He then folded the note, stuffed it into an envelope marked “To Whom It May Concern” in the same script and placed it beneath the liner in the trunk of Studebaker Avanti No. R-5643, the last car to come off the line there.
The note read:
“This 1964 Model Avanti was the last one built in South Bend, Ind. Serial #5643 Body #3902 Line 717 W.H. Bennett Sr. 4739. Happy New Year.”
About a year later, George E. Westin, the assistant vice president of the Land Title Guarantee and Trust Company in Warren, Ohio, found the letter in the trunk of the car that he had ordered at Jerry’s Auto Sales of Warren in October 1963.
On Dec. 15, 1964, he sent a letter to Studebaker asking the company to confirm that his car was indeed the last one off the assembly line.
Studebaker confirmed on Jan. 5, 1965, that R- 5643, which had been completed on Dec. 26, 1963,
was the last Avanti it built.
According to documents provided by the Western Reserve Historical Society,
where the car is now on display,
Mr. Westin placed an ad for the car in Motor Trend magazine two weeks later.
His asking price was $7,000 or best offer.
Documentation from Studebaker shows that R-5643,
which was equipped with a supercharged R3 engine,
manual steering, front and rear seatbelts and twin traction,
Studebaker’s version of limited slip, was originally listed for $4,883.48.
It was one of only a few with the high-performance engine option.
Mr. Westin didn’t sell the car until late 1966 or early 1967, to Joe Erdelac,
who owned an American Motors dealership in Cleveland.
A letter from Mr. Westin to Mr. Erdelac on Dec. 14, 1966,
provides a list of documentation included with the car.
But no one knows the exact date of the sale.
Mr. Westin and Mr. Erdelac are both dead, and neither Connie Erdelac,
Mr. Erdelac’s daughter, nor Derek E. Moore,
curator of transportation history at the Western Reserve Historical Society,
knows when the transaction took place.
But Ms. Erdelac said that it was probably in early 1967.
She recalled going with her father to collect the car in Youngstown.
“On the way back to Cleveland, we went over 105 miles per hour on a country road in that car,
just to test it out,” she said.
Ms. Erdelac said her father, who owned a Studebaker dealership in the late ’40s,
had an affinity for Studebaker Avantis.
At one time, he had as many as 12.
When the Avanti Motor Company, a separate entity from Studebaker,
emerged in the mid-'60s and began building the Avanti II with leftover Studebaker parts
and parts from other manufacturers.
Ms. Erdelac said her father obtained a license to sell the cars at his AMC dealership.
“Was my dad sentimental about being a Studebaker dealer in the 1940s? Probably,” she said.
“But that’s why he took on this car.”
But she said the last Studebaker Avanti sat in a service garage, covered up, for years.
Then, in 1977, Mr. Erdelac decided it was time to sell the car.
He took out full-page ads in Cleveland Magazine, Connoisseur Magazine and other publications.
His asking price for R-5643 was $100,000.
Nobody bought the car, and in 1979,
Joe, Elsie and Connie Erdelac (all of them, together, Ms. Erdelac stressed)
donated the car to the Western Reserve Historical Society,
which runs the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum in Cleveland.
It has been part of the museum’s display ever since,
and although Ms. Erdelac says it is never driven –
the odometer still shows fewer than 10,000 miles –
it comes out of retirement for guest appearances elsewhere from time to time.
In 2012, for example, the car was shipped to South Bend, Ind.,
for a 50th anniversary Studebaker Avanti celebration.
It was also brought to the National Mall in Washington in May
as part of the Historic Vehicle Association's “Cars at the Capital” event,
after spending about five months on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend.
Mark Gessler, president of the association,
which works with the United States Interior Department to compile the list,
said that his team was working on getting R-5643 included on the National Historic Vehicle Register.
While the car was parked on the National Mall, they made a 3-D scan of it,
which will be included with its documentation when it is listed.
To qualify for inclusion,
a vehicle must satisfy one of four conditions:
be associated with an important event in American history;
be associated with an important person in American history;
be unique or significant in terms of design, craftsmanship, engineering or aesthetic value;
or be the first or last produced,
or a well preserved or restored survivor.
Mr. Gessler said that the Avanti definitely checks the boxes for design significance
and being the last-produced car of its type.
Also, Raymond Loewy, a prominent industrial designer,
was the creative force behind the Avanti,
which was considered cutting edge at the time.
And Andrew Beckman, the archivist at the Studebaker museum,
said that R-5643 was one of only nine Avantis built with the supercharged R-3 engine.
“It was the fastest production car at that time,” Mr. Gessler said.
written by: By BENJAMIN PRESTON
DECEMBER 19, 2014
for New York Times