For the 20th year in a row, owners of vintage Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs parked their cars on a sunny Sunday at the Scottsdale Pavilions shopping center, site the previous evening of the country’s longest-running weekly car show. Annually, the BOP show attracts rows of beautiful Buicks, outstanding Oldsmobiles, and pleasing and even powerful Pontiacs.
In recent years, a few groovy GMC trucks have been included, and this year some cool Cadillacs were invited as a test to see how things might go should the shows organizers — the 20th annual BOP show was hosted by the Desert Renegades Pontiac Club and the Cactus GTO Club of Arizona — decide to expand the event to officially include GM’s luxury brand in future years.
And yet, the car that seemed to be drawing the most attention was a prototype Studebaker.
Well, sort of a Studebaker. Because while the car looked like a modern interpretation of Studebaker’s iconic Avanti, beneath its sleek fiberglass skin was a 1997 Pontiac Firebird Formula coupe.
The car was the first of three such prototypes designed by Tom Kellogg, the youngest and surviving member of the four-person team that designed the original Avanti in Raymond Loewy’s studios back in the early 1960s.
As the story goes, Jim Bunting, a retired advertising executive, bought an Avanti in the 1980s and became an enthusiastic fan, to the point that he contacted Kellogg for a set of sketches of how an Avanti might have looked had Studebaker remained in business.
Eventually, Bunting commissioned three prototypes, built over GM F-body platforms. One was a coupe, one a convertible and one had T-top architecture.
The car at the BOP show was the first built, the coupe. Two of the prototypes were based on Firebirds, the convertible was constructed over what had been the chassis of a Chevrolet Camaro.
“The idea was that you bring an F-body and $33,000 and you can drive one of these home,” said Dale Sexton, who acquired the original AVX two years ago. AVX is short for AVanti eXperimental.
Sexton is a long-time Avanti fanatic. He had a 1964 model in the early 1970s and in 2003 purchased a 1988 25th anniversary version.
He bought the AVX two-and-a-half years ago, he said. The car had been on display in a museum for several years, but the owner was selling it.
“It was more than I could afford, but you know how those things are,” Sexton said, adding that he made a “readjustment” to his priorities, sold his anniversary car and bought the prototype.
“When I got it, it had 18,000 miles,” he said. “Now it has 22,500.”
In addition to driving the car to occasional car shows, including one each fall in Tucson, about 100 miles from home, he said he sometimes drives the car to the barber shop or even the grocery. He also took the car to Jacksonville, Florida last year for an event where all three of the AVX prototypes were displayed.
His car is powered by a fuel-injected 350 cid small-block V8, but with considerably more than its original 155 horsepower. Beneath the front-hinged hood is a big Paxton supercharger, perhaps a tribute to souped-up Studebakers of another era.
Sexton said car guys always want something somebody else doesn’t have, “and that drew me to Avanti. The design was way ahead of its time,” he said. And while any Avanti might be a rarity, now he has one of only three prototypes and the only prototype coupe.
Sexton noted that after building the three prototypes, similar cars were produced, at first on F bodies and later on Ford Mustang chassis, until the owner of the company died in 2007.
Photos by Larry Edsall