Why is there an Avanti at the Corvette museum?

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.

“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!”

Mike Hammer and his daughter, Lynn Stumpf

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.

1977 Studebaker Avanti II

1977 Studebaker Avanti II

“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.

“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.”

1977 Studebaker Avanti II

1977 Studebaker Avanti II

“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!”

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.

This article, written by Larry Edsall, was originally published on ClassicCars.com, an editorial partner of Motor Authority.

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