third hand that may have altered the car. To be fair, it was a POS when I bought it but that's doesn't affect the discussion below.

1- Engine mount bolts had torn the frame apart. Nope not a 400 issue as the engine had been replaced with a 350 by NA because as the OP said, I didn't want a damn truck engine in my Avanti. Cause, no washers on the bolts or nuts. Even a lock washer would have helped. Cracks radiated from the corners of the hex.

2 - To mount the cow catcher, they needed to cut off the front frame rails. They did with a torch and the dingleberrys were still there from the cutting. The cow catcher was just jammed over the cut with no grinding nor paint added.

3 - Rear package shelf, It never fit right. I tried to use it as a pattern when I built the new one and had to make it larger and trim it in a number of places to get a correct fit.

4 - Under dash wiring was just a hod podge. Seemed like it was just hanging where ever it was with minimal tie up.

There are probably more but this is off the top of my head. Are they major issues, Probably not but there is just a feel of lack of attention to detail on the car. Maybe it was a Friday PM build. 

The 83 had none of these issues. It just felt and looked like there was more attention to detail but AIS above, it was a $33K car compared to the 74. Everything just felt higher quality.

Your question was what would I consider the best year and it's 83 because it looks like the originals and it has top end quality materials.

Personally, I'd ashcan any of the front seats and have a new set from a modern car recovered to match but the later Recaro seats were OK.

The 83 came with a goofy carb setup and ECM controller. If you chose to go another direction and you will, the wiring harness is essentially a stand alone entity and it can be stripped out leaving the original harness intact.

If you find a screaming deal on an earlier model, there be no reason to not buy it and upgrade it but the answer to your question for the old body style is 1983 is the best.

Final thought, if you buy one that has the cow catcher, be prepared to do a fair bit of glass work to repair the opening they hacked in the front fascia. The grill was also cut up to fit it and I know two people that have purchased aftermarket grills that were far from satisfied with the fit. It doesn't mean they are all bad but it's why I chose to repair my OEM 74 grill rather then try to find a old one or try an aftermarket. 

Bob

 

Edited by Avanti83

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As with any old car, what we buy today depends on how many sympathetic owners and their budget for maintenance and improvement during the past fifty years; also whether we want improved or restored.  JMHO, but an Avanti with a all-aluminum LS 6.0 and six-speed automatic would be a nice ride.

FWIW, I had a growing-family budget during the fifteen years I owned our 1965 Sunbeam Tiger.  It was well-taken-care-of and carefully modified.  I sold it to a guy with more money and  during his twenty-five-year ownership, he added a 5-speed, aluminum heads and many other expensive improvements.  My little brother and I bought it back and he has had the budget to take it to the next level with EFI, new suspension, new wheels, et al.  Today, it's an infinitely better quality and faster and better handling car than an original 1965 Sunbeam Tiger and many design compromises have been corrected.  Still, there are those who'll pay more if it were a restored original.  Their money, their car, their decision.

jack vines

Edited by PackardV8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What you're possibly not seeing Jack, is that there are only so many ORIGINAL Sunbeam Tigers out there.....a limited supply of Tigers that are probably best left unmolested.

Wouldn't it perhaps be more practical to purchase something like a 'Factory Five' reproduction Cobra...and build it any way the spirit moves you?....Ed:)

Edited by mfg
spelling!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, mfg said:

What you're possibly not seeing Jack, is that there are only so many ORIGINAL Sunbeam Tigers out there.....a limited supply of Tigers that are probably best left unmolested.

Wouldn't it perhaps be more practical to purchase something like a 'Factory Five' reproduction Cobra...and build it any way the spirit moves you?....Ed:)

Your car, your money, your decision.  And no, I'd never want a Cobra under any circumstances.  They were and are a miserable thing to drive on the street.  Difficult to believe, but the Sunbeam Tiger is a much more comfortable car, especially for taller drivers.

FWIW, the original Tiger needed a lot of help and frankly wasn't that much fun to drive with skinny bias ply tires on skinny steel wheels, a 260" 2bbl which floated the valves at 4800 RPM.

Another FWIW, I was president of STOA back in the early 1970s and there just wasn't that much interest in restoring Tigers because they were so much more fun to drive when modified, but when resale came, a restored car usually brought more money.  Modifications and color choices are so individual; especially flared fenders and pearlescent paint were sometimes difficult to find a buyer who liked that combination of changes.  I know I didn't.

jack vines

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jack, it sound like you are describing my '76.  It still has the original 400 block, crank and oil pan.  Motor was first rebuilt in '11 and equipped with a hydraulic roller cam, head work, new aluminum intake and carb putting out 360 hp over the original 175.  Two years ago, as motor was undergoing  conversion to TBI fuel injection, a cracked head was discovered and it had another tear down, new pistons, rods, cam and aluminum heads were added.  Motor is running nicely now, putting out 470 hp and 570 torque.  A 200R4 was added in 2011 as well, making it a nice highway cruiser that can more than keep up with today's traffic.  I'm thankful it does not have a sunroof.  I was impressed with the overall quality of the car as I had a '64 years ago and the Avanti II's body quality, build quality and interior are superior to what the '64 had.

I also have an '89 convertible that I bought 5 years ago already resto-modded with a 383 crate motor and a 4L60E trans with a Ford 9" rear end.  The steering and handling of the '89(Caprice suspension) is superior to the '76 with basically the old Studebaker suspension.  For long range traveling, I prefer the '76 being quieter and more comfortable than the '89.  A spare and spare cover in the '89 takes up all the trunk space.    The Lamborghini Red color with black interior and black out trim makes the '89 a drop dead great looking car driving around in the summer with the top down!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Plwindish - Your '89 has a small trunk because it is a convertible, not because it is an '89.  An '89 coupe has the same trunk as earlier Avanti coupes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, plwindish said:

Jack, it sound like you are describing my '76.  It still has the original 400 block, crank and oil pan.  Motor was first rebuilt in '11 and equipped with a hydraulic roller cam, head work, new aluminum intake and carb putting out 360 hp over the original 175.  Two years ago, as motor was undergoing  conversion to TBI fuel injection, a cracked head was discovered and it had another tear down, new pistons, rods, cam and aluminum heads were added.  Motor is running nicely now, putting out 470 hp and 570 torque.  A 200R4 was added in 2011 as well, making it a nice highway cruiser that can more than keep up with today's traffic.  I'm thankful it does not have a sunroof.  I was impressed with the overall quality of the car as I had a '64 years ago and the Avanti II's body quality, build quality and interior are superior to what the '64 had.

 

Yes, your car is pretty much the way I'd do one, maybe with improved anti-roll bars, shocks, tires and wheels.

jack vines

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was introduced to Studebakers in the late sixties when my folks bought a 56 Sky Hawk as an extra car. I’d never heard of an Avanti, but after I did I was smitten and followed the car through the Newman/Altman years, then through Blake and Kelly  I would read the brochures and articles of how the Avanti was different from factory built cars, that the assemblers took their time to make everything just right when they put them together by hand. Although quality was advertised, it sounds like it wasn’t always the result. I finally bought mine two years ago, 1983 RQB 3771. It is about the end of the line for the chrome bumper era, the style I like the best. I enjoy mine and hope you find one that brings you pleasure. Good luck with your search, Mike

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For those of you who've built some power and tires into your SBC/Avanti II, how do the OEM traction bars handle hard starts?

jack vines

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used the GM 350HO/330hp crate engine with Edelbrock EFI tied to a GM700R4...it would smoke the tires without meaning to.  It took some time to learn how to feather the throttle without at least chirping the tires.  I can't say much about the stock traction bars but even though I did what I could to take weight out of the car the front weight bias still showed itself.  Cornering was decent but still not up to modern standards.  Weight reduction included an aluminum driveshaft, composite left springs, the aluminum case transmission rather than the cast-iron PowerShift, aluminum intake with EFI, later rear seats made from the lightweight materials Avanti Motors went to and any other things I could do.  Actually the composite leaf springs took weight out where it least needed to lose weight...the rear of the car.

If I had to do it again I would choose either a GM 200R4 for the better spread of gears...the 700R4 has much too low a first gear for a car in the Avanti's weight class and front end weight bias...or I would have gone with a Tremec 5-speed but that would have been a significantly more expensive conversion than the automatic transmission.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No...didn't weigh the car before or after.  But the aluminum driveshaft definitely weighed significantly less than the original.  The composite leaf springs weighed eight pounds each against about forty-five pounds each for the steel leaf springs.  The crate engine supposedly weighed less than the original 350 but how much I don't know.  The aluminum intake, water pump, serpentine belt kit all had to have weighed less than originals.  The rear seats were less weighty than the originals as was the 700R4 than the cast iron cased PowerShift.  The lightweight a/c compressor definitely weighed less than the cast iron York compressor.

I'm guessing the car must have weighed several hundred pounds less but the weight loss may not have been well distributed.  The composite leaf springs took weight out of the rear of the car but that's where it was needed even with less weight up front.  Still...taking weight out of an Avanti is not a bad thing to do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently swapped aluminum intake & water pump onto our '70....intake went from 39 lbs to 15 lbs.  Forgot to weigh the water pump, but was lighter for sure.

Mike Sal

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Gunslinger, "Initial quality and performance doesn't mean much now outside of rhetorical purposes like this."  After 40+ or - years it's more about how the car was maintained, cared for or restored.  I have a very original 1978 Avanti II and it's as solid as a rock.  The mechanics, interior and body are fully operational and beautiful.  I know much of the history including having talked to the original owners (the Petru brothers) and the last owner in Phoenix, who all took extraordinary care of the car.  With only 55,000 thousand miles the one thing it needed was a new paint job, which is currently in progress.  Even the paint was pretty good, but I wanted to take the car to another level.  I can't speak of other years, but my '78 has been a dream come true and I wouldn't trade it or sell sell it.   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...