With a 2020 mid-engine Corvette on order, longtime enthusiast Bernard “Mike” Hammer decided to do something special with one of his non-GM cars that nevertheless has a link to Corvettes.
Hammer donated his 1977 Studebaker Avanti II, which just happens to have a Corvette engine and a fiberglass body made by the same company that makes Corvette bodies, to the National Corvette Museum.
Hammer has a longtime connection to both Avantis and Corvettes. He remembers seeing a gold Avanti in a Studebaker showroom back in 1962 while on a car-shopping trip with his stepfather.
The winner of the Indy 500 that year, Roger Ward, received such a gold Avanti, and legendary racer Andy Granatelli drove three Avantis at Bonneville, where he set 29 world speed records in a gold one.
“Here I was, standing next to a gold Avanti. My mind could see Andy getting out of it and saying, ‘Your turn, kid.’ I did my best to tell (my stepfather) that was the car,” Hammer recalls. “Nope, he ended up getting a Buick Special station wagon. That gold Avanti hit the top of my bucket list.”
It took Hammer some 55 years, but he finally fulfilled that dream in 2017. After the death of his wife of 40 years, Mike says he didn’t have anything else to do with his time so he drove around the country, seeing what he could find.
One day, he came across a speed shop with a 1977 gold Avanti II parked out front. It proved to be a calling card for the owner of the business, who was trying to put race car owners together with race car drivers.
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 says the Avanti II was essentially handmade and made to order. “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.”
After two years of ownership, in the midst of battling Parkinson’s, Hammer decided it was time for another chapter in the Avanti’s life when his shaking broke the car’s radio antenna one day while he was washing the car.
“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 [Derek] and he said ‘yeah, we’ll take it.’
Besides the engine, the Avanti also has the distinction of having a fiberglass body made by the same company that has also made the Corvette body since 1953.
Hammer has owned three Corvettes and is eagerly awaiting his fourth. He started with a 1971 convertible that he had when he and his wife were first married. “And then you have kids and they don’t like to be tied to the roof, so you get a series of four doors,” he says. “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!”
That led to the purchase of a 2004 Magnetic Red Corvette in 2005, then the couple took delivery of a 2014 Crystal Red C7 three days before their wedding anniversary in 2013. Sadly, his wife passed away in 2016, and Mike drove the car in her memory in last year’s National Corvette Caravan.
National Corvette Museum
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