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Greenfield man restores classic sports cars he fell in love with as kid

People from all over the country take their classic sports cars to Mike Baker in Greenfield at Avanti Restoration & Service.

GREENFIELD, Ind. — The Avanti was a four-seater hot rod designed by Studebaker as a last gasp for the Indiana car maker. The Avanti could not save Studebaker 60 years ago, but a Greenfield man brings the classic sports car back to life in his auto shop.

"This is going to be a hot rod here in a week or less," Mike Baker said as he worked on the interior of a red 1963 Avanti.

Baker restores the cars he fell in love with as kid growing up in South Bend — home of the Studebaker factory and the birthplace of the Avanti.

"High performance," Baker said, removing a speedometer that goes up to 160 miles an hour from an Avanti dashboard. "It was the fastest production car in 1963. My love for this car is it's a handmade, limited production automobile. The nice thing about working on this car is once we work on one, we know how to fix the next one."

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People from all over the country take their cars to Avanti Restoration & Service.

"This car that's been dormant for a while in someone's garage is brought back to life," Baker said. "The best thing about it is getting them tuned up, running and driving them down the road."

This is the 60th anniversary of the Avanti. Studebaker only made about 4,600 of the sports cars before closing at the end of 1964. Other companies continued to make the Avanti through 2006, but the Studebaker originals are the most coveted by collectors.

"It was a true American sports car," Baker said as he drove a restored white Avanti east on U.S. Highway 40 in Hancock County. "It's incredible that they came up with this design in 1961."

Baker turned his hobby into a full-time business in 2017. His shop is stuffed full of Avanti cars. The demand for his services includes a list of 10 customers waiting more than a year for a restoration.

"It's exciting to go through that challenge of fixing these cars and bringing them back to life, and then seeing how excited the customers are when they turn the key for themselves and they tool down the road," Baker said. "It's tremendous pride. Sometimes, I spent so much time and effort on that car, I hate to see it leave."

The Avanti 60th Anniversary Homecoming is in South Bend this summer July 7-9.

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