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Sunnyside's Advanced Collision crew restoring first-ever made Avanti sports car

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It's a labor of love for this group in Sunnyside donating time and materials to restore a 1963 Avanti. Visible in the foreground is a 1974 Avanti II owned by the Hochhalter family. Once restored, the '63 model will be shipped to a museum in Tacoma.

It was an early Christmas for Advanced Collision, as the Sunnyside shop recently started work on restoring the first-ever Studebaker Avanti sports car, produced in 1963.

Ron and DeAnn Hochhalter operate Advanced Collision, and have been lifelong fans of Studebaker, and the Avanti in particular.

"It was top of the line for 1963-64," says Ron. He notes the Avanti was the only hand-built car in America and was ahead of its time with a fiberglass body.

Ron added the Avanti was Studebaker's four-door answer to the Corvette.

The Avanti was produced for only two years before Studebaker went out of business. A group of Studebaker dealers banded together to build what it called the Avanti II up through the 1990s. The Hochhalters own a 1974 Avanti II.

As for the first-ever Avanti that's found a temporary home in Sunnyside, DeAnn said she and Ron found about it through an international Studebaker club they've belonged to for the past 40 years.

"We do lots of restoration work on Studebakers," she said. "We were asked at a car show if we would consider doing the body work on this vehicle."

The Hochhalters and crew said a hearty yes...and at no cost.

"All the work is being donated," DeAnn says of the Avanti, which when fully restored will be on permanent display at the new LeMay's-America Car Museum in Tacoma.

The car arrived recently from Spokane, where a coat of green exterior paint applied in the 1970s was removed.

While in Sunnyside the first Avanti will have a side rail and framing replaced. Advanced Collision will also restore the car to its original ivory white color.

DeAnn says she doesn't know how long it will take to finish the project here. After it leaves Sunnyside, the Avanti will be taken to Bellingham, where it will be reassembled.

As excited as the Hochhalters and crew are to work on the Avanti, things will likely get even more fun this summer.

Consider the Avanti the gift that keeps on giving for the Sunnyside crew, as when the four-story LeMay car museum opens this June across from the Tacoma Dome, the Hochhalters and all those who worked on the Avanti will be featured guests.

"This is one of the few cars that will be on permanent display at the museum," said DeAnn. "They've asked us to come over for the reveal of the car in June."

In addition, the Hochhalters are documenting every step in the vehicle's restoration. That photo display will accompany the Avanti's exhibit in Tacoma.

DeAnn notes the Avanti here will be prominently featured later next year during celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Studebaker's production of the vehicle.

Even though Advanced Collision is doing the work at no cost, out of pocket, the Hochalters will tell you it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.

"We're excited about it. We're privileged to do our part to restore this car," says DeAnn.

Ron adds, "We're blessed that we've been able to work on the first Avanti."

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