1977 Studebaker Features Corvette Engine and Fiberglass Body
Like many auto enthusiasts, Bernard “Mike” Hammer had set his sights on his dream car decades before he’d have the opportunity to actually own it. It was 1962, and his stepfather was in the market 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. I had just stuffed a small block in a Sprite, and that thing was quick!”
The duo found their way to a Studebaker dealer, and Mike shared with his stepfather that the Lark was the Indy Pace Car that year. While his stepfather was looking at the Lark, a Gold Avanti caught Mike’s eye across the showroom. The Lark was the Pace Car, but the Avanti was given to the winner of the race, Roger Ward. Later, Andy Granatelli took three Avantis to Bonneville and 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 him that was the car,” remember Mike. “Nope, he ended up getting a Buick Special station wagon. That gold Avanti hit the top of my bucket list.”
It wasn’t until 2017 that Mike’s path would again cross a gold Avanti. “My wife of 40 years passed away, and having nothing else to do, I’d drive around and see the country.” Mike was in San Jose, CA, about 300 miles from home, when he passed a speed shop that had a 1977 Gold Avanti II parked out front. “The business was one that put people that own race cars together with people who drive race cars, and the owner had the car outside as a sort of calling card. 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.”
After purchasing the car, Mike went to work on it. He rebuilt the engine and cleaned the car up. The interior was in good shape to begin with, and it had very low miles. “When the Avanti II came out, they were essential handmade, and they were 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.”
Mike entered the car in a Studebaker Show held near Disneyland and took top prize among the 17 other Avantis that were entered.
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. 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.”
Mike shared that while he enjoyed having the car, he wanted to preserve it. “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 [Derek] 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.
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. 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!”
Mike ended up buying a 2004 Magnetic Red Corvette in 2005. The couple tuned in to watch the debut of the C7 in 2013, and Mike’s wife was on board with getting another. “She looked at me and said, ‘do you think they have that in the same color as ours?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And she said, ‘if they do, get one.’ If your wife tells you to go buy a new Corvette, you don’t hesitate!”
Mike ordered a 2014 Crystal Red Corvette in March 2013 and took delivery in October – the Friday before their wedding anniversary the following Monday. Sadly, Mike’s wife passed away in 2016. Mike drove the car in her memory in the 2019 National Corvette Caravan, offering the passenger seat to a Corvette enthusiast from Australia. He’s looking forward to taking delivery of his 2020 later this year at the Museum.
Thank you to Mike for helping tell the story of other vehicles with Corvette components!