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Last revised 1/20/07

The Death of 1983 Avanti RQB-3611


The Tornado That Wasn't

"I'm ok. I don't think the house is hurt badly, but you aren't going to like what it did to your Studebakers!" This is what my wife said to me over the phone at 2:30 PM on Friday, February 21st, 1997, about 20 minutes after the tornado passed over our house!

The story made the Channel 11 evening news as the "storm" (specifically, not a tornado) that tipped over eight small airplanes at McCollum Field in Kennesaw, Georgia and then hit "a residential neighborhood about three miles northeast of the airport." Actually, it hit briefly in a neighborhood halfway between us and the airport, then landed smack on top of the cul-de-sac on which we live.

The house behind ours lost a porch due to a falling oak tree. They later told me that they ran to the window and watched the tornado going away from them, through the woods, behind our house, past the garage and out into the front yard. In the process it twisted off 26 pine trees and two oaks in our yard and four pines and an oak in the next neighbor's yard. All the trees lay at right angles to the path of travel of the storm. Insulation from the torn roof on the south side of my garage was all over the north side of the neighbor house which is north of us. You can't tell me it wasn't a tornado!

The garage took hits from seven falling trees, a tool shed had four more stacked on it, and only two hit the house, both glancing blows.

Unfortunately, these last two landed on both the 1983 Avanti and the 1953 Commander hardtop, both of which were parked in the driveway.

storm aftermath

The Avanti took a 20" diameter pine tree across the trunk that crushed the car from the right rear taillight to just behind the left quarter window. The blow was so hard that the left rear sway bar support rod was driven into the concrete of the driveway, and the left rear wheel rim was splayed outward at the bottom. Also falling from behind and to the right of the car, a second tree hit the windshield post on the passenger's side and crushed a section of the rear of the front right fender, inner fender and firewall. (Avanti photos are at the bottom of this page.) The rather innocent looking damage to the right front fender doesn't reveal the fact that the firewall was shattered, with two long compression fractures nearly completely across it.

The big tree that got the Avanti had several branches that got the 1953 hardtop. Only the windshield glass was broken, a long crack across the bottom; the top was crushed in at the rear and there were dents in the hood, all four fenders and the trunk. Several pieces of chrome, rear fender-top and windshield reveal stainless, a wind-up antenna, and both windshield wipers were destroyed, but the biggest single casualty was to the nearly perfect left grille shell, which was cracked. The car was salvagable, however- the top has been straightened, and it awaits new paint and reassembly.

The Avanti was another story. Repair being beyond my abilities, budget and available time, I decided to part it out, using much of the interior to finish my 1963 R-2, and saving a few other parts from it. The remainder, including the rolling chassis, drive train and the entire body as pictured, was parted out.

The car had come to Georgia from Dallas, TX in July 1994, three months before I bought it. It had a rust-free frame, and the hog troughs were as solid as the day it left South Bend. The car had 95,204 miles on it. The original 305 CID engine had excellent and even compression on all cylinders, and only about 1500 miles on a new timing chain and gears, fuel pump and water pump. It had had all the original smog controls and computer reinstalled, and passed the new federally-mandated Georgia smog inspection with flying colors only a few weeks before the accident. The transmission was the TH700R4 four speed overdrive automatic, and shifted flawlessly.

The frame appeared to be undamaged; the weight of the tree struck directly on top of the left rear wheel. The wheel and tire absorbed the impact splaying the rim out at the bottom, but apparently protecting the frame from being crushed.

Sold were bumpers, seats, seat belts, dash, a/c evaporator, wiper motor, headlight rims/covers, turn signal bodies, taillight bodies, grille, steering column, rear axle assembly, interior trim pieces, the entire moonroof assembly (with roof attached) The front clip, from the door openings forward went to help Ralph Wescott of Largo, Florida rebuild the front end of his '87 Avanti (yes, we know it's not exactly the same!) that was literally knocked off by a red-light-running idiot. The rolling chassis, less the rear axle assembly, and including the rear of the body, went to Illinois to help Dale Long put a new frame under his rusted-out 70s Avanti. Old 3611 lives on in these and a dozen other Avantis across the country.

In the meantime, I still have a 2.83 rear axle assembly, two doors, driver's side door glass, and two quarter window assemblies for sale, make an offer!

front view

Seen from the front, you'd never know anything was wrong!

rear view

The rear view shows differently, however.

side view

The left side view shows that damage from the quarter window back was extensive. The tree's weight struck the top of the tire, which ruined the rim, but apparently saved the frame from damage. This view shows quarter windows missing- they were intact and were included with the car, but were removed in the process of removing the interior.

cracked right rear quarter

The right rear quarter is cracked, but repairable.


These views (above and below) of the cowl damage show that the top fender seam was partially split open, and a branch penetrated the outer cowl. The hood latch area was damaged, as was the firewall down in the area of the mount to the frame on this side. The latch area on the hood was also damaged, but this appeared to be repairable.


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