Why is there an Avanti at the Corvette museum?

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Why is there an Avanti going on display at the National Corvette Museum? | Museum photos

When the National Corvette Museum re-opens for general admission in Bowling Green, Kentucky, one of the vehicles on display will be a 1977 Studebaker Avanti II.

Say what?

As the museum shares the story, it was in 1962 that Bernard “Mike” Hammer’s stepfather took him along when he was shopping for a new car. 

Mike Hammer and his daughter, Lynn Stumpf

“He took me with him one, to keep me out of the mischief that I always seemed to find, and two, because he didn’t know the difference between a crankshaft and a camshaft,” Hammer said. “I had just stuffed a small block in a Sprite, and that thing was quick!” 

Hammer and his stepfather ended up at a Studebaker dealership. Mike told his stepfather that the Studebaker Lark had been the Indianapolis 500 pace car that year. But while his stepfather was looking at a Lark, young Hammer’s eyes were drawn to a gold-colored Avanti parked across the showroom.

While the Lark had been the Indy pace car, it was an Avanti that had been presented to Rodger Ward, who won the 500 that year in the Leader Cards Watson-Offy racer. Mike also knew about Andy Granatelli’s record speed runs with Avantis that year at Bonneville. 

“Here I was, standing next to a gold Avanti. My mind could see Andy getting out of it and saying, ‘Your turn, kid’,” Hammer recalled. 

“I did my best to tell him that was the car,” Hammer recalled of his conversation with his stepfather. “Nope, he ended up getting a Buick Special station wagon.”

And the gold Avanti went to the top of Hammer’s bucket list.

After his wife of 40 years died, Hammer decided to “drive around and see the country.” He was in San Jose, California, when he spotted a gold-colored 1977 Avanti II parked in front of a speed shop.

“The business was one that put people that own race cars together with people who drive race cars, and the owner had the car parked outside as a sort of calling card,” Hammer recalled. “I asked him ‘do you ever drive the thing?’ and he said, ‘very seldom,’ so I said ‘well, I’ll just buy it from you then.’ I trailered it home, fixed it up and the only show I ever put it in, it got first place.”

Hammer had rebuilt the engine and cleaned the car before going to a Studebaker show in Southern California. 

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“When the Avanti II came out, they were essentially handmade, and they were made to order,” he said. “You told them what you want, and that’s what you got. The original owner wanted it gold, with gold shag carpeting, and even gold shag carpeting in the trunk. The gold leather seats have velour inserts, and Avanti even threw in a pillow for the back seat.”

According to the museum, “Mike had only owned the Avanti for about two years when he came to the decision to do something else with the car.” 

“Vietnam gave me two Bronze Stars for valor, a Purple Heart for combat wounds, and Parkinson’s,” Hammer said. “The medals were put in a frame by my wife and left alone. I wish that the Parkinson’s was that easy. It is getting along, and I can no longer enjoy working on cars.

“When you’ve got Parkinson’s, you shake a lot. I was outside washing it and I broke the radio antenna. It just happened that I got the Museum’s magazine that said they were looking for cars that had Corvette components, and this was made with a Corvette engine, so I go ahold of [curator Derek Moore] and he said ‘yeah, we’ll take it’.”

“Not only does the Avanti have a Corvette engine, the fiberglass body is manufactured by the same company that has made the Corvette body since 1953,” the museum notes.

“Mike is not only an Avanti fan, he’s also a Corvette enthusiast. Having owned three Corvettes, Mike also has a 2020 Torch Red Corvette on order.” 

“The Corvette I had when I married my wife was a C3 – a 1971 convertible,” Hammer noted. “And then you have kids and they don’t like to be tied to the roof, so you get a series of four doors. When the youngest got married and moved out, we went car shopping. I decided we’d look at the new Pontiac GTO that had just come out. The guy opened the hood and said, ‘it’s got a Corvette engine.’ 

“My wife said, ‘that’s nice, but it’s ugly.’ So, we looked at the Cadillac. The guy opened the hood and said, ‘it’s got a Corvette engine.’ My wife looked at me and said, ‘if everything’s going to have a Corvette engine, then let’s just get another Corvette!”

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They did, a 2004 in Magnetic Red. Then, in 2013, they ordered a new C7 in Crystal Red. And now that the C8 is in production, he plans to take museum-delivery of his later this year.  

Meanwhile, his gold Avanti II will be admired by thousands at the Corvette museum. 

Mercedes museum open online

The Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany is closed to in-person visitors, but is open to all through the internet with a new web series on its exhibits. To view, visit the museum website. There also is an interactive tour available through the museum’s Instagram page, and yet more on YouTube.

NASCAR Hall of Fame offers online program

The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, has launched a STE(A)M-driven educational program available online for students homebound by the coronavirus pandemic. “Spark!” has programs for elementary, middle and high school students. 

The various lessons and activities are constructed to be completed in 10, 30 or 60 minutes. 

For more information, visit the Spark! webpage.

‘Miles’ museum postpones re-opening

Miles Through Time museum is ready to open, but waiting out the pandemic | Museum photo

The Miles Through Time Museum in Clarkesville, Georgia, had planned to re-open in its new facility on April 4, but in light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic has decided to delay until times are safer for museum visitors.

Special events this weekend

The Petersen Automobile Museum in Los Angeles offers an hour-long video tour of its underground Vault at 11 a.m. (Pacific time) with collection manager Dana Williamson showcasing pre-war vehicles. Another hour from the Vault is scheduled for the same time on April 4.

Mark your calendar

The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, offers free live and themed tours via Instagram on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. (Pacific time).

Consider the following to be tentatively scheduled based on the continuing coronavirus pandemic: 

“Birds of a Feather: Studebaker Hawks” is the subject of the speaker series presentation tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 15 at the National Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana, where museum archivist Andrew Beckman will talk about the history and evolution of the Hawk model.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, will host a special Mustang Day program on April 17 with a cruise-in car show beginning at 9 a.m., with behind-the-scenes tours and a special presentation at 1 p.m. by Shelby engineer Chuck Cantwell.

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The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona, Beach, Florida, hosts “An Evening with Dave Friedman” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 17. Friedman is well known for his motorsport photography, especially for his time with Shelby American.

The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, celebrates its 10th anniversary in April and starting April 17 will expand its schedule to be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, plans its first cars and coffee cruise-in of the season from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m. on April 18.

The Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska, opens its monthly Cruise ’N Coffee season from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on April 19.

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, re-opens its Performance Gallery on April 22. The gallery closed on November 20 for “a much-needed refresh.” 

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, hosts “Paint Me A Magic Bus” family activity from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on April 25. The program will feature a hands-on painting experience with Bob Hieronimus, artist for the original Woodstock “Light” VW bus. For details, visit the museum website.

The Spring Open House at the Lingenfelter Collection in Brighton, Michigan, is scheduled for April 25. Among the cars featured will be the 1954 Duntov “test mule,” the first Chevrolet Corvette with a V8 engine.

The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, opens two new exhibits on May 7 — “A hobby gone wild” and “Wingless Wonders: Propeller Vehicles That Never Took Off.”

The Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, California, hosts its 8th annual vintage trailer show from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on June 20. New this year will be seminars and restoration tips from experts.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City opens its “Automania” exhibition on June 28. The display is scheduled to run through September 7.

The Mustang Owner’s Museum is located near Charlotte, North Carolina, but it will host its Mustang Stampede in the Midwest in mid-August. Dates are August 11-16 with events starting in Dayton, Ohio, and ending in Dearborn, Michigan. 

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email larrye@classiccars.com


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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Larry. Enjoyed the Avanti II article & thought you’d like to know that I was the guy in San Jose who sold the car to Mike Hammer. I was the third owner – the second being a retired naval officer living in Nevada with the original owner a doctor in Sacramento. The car had less than 45,000 miles on it when I bought it and we enjoyed it immensely for two or three years before selling it to Mike H. Great car well matched to the Corvette power plant.

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