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Avanti Enthusiast Takes Car into his own Hands

Some people have familiar hobbies -- fishing, ballroom dancing or bird watching. And then, there's Tom Luz. He has a more ambitious one, building a 1963 Studebaker Avanti sports car.

Luz, a 49 year-old Darien resident, attorney, husband and father of three children, has always had a fondness for cars. As a young child he could identify most of them by their grilles and taillights -- at night. He waxes rhetorical about his reasons for rebuilding a vintage car from stem to stern in his garage. "Why do some people like tennis, or chocolate, or opera?" he asks. It's a reasonable sentiment. There are those who like to play, eat and listen to music. And there are those who like cars.

Luz owned a 1967 Mustang convertible when he was 17 and a Fiat 124 when he was in his 20s, but the "sickness," as he describes it, didn't overtake him until four years ago, when he bought a 1956 Thunderbird, "which I still cherish," he notes.

The Avanti was the brainchild of esteemed industrial designer Raymond Loewy , who rose to fame with his designs -- familiar people movers like the S1 and T1 locomotives, the Greyhound Bus and Air Force One . Loewy's relationship with Studebaker began in the late 1930s and he designed the first Avanti in 1961.

Luz's nascent Avanti is the first car he's built, and he can't think of a more "rare, cool, American-built and sleek-looking" car to restore. It was the vehicle, he says, of famous owners, such as Ian Fleming, Johnny Carson, Shirley Bassey and Julius Erving. But another draw for him was that he was able to procure it inexpensively.

What made him decide to embark upon such a detailed and time-consuming  (he's been working on it for just over two years) project in the first place? "To see whether I could take a car apart and put it back together again in restored condition," he says. That, and his desire "to have a nice head-turner as my personal driver."

The most difficult part of the process was vanquishing the more complicated mechanicals of the engine, as well as trying to paint the car. Both proved daunting enough that Luz chose professional intervention. "The engine was rebuilt by M&B Automotive Machine Shop and the body was painted by Shippan Auto Body , both in Stamford," he says.

Of so-called "average" mechanical competence, he's not sure how he's gotten this far. "Fortunately," he says, "I have a shop manual, a parts catalog, patient friends and access to the absolute best car club on the planet, the Studebaker Drivers Club ."

The most rewarding part of his automotive journey has been "watching the transformation from junk heap to beauty," he says. But upon completion he has no intention of simply shining it up and letting it collect dust. He intends to drive it. It beats bird watching and ballroom dancing by miles.

Do you know anyone else who loves/restores/drives(?) classic cars? I would love to know. Let me know here, or email me, jcurtis@mainstreetconnect.us.

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