curbside Avanti images posted at the CC Cohort by Foden Alpha
(first posted 8/30/2013) Every car has a story, but some are a hell of a lot more compelling than others. The Avanti’s may well take the cake; it’s the absolute antithesis of how cars are (and were) typically conceived, designed and built in Detroit. And it shows–it’s both utterly brilliant and flawed. What else to expect when you lock four designers in a house out in the desert for a few weeks, stop the clocks, cut the phone lines, and work them sixteen hours per day to create a car intended to be the Hail Mary pass for a dying Studebaker? That’s not quite the recipe of measured design trial and error that resulted in the timeless perfection of some of the other memorable new cars from 1963, like the Buick Riviera, Corvette Sting Ray and Porsche 911. No; perfect the Avanti wasn’t; but highly memorable and original it was, because of just that.
Studebaker’s automotive business was in deep doo-doo when the energetic Sherwood Egbert (on left, with Raymond Loewy) took the driver’s seat in early 1961. After a brief flowering of profits from the perfectly-timed compact 1959 Lark, most of the money had been spent on non-automotive diversification acquisitions by a board that saw the inevitable writing on the car-factory wall. But Egbert was determined to shake things up and turn Studebaker’s car business around. Now that’s the makings of a spectacular Studebaker Death Watch series.
We’ve covered some of those chapters, like the 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk, and the 1963 Wagonaire; as well as what might have been, the ambitious Sceptre. Egbert was desperately trying to find a viable niche for Studebaker in a rapidly changing market, as the compact segment was suddenly very crowded. While trying to synthesize a sustainable formula for the longer haul, Egbert reverted to a common tactic: the quickie halo car, something to generate some buzz and floor-traffic for the tired Studebaker line, while figuring out how to fund a line of new cars. A stylish sports car; that was the solution! Especially since that had worked so well for Kaiser.
It was all rather familiar territory for Studebaker. Back in 1953, the brilliant Starliner coupe (1954 with non-stock fender skirts shown; CC here), commonly called the “Loewy coupe” for Raymond Loewy whose design firm had a lengthy contract with Studebaker for decades, generated a lot of excitement too (and subsequent disappointment). The Loewy contract had ended some years before Egbert arrived, but wanting to re-ignite the old magic, Egbert picked up the phone one day in January of 1961, and told Loewy to design him a “sports car”. “And it must be a knock-out”. And here’s the real kicker: the finished clay model was to be delivered in six weeks!
image: Studebaker 1946-1966 Richard Langworth
Of course, Loewy told him he could do it, as long as he was left utterly alone, without any interference from South Bend. It was so agreed, and Loewy took three of his best men, Tom Kellogg, Bob Andrews and John Epstein, and sequestered themselves in a rented Palm Springs desert bungalow with no clocks. telephone or conjugal visits. They came with no idea what their mission was. Loewy arrived with a bunch of drawings, gave them the brief, and then the work started.
Loewy’s initial drawings envisioned a more glassy green house, but that eventually gave way to the more enclosed upper body design. But there were four aspects that Loewy insisted on being preserved and developed: a wedgy stance, a Coke-bottle shape, an asymmetrical hump on the hood that terminated in a wrap-around instrument panel, and a grill-less front end. All were highly unconventional for the times, but the Avanti’s front end was the most revolutionary, at least for American cars, as the Citroen DS had one since 1955. It certainly was prescient, foreshadowing the bikini-wax front ends that came to dominate automotive design some twenty years later, right down to the faired-in headlights.
Oddly, the clean original round lights were changed to rectangular surrounds for the 1964 MY, although some ’64s still had the round lights. Not an improvement to my eyes, and Avantiphiles will argue on this issue forever.
The final result is utterly unique, totally distinctive, and something of an acquired taste. Clearly, the Avanti would never have come out of Bill Mitchell’s GM studios. From some angles, like this one, it looks a bit amateurish, and as if its plastic body had started melting a bit. Look how the bottoms of the door heads upwards toward its jacked-up rear end. You sure wouldn’t see that on a Detroit-mobile.
still attracting stares 50 years on
That’s undoubtedly the result of the Avanti’s conception in a hermetically-sealed environment, with no objective outside perspective or the ability of the designers to step away for a while. It’s very much a true Loewy design, not unlike all of the cars he designed for his personal use.
There are so many Avanti details that may seem odd, like the unusual wheel openings. They were inspired by the “reentry curves” of space capsules returning to earth, from Loewy’s work with NASA. The rather upright rake of the windshield was a compromise, after Egbert conked his head getting into the seating buck. There were others too, partly out of necessity of making the Avanti body fit the 109″ wb Lark convertible frame, itself an evolution of Studebaker frames going back to at least 1953. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it was a rather high, old-school affair, and achieving a low roof line meant practically sitting on the floor, as had been the practice on Stude coupes since 1953.
From other angles, the Avanti works, quite superbly even, as long as one keeps in mind the limitations of its gestation and budget. Its Coke-bottle shape and clean flanks were certainly prescient, a theme that would soon be exploited by GM in 1965.
In its overall conception and target market, the Avanti is perhaps most analogous to some of the small coach-built British luxury coupes, like the Bristol and the Jensen. No doubt, the 1966 Jensen Interceptor’s giant wrap-around rear window, as well as much of its overall design, owes much to the Avanti.
Of course, the Avanti went on to have quite a long life like the Bristol, in its second and protracted incarnation as the Avanti II. But let’s not go down that road today, as it gets bumpier the further one goes. The Avanti’s original design, for better or for worse, did not lend itself well to “modernizing”; it should have just been left alone.
Egbert was open to either a two-passenger or four-passenger sports coupe, but Loewy insisted on the latter. Given the Thunderbird’s evolution and success, limited Corvette sales, and the growing interest in four-seat personal luxury coupes, it was obviously the wiser choice. But the Avanti’s seats, dash, console and other design aspects make it clear that it was targeted to a more active driver than the Thunderbird, starting with its integral roll bar, quite visible here.
The Avanti’s instrument panel was the antithesis of typical Detroit affairs, with their over-sized malformed speedometers spread across three feet of real estate, and a few “idiot lights”. The hood bulge terminated in a superb wrap-around panel, bedecked with a full complement of no-nonsense SW gauges. Rear differential oil temperature ok? It’s easy to see why Avanti owners are so enthusiastic about their them, when their cars communicate so effectively with them.
It wasn’t just the dash, of course, that endeared the Avanti to its drivers. The Avanti was the first American production car to have caliper disc brakes as standard (Dunlop-licensed design built by Bendix). And in order to give the disc brakes a workout, the Avanti offered different stages of tune on its venerable 289 CID V8. The base Jet-Thrust R1 already had a high-lift cam, heavy-duty internal components, four-barrel carb and dual exhausts, to yield an estimated 240 hp. The mufflers on the Avanti were notoriously loud, specifically so specified by Egbert; as if folks weren’t going to notice every Avanti on the streets anyway.
Adding a Paxton belt-driven supercharger upped the ante to some 285-290 hp, in the R2. And nine production Avantis got the legendary R3, which was bored out to 304.5 cubic inches, and had transistorized ignition and higher boost, all resulting in at least 335 wooly horsepower. The R4 and R5 were strictly experimental units, with up to 575 hp.
Andy Granatelli took the Avanti to Bonneville and easily set a slew of international speed records. Mickey Thompson was after the same ones with a hot 421 tri-power Pontiac that probably had some 100 hp on the Avanti. But what gave the Avanti the advantage was its drastically more aerodynamic body, estimated to have a Cd of “in the high 0.30s”, as well as a much smaller frontal area.
The records were bagged, and it gave the Avanti bragging rights as the “World’s Fastest Production Car”. Unfortunately, that certainly wouldn’t apply to the Avanti’s production process or its sales take rate.
The Avanti’s body was not originally conceived to be made of fiberglass, but the realities of tooling up for a steel one was out of the question. Most of all, time was of the essence; Egbert was an impatient man, and he knew he had limited time on his hands to perform a miracle. The molds for a GRP body were much quicker and cheaper to make than all the tooling for a steel body.
Egbert’s wanted the bodies to be made in the South Bend plant, but was wisely talked out of that, and its production was subbed out to Molded Fiberglass Products. But the initial molds were not properly sized for expansion and contraction, and the first 100 bodies were almost unusable, requiring massive amounts of hand cutting, patching and fitting. The result was an echo of 1953, when serious production snags held up the new Starliner coupes.
Some have speculated that Molded Fiberglass Products, which also built the Corvette’s bodies, sabotaged the Avanti with the ill-fitting shells, on the behest of GM. Makes for a good conspiracy theory, but in reality, Studebaker’s budget and time constraints were the real source of the problems. Haste makes waste…
As alluded to earlier, the Avanti was as slow to leave the factory door as it was fast on the sands. A mere 3,834 of 1963 Avantis were sold, followed by 809 of the slightly-revised 1964s. And although some claim (still today) that the initial production snafus were the reason for the poor sales, the evidence clearly suggessts otherwise. Production issues were sorted out soon enough, after the first 100 bodies, and from then on the problem was unsold Avantis littering up the factory floor. Why?
It just didn’t catch on; neither with the Studebaker sales force and dealers nor with the public. The Avanti was just too different and unusual, and was referred to as “the anteater from South Bend”, among other names. Americans want to buy into the next hot thing, car or otherwise, and the Avanti was just not it. It was a dud; one that buyers weren’t going to part their money with, especially when Buick had its new Riviera in the showrooms. And Chevrolet its new Sting Ray. And if that wouldn’t have done the deed, the Mustang was just around the corner.
Raymond Loewy was born in Paris to Austrian and French parents, and his intrinsic taste was decidedly more continental than American. Although his design firm was responsible for a number of successful American industrial designs of all kinds–mostly not cars–the Avanti was the purest expression of a Loewy-mobile ever put into production. His personal cars were hardly mainstream, and typically quite exotic, like this 1956 Jaguar-based coupe. Now before you pile in on it, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between designing something for your personal use and for a client. Still…
His 1957 custom-bodied BMW 507 coupe is one of the tamer ones, and already hints at a number of Avanti design elements to come.
The last car he designed and built for himself (in 1960) before the Avanti was this Lancia Flamina based coupe, called the Loraymo. Its anteater front end doesn’t hint at the Avanti in the least.
But the rear half certainly does. Loewy’s renderings that he took to Palm Springs were essentially an evolution of the Loraymo, except with a very different front end; blunt, with four headlights.
Sherwood Egbert essentially commissioned Loewy to design a car he might well have built for himself, and that was taking a substantial risk. In previous Studebaker design commissions, Loewy drew from a wider range of creative input, and the design process went through various stages of development with management feedback at each key step. There’s little doubt these affluent Americans enjoying their drinks in this Palm Springs house would have been better served with something a bit more familiar: a Manhattan or Martini instead of a Loewy on the rocks.
But like many fine French wines, the Loewy Avanti has aged remarkably well. Fifty years after it first arrived, the Avanti is still a breath of…well…different air, if not exactly so fresh anymore. It’s as distinctive and unmistakable a car as it gets, which is a tribute to Raymond Loewy and his three co-prisoners. But it’s hardly what the buying public wanted, especially from a company that was on the rocks already.
One of my very favorite cars, and this excellent piece does it full justice. I have written before about how one of these figured so prominently in my youth. The father of one of my first best friends was a die-hard Studebaker man. He bought a new 1964 Avanti, a metallic red one identical to the square headlight car in the picture above, except that it was one of the few 64s with round lights. It was the supercharged R2 with a 4 speed. The car was loaded, except for a/c, which could not be had with the supercharger due to a lack of room under the hood.
Bill became my original car-mentor, and I soaked up everything he had to tell me about Studebakers in general and Avantis in particular. I never understood that they were odd and unpopular cars built on a heavily massaged Lark chassis. To me, the car was a rare, exotic, high performance car.
You are right about sitting on the floor – the Lark frame was not a “step down” design, and the body sat fully atop the chassis. The front occupants’ legs went straight out, like in a Corvette. The interiors in these cars were masterfully done, with very high quality materials and a well finished look. The instrument panel was very far ahead of its time, with the driver-centered panel that would become common in Detroit by the end of the decade (like in almost every American car by 1969). Even features like an interior cable trunk release was decades ahead of common usage. The red instrument lighting and the row of switches over the windshield was cool as hell.
These cars felt very tight and solid, from my memory, unlike the steel Studes of those days. Thank you for this great start to a holiday weekend!
“One of my very favorite cars, and this excellent piece does it full justice. ”
Agreed. An informative look at a memorable car.
Let’s face it, you either love the design or hate it – there’s no in-between with the Avanti … true then, true now. (Just try taking one to an oldies car show, as I have.)
I thought your article was fairly well balanced, but I don’t understand why, at certain points, you give over to the “dark side” of writing, with creativity that sacrifices true perspective.
1. “Americans want to buy into the next hot thing, car or otherwise, and the Avanti was just not it. It was a dud; one that buyers weren’t going to part their money with…” and “and from then on the problem was unsold Avantis littering up the factory floor. Why?”
This may have been true, but what is equally true is that people didn’t want to buy a car from a company that could (and did) go bankrupt – and who could blame them.
Yet, despite all that, there were upwards to 20,000 unfilled orders for the Avanti, and who knows how many thousands who just gave up due to factory production delays. The opportunity window just simply closed.
2. “The Avanti was just too different and unusual, and was referred to as “the anteater from South Bend”…
Frankly, I never heard that expression, but you say it as if it was a common knowledge of the Avanti and then turn round and say … “… the Loraymo. Its anteater front end doesn’t hint at the Avanti in the least.” (If that’s true, why bother making the first statement?)
I could go on, whereby the left side of an argument is immediately off set by the right side – which only makes political sense – but you’re obviously a good writer, notwithstanding.
Finally, I want to end with two final points, of which your readers may not be aware.
Sherwood Egbert: he really was a true car guy who came from the Paxton division of Studebaker’s empire – the Board of Directors? – not so much. In fact, when they decided that they could make more money selling toasters (and dumping over 5000 jobs in the process) Egbert argued that they should diversify, but plough the corresponding revenue into the auto division. He sided with workers and was also dumped – just weeks after JFK’s assassination.
Tom Kellogg: he had just graduated from design school when he joined Lowey, because of his great talent. (The others were average guys and veterans of the car business.)
He was still designing in his sixties when he was approached to design the last Avanti – the AVX – I believe in 1999. Before his untimely death in an auto accident, I had the great pleasure to receive an email from him. He told me that he always thought that the Avanti was “cosmic”… in that there was always some investor – smitten by the Avanti – who wanted to keep it going.
I like that description. And, when I see any other car from that time, it’s so obviously characteristic of that era. When people see the Avanti, they can’t believe its design is over 50 years old.
That’s quite a legacy!
Just a note of clarification: The Lowey team may have been “average guys” in that they weren’t snobs, but they were all fantasic car designers – Lowey never suffered fools lightly.
Thank you, I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Thanks for the feedback.
Regarding your point #1: This may have been true, but what is equally true is that people didn’t want to buy a car from a company that could (and did) go bankrupt – and who could blame them. Quite true, and I’d say it was almost implicit when I said the Avanti was not the next hot thing. I don’t think any Studebaker could have been “the next hot” at that stage, precisely for that reason. There was the aversion to the likely bankruptcy, as well as Studebaker being seen as a stodgy brand. Brand identity and association is a critical factor in any car being “the next hot thing”. Identifying with a “loser” is the antithesis of “the hot thing”.
#2 The quote about the Avanti being called “the anteater from Southbend” was taken directly from Richard Langsworth’s book, where he quotes an unhappy Studebaker dealer. No doubt, many Studebaker dealers were not smitten with the Avanti.
The Loraymo really does look like an anteater. Stylistically, that was probably a poor choice to use the words like that twice.
Langsworth makes a compelling argument (based on a number of key interviews) that the Avanti’s demise was not primarily the result of initial production snafus, but the inability to effectively sell the car, by the Studebaker Sales force to the dealers, and by the dealers to customers. But obviously, that’s an argument that seems to never end.
I think the Avanti was destined to fail, most of all because it was a Studebaker, and its looks were a bit too much out of the mainstream. If those aren’t two big enough obstacles enough, the rest just added to the inevitable failure.
One additional key thing is that the Avanti was positioned too much as a hard-core “driver’s car”, and its noisy mufflers, on-the-floor seating, and other qualities didn’t endear it with the crowd that was buying T-Birds and Rivieras in large quantities. That market segment wasn’t really after a genuine sports car, and the Corvette had proven how small the market was for that.
Thanks for the additional insights.
Growing up in South Bend as I did, though being born a few years after Studebaker was shuttered, I remember Avanti II production and seeing new ones rolling around South Bend’s streets. Original Avantis were very, very rare in South Bend in the late 60s and into the 70s.
IIRC, because I haven’t time to look it up and confirm, Newman and Altman was a Studebaker dealership in South Bend and they somehow took over production of the Avanti. South Bend rooted for what was essentially a specialty automaker as it went through various tough times. It was a giant news story when the Avanti II was bought by a guy who took production to Ohio.
My brother works for a software consulting firm that has its office in a giant warehouse in a cool, hip part of town. One of his colleagues for a while had the last name Altman – of that Altman family. His colleague drove his Avanti II to work frequently, parking it always inside the warehouse. I visited my brother’s office one day and got this shot of the car.
You are right about Newman and Altman. Nate Altman was the guy behind the Avanti II. They started with a batch of unused frames and I believe they hired old Gene Hardig (Studebaker’s last Chief Engineer) to adapt a Chevy drivetrain to the car. I believe they started with a 327 in 1967 then went to a 350. I used to see Avanti IIs in Fort Wayne from time to time, and even got far enough with my father in 1976 that he ordered the literature and called Nate Altman. Altman said “it’s not going to ride like your Mark”, and that was the end of that. The Avanti II was a true custom, and you could have it painted any automotive color you wanted, and an interior trimmed with any material or color you chose.
The II was identifiable only by the elimination of the Studebaker’s “forward rake” (the front was raised a tad and the rear lowered) and the lack of Studebaker badging on the exterior. It’s about the only non-Chevy that I won’t bitch about for having a SBC under the hood. 🙂
I always thought that the raising of the hoodline to accommodate the Chevy engine ruined the look of the original.
The more pictures I see, the more I think the Avanti should still be in production. I’d much rather see these being built than customs like the http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/galpin-to-manufacture-million-dollar-ford-gtr1/
+100 I can’t imagine why they did it, and for anybody with some aesthetic sensibility, it was a cruel thing to so. The Avanti’s body and it relationship to the ground it sat on were not something to mess with.
i remember being really impressed with a gold colored avanti i saw as a kid. my father told me it was a canadian studebaker that was faster than a jaguar. don’t know where he got that idea from but i saw a white avanti ii a little while later and wondered why it looked so awful.
I think they even would supercharge the small block if you requested it, there is an old Bud Lindeman Car & Track road test of an Avanti online.
I own a 67 II with a 327cu with a super charger off a P-51 Aircraft.
Might say it is unusual.
The Yo-Yo who owned it before me sprayed the dash with Black enamel
and I’m tying to get it off. What some people will do to others is criminal.
Streaky and just really a dis honest job. Hope someone out there knows the guy who did it. Also changed the trans after I bought it! Hope he has met his maker.
Bud Lindemann was a great man and way, way ahead of his time. He had a great voice for the show and he always sounded “real” and sincere. Car and Track was an awesome TV show. The show aired in the heart of the muscle car era and while most of the cars showcased were high performance cars the show also covered ordinary cars and even cars like the British Plymouth Cricket and the AMC Gremlin. My favorite segment was the segment on the Hurst Olds which hit 60 in the fives which was extremely quick for its day and still pretty quick compared to today’s cars. I just wish the show had run longer. I’d be interested in a Car and Track segment on, say, a 1958 Mercury Super Marauder 400 HP 430 MEL engine with 3 carburetors or a Power Pack ’55 Chevy. I can’t praise Lindemann enough. He was a pioneer. I like Car and Track’s no-nonsense style better than the corniness of shows like the US version of Top Gear which is full of lame jokes. RIP Bud, you are missed.
I believe that for the Avanti II they deraked the whole body mounting, raising the front, and had to add a filler panel at the top of the front wheel opening. They also added a bit of sharp finniness to the rear fenders, which is obvious from the rear.
Later versions with non-chrome windshield frame and modern bumpers were huge mistakes. And the original with round or rectangular headlights is by far the most awesome and I’m guessing the most valuable.
Really great piece!
Ive always had a thing for Avantis but I’ve definitely seen more of the reborn one than the original.
The main thing I wanted to comment on was how Italian that interior looks. If you showed someone that and told them to guess, you’ll most likely get Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maseratti. Definitely ahead of the game in America.
The problem with the subject car is the wheel choice. That’s why it looks off. All the other ones featured look good. The small wide tires make it look kit car-ish in the pictures. Maybe it’s different in person.
Loved the Avanti when it first came out and still do. Always thought the original is best. The sloping fenders and the round headlights should never have been changed. They could have put a bulge in the hood if needed for engine clearance. Heck the hood already has a raised area.
The round headlights are far better looking than the headlight with the squared off bezels. The round headlights are the coolest thing about the Avanti to me. The ’63 (and early ’64) are unique looking cars with an odd but pretty front end design, while the late ’64s and the Avanti IIs’ front ends just look regular and generic and uninspired. Long live the original Avanti front end.
I saw that clue last night, and I could not even identify it as a (car) body part, much less guess what kind of car.
I was mildly obsessed with the Avanti II as a kid, not really having ever seen the original. The design fascinated me, and after having learned a bit about its origins, thought it was really cool that someone would resurrect this car from the ashes. I wrote to the factory, in my seventh grade handwriting (paper, pen and a postage stamp…wow) and requested literature, like I was interested in buying one. I still have the small brochure they sent me.
Some of the Avanti’s weirdest design aspects would appear to be the result of Studebaker needing to reach into its parts bin. The awkward detailing of the rear “tuck under” was the result of adapting the Avanti to the Lark’s chassis. Meanwhile, the high cowl and overly small, flat windshield have an unfortunate family resemblance to the 1953-64 Loewy coupe/Hawk.
The Avanti’s failure may partly have been the result of its relatively high price, which matched an entry-level T-Bird but was more than the Stingray and Riviera. The car may have also veered too far toward sporty, e.g., Richard Langworth states that Studebaker CEO Sherwood Egbert called for “the loudest mufflers that could get past the law.”
The grand irony of the Avanti is that Studebaker invested so much money into a car that sold fewer copies than the then-ancient Hawk. In retrospect it is understandable why this happened; the Hawk, even in its Gran Turismo form, was fairly inexpensive and had a luxury-oriented appeal that better fit the parts Studebaker could draw from.
Egbert may have created an instant classic, but he also displayed remarkably poor business judgment. Just goes to show what tends to happen when a non-car guy takes over an automaker.
The irony of Egbert’s tenure was that the S-P board had selected him because they figured that as a non-automotive guy, he would be on board with winding down the automotive business to focus on what looked like more viable subsidiaries like Gravely and Chemical Compounds/STP. The fact that Egbert became enthusiastic about the car business was probably a big surprise.
One more thing and I’ll shut up – it occurs to me that these cars showed the innate goodness of the little Studebaker V8. The design came out in 1951 and, other than the handful of 304.5 cid R3 cars, maxed out its displacement at 289 cid. Still, they were able to supercharge it, stress it with high compression, and get the thing to near 300 horsepower which turned out to be quite fast in the fairly lightweight cars that Studebaker built.
Of the many raps about Studebakers of this era, fragile and brittle engines is not one of them, even for the higher performance units. It is a shame that the engineers did not build more room for growth into the thing. Imagine the speeds Granatelli could have gotten out of an Avanti with a 350-360 cid engine.
Studebaker’s V-8 castings were “beefy.” What began as a 232 was successively bored out to 259, then 289, then 304.5 c.i. And, depending on characteristics of individual castings, some were successfully bored to 310.
The castings were also, as one might assume, heavy… the original design was developed for promised high(ER)-octane gasolines and could be built with compression rations of 12:1 or 14:1!
As Studebaker shut down the South Bend foundry, it was in the midst of developing even larger engines for the Avanti. There are stories of 340 c.i. blocks, again, based on the original castings but with thinner walls. Most stories circulating mention a run of six blocks, with 1 or 2 having been machined, but figures do vary.
All I can think of his what a stunning roadster this car should have been. The Gremlinesque rear quarter window & bubble glass ruin it for me. This is such a beautiful machine to me otherwise.
The instrument panel is incredible, especially for a 60’s era car. I bet a stick-shift model would be a delightful car to drive. Why why WHY couldn’t this have been a convertible?
I’m not trying to be a smarta**, but you DO realize there was a convertible variant built by the time the Avanti was based in Youngstown, Ohio. This would have been during the Kelly ownership period (I think) in the mid to late 1980s.
The attached picture was taken at the Butler Institute of American Art. I was present for a few of the shots, as my older brother’s former boss was in the advertising department for the Cafaro version of the Avanti. He invited us by to see the shoot. Additionally, I had been an intern/porter at the Butler in the early 1980’s, so I knew the building rather well at that time.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the Avanti before, but after I got to see these close up I became one. These were handbuilt cars, totally customizable. John Cafaro tried very hard to expand the line, emphasizing the four door version over the coupe and the convertible. It didn’t take long until Cafaro soured on all the headaches that is car production and sold the whole thing back to Kelly. It really went downhill from there, IMO.
I’d love to have any of the Avanti’s that were still built with the SBC, at least through the Cafaro era. Some of the Blake era cars really resonate with me, as I thought he had done a lot to bring the car up to (then) modern standards.
Did you miss the picture of that very same red Avanti II convertible in my article? Slow down a bit, George 🙂
Wait, wait… Ooops! There it is….
I swear I’m going blind…
Or was Junqueboi pulling our collective legs?
One of my all-time favorites! Call it my lottery car.
“bedecked with a full complement of no-nonsense SW gauges. Rear differential oil temperature ok?”
You know, I was never really committed one way or the other on the Avanti. I’ve never seen one in the flesh but style wise it didn’t turn me off and it didn’t turn me on. But those words above about the full compliment of Stewart-Warner gauges… Damn it, now I want one.
The SW gauges are cool, but they way they are placed in the dash makes me thing “boat console” more than car.
I’ve read too many copies of “Hot Rod” & “Rod and Custom” & etc. Those gauges don’t even stick out to me in the way they are arranged.
These have always fascinated me, although my exposure to them has been a bit slim.
About twelve years ago, when I was living an hour north of Kansas City, Mrs. Jason and I went to a garage sale in a very nice neighborhood. There was a tarp in the corner of the (very large) garage. As I was eyeballing it, the owner came over and pulled back the tarp. It was a ’63 Avanti he used in various road races in the SW United States. While he wouldn’t fully disclose what had been done to the factory engine, he had a larger roll bar and a huge assortment of gauges in the cockpit.
It created a new dimension of appreciation for these very special Studebakers.
Great article, Paul. I’ve always loved the Avanti’s styling, in my opinion it’s the best looking American car ever built, I wish somebody would put this back in production. Tom Kellog designed an updated version of the Avanti-some time in the ’90s I believe but I never liked it as much as the original.
I read somewhere that after Studebaker ceased production Nate Altman approached both Checker Motor Co. and American Motors about resuming product of the Avanti- and both companies turned him down. It was after that Altman purchased the tooling from Studebaker and began building Avantis himself.
Further proof that I was a strange child (who has grown into a strange adult) as Studebakers were probably my favorite cars. I thought the Avanti was IT! How nice that just last weekend here in the St. Louis area we had a Studebaker show which included the most original Avantis that I had seen in one place at any time.
I am very familiar with them, but once again was greatly impressed with the clean, uncluttered, logical interior, still modern after over fifty years.
A bit of minutiae: Ian Flemings last car.
There used to be a fair number of Avanti IIs running around my neck of the woods, but I can count on one hand the number of Studebaker Avantis I’ve ever seen. The early Avanti II cars weren’t too terrible, despite the altered stance, but the less said about the 1984+ models the better. Sometimes the past is best left in the past.
What a beautiful car,from the rear 3/4 view it looks like some exotic Italian.A true example of timeless elegance
My first car was a Studebaker. Certain no resemblance to this. I was a poor sailor overseas when it came out and for all intents and purposes it was done when I returned. Thanks for the story. Sort of brings things up to date.
More fascinating background on the Avanti. Just imagine…if the reprobate Studebaker-Packard board of directors had been motivated to, not close, but SELL the automotive division! With the Avanti as the halo model; and the Lark still selling…it could easily have fit with American Motors or with Daimler-Benz.
Ah, coulda-woulda-shoulda. ‘Twas not to be….
Never noticed the upward sweep of the door before. It obviously shows up best with a white Avanti.
I was a poor graduate student when I first saw the Avanti in the little dinky Studebaker dealership in Corvallis, Oregon. I was making payments on a 7-year-old Mercury at the time and could no more afford an Avanti than the man in the moon, but I was certainly impressed by the car.
I heard an Avanti start up in a Manhattan parking garage in 1963. I thought I would have a polar moment.
If I read correctly, although Sherwood Egbert didn’t actually come up in automotive engineering and sales, he was an engineer of sorts, being the guy who ran Paxton-McCullough when he was recruited to run Studebaker. His task from the board was to “run out” automotive production; Egbert did the opposite – he put a shot in the arm of the car division by hiring Brooks Stevens, updating (as time and budgets would allow) the Lark and the Hawk, and of course, the Avanti.
I understand that he WAS a car enthusiast in terms of what he personally drove (Mercedes 300SE’s and the like) so the Turismo Hawk and the Avanti really aren’t a surprise. In terms of whether or not the Avanti was a bad business decision, I disagree. Considering Studebaker’s position at the time, creating this as a halo car along with an (inexpensive) update to the Hawk did bring positive attention to Studebaker. Unfortunately, in retrospect, it hastened their demise as a car builder because there were no real modern bread and butter products, per se, as the Larks were still considered “compact” and the field of competitors made things crowded. This might have changed things if the Sceptre made it to production, but unfortunately, Egbert fell ill with cancer and was out of the picture. Studebaker then had lost its biggest cheerleader and “car guy.” The board axed automotive production, shuttered South Bend (except to finish existing orders and finish out engine castings) in ’64.
Yes, Gordon Grundy in Canada was able to get a stay of execution, but even as that deal was struck for continued production in Hamilton, the board did make it clear that funding for further model development would be next to zero.
I don’t remember if Egbert was an engineer by training, but he had been the executive vice president of the McCulloch Corporation, which mainly made chainsaws and other small gasoline engines.
Paxton Products was originally created in 1953 as McCulloch’s research division (Paxton was Bob McCulloch’s middle name) and spun off as a subsidiary in 1954. Their biggest product was an automotive supercharger, but they also did some other stuff like a garage door opener, most of which didn’t work out well. Paxton lost a bunch of money and so in 1958, McCulloch sold it to Andy Granatelli. Granatelli got to know Egbert pretty well, and so after Egbert went to Studebaker he called Granatelli up and hired him as a consultant, buying Paxton Products in the process. (Granatelli subsequently became head of Chemical Compounds, later renamed STP after their biggest product.)
A seminal car from my youth, and one of the factors contributing to my original CC posting, “Cars of My Grandfather”. (Which reminds me- Paul, could you place my byline on that article as well?). In fact, I’ve actually referenced the Avanti in two postings, since I included an Avanti picture in my car show report from Canton, South Dakota.
Because my Grandfather owned one, I’ve always loved the Avanti for its emotional appeal. The body lines are striking, the stance unique, and the interior featured unique design elements still appear today (An interior pass through to the trunk, and an overhead console with aviation style switch gear and map lights).
On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have a driver’s license when Grandpa owned his. Based on the dated chassis design, I’m sure the driving experience would reinforce that fundamental automotive rule that a strong visual appeal does not guarantee a quality driving experience.
So thank you, Paul. It’s good to see an unbiased review that factors in all the forces that led to the decision to build the car. I especially enjoyed your argument that unfettering Raymond Loewy created a car that appealed to a minority, rather than one loved by the majority. Speaking for the minority, this approach built a car that generated an impassioned following, who still find the Avanti’s lines appealing forty years later.
Is it just me or is there a resemblance between the awkward rear 3/4 of this car and the awkward rear 3/4 of the RX8? In both cases, it seems like the designers put a lot of effort into a great front end and then ran out of time or steam by the time they got the back.
But with this car, the middle is still only so-so, just doesn’t have the right proportions. That Starliner was gorgeous, the Avanti looks like a kit car. I was suprised though at the interior, that is really very nice and even modern looking, wouldn’t be so out of place in a car today.
In the summer 0f 73 I was in South Bend buying parts for a 57 Transtar and was parked on the lot between standard Surplus and the Avanti 11 plant, I walked over stuck may head in and Nate came out and said “come in and let me show you what I’m doing”.
It took him about 15 minutes to sell me a used silver blue, 4 speed, wire wheels with blue suede seats, great car, and a nice man.
I think in its original form (’63), with supercharger (one needs the little emblem on the front fender…my eyes are always drawn right there!), with the original-size tires with whitewalls in the right width and placement, with the original off-white wheels, and with the original rake, and with the outside mirror on the driver’s door, not out on the fender–there are few cars more striking. Someone told me once he thought its styling was dated…to that, I’d say, ‘you gotta be kidding me?’ You can dislike it, but I don’t know how anyone can say its styling is outdated compared to anything else introduced to the public in summer of 1962. I could very much enjoy owning one.
First off I have to say I have always loved these cars. So unique and clean in design. Was tempted to buy one from a car corral years ago at a car show. Not sure if it was a I or a II. Curious regarding Dude’s comment above regarding the outside mirrors. Are the mirrors mounted on the fenders of the white Avanti a factory option? In looking at all the other photos I don’t see any outside mirrors (door mounted OR fender mounted). Were mirrors of either kind an option or are they not shown in press release photos and ads to further emphasize the clean design or the car?
I didn’t know the Avanti body was supposed to be made of steel. What a shame that didn’t happen. The upper body is prettier than on the Jensen Interceptor protege and sportier than any of the Big 3 offerings except maybe the Stingray fastback.
The way the lines came together back there, with the flat roof and windscreen — pure artistry and more iconic than the front end in my opinion. Also love the rear 3/4 view with the perfectly formed fenders and simple tucked-under tail.
Looks like Paul had as much fun photographing this as he did the ’65 Corvair. Great shots.
Actually, I didn’t shoot this; it was posted at the Cohort by Alpha Foden, and I gave him credit at the top of the post. I just gave up waiting to find a genuine Studebaker Avanti, and these are great curbside shots.
Maybe it’s because I love the look of the Jensen Interceptor and the 70’s Aston Martins, but I love the look of that rear end. This car always had an interesting, though awkward look to me overall. The front end and the windshield just seem wrong, but then you see the back. I just love it from the rear wheel arch back. It’s slim and muscular all at once. Kind of like the original Mustang through 66. It’s svelte, yet strong.
Since you mentioned the Mustang, you might be interested in knowing that the folks at Barret-Jackson Auctions have described the Avanti as the original “pony car”.
I’ve seen two Avantis in my lifetime, and fortunately both were at car shows so I had the time to check them out. I like them. To me, they’re a very clean and jaunty design, unlike anythng else on the road in 1963 and they still look good today. Definitely something that would have a home in my dream garage.
It’s been at least 20 years, but I recall one at a car show.
Rare to see one anywhere now.
When I saw the rear of the new Jaguar F-Type, I thought “Avanti”
I rode in a bright red one once, dont know what year it was. It was owned by a neighbor, a very strange man, an ex-cop, who bought it, and his house, with money he won in a lawsuit he filed after being run over by some guy he pulled over one night. He had it until he died in the 199o’s, and then I don’t know what happened to it afterwards. His buying the Avanti seemed to trigger his neighbors into buying odd cars. The disabled old ex-cop two doors down from him bought a Corvair for his wife, and a Karman-Ghia (I don’t know how it’s spelled), and the next door neighbor bought some very ugly little Italian sports car that spilled it’s connecting rods about 3 months after they bought it. It was never seen again, and they bought a customized Vette to replace it. Orange with white stripes and sidepipes, and really loud mufflers. The Vette stayed until 1970, when a new yellow one took it’s place. They had that one until the later 80’s when it went away, and was replaced with a Buick GN that he had repainted candy apple red (I liked it, it was done very well, I wonder what happened to it
My all time favorite car. I have had a love affair with the Avanti since I was in elementary school and would see one of the doctors in my small hometown terrorize the streets with his ’63 R-1.
I realize the engineering, chassis, and basic workings of the car dated back to 1953, but that body, it’s just, well, something else. Furthermore, while the car, at introduction time, was not as refined as it should be, Studebaker did work diligently to continuously refine and improve the car in its quality and fine details. (Those of us who subscribe to the Studebaker Drivers’ Club forum have had the opportunity to read “The Lamberti papers” which describe the very trying times of Studebaker during the Avanti’s availability period).
As a lover of all things Studebaker, as was my father from who this was inherited, Sherwood Egbert is, in my opinion, a hero for what he tried to do for the Studebaker automobile division.
Mr. Bill (aka Avantiguy)
My dad owned one of the original nine 63 R3 Avantis. Silver with red interior. S#5593
Regarding the Avanti R3 your father owned – Did your father own Leeper Studebaker in Yuma, AZ? If so, I am trying to find out some history of the dealership, as my R2 powered Lark was sold new in Yuma, at Bob Butcher Studebaker – the dealership prior to Leeper taking over.
About 10 years ago I had a brief chat in a Hollywood Blvd Pep Boys parking lot with a nice older fella whose dark gold ’63 or ’64 had caught my eye. His was definitely a Stude, not a II (not that there’s anything wrong with that). He showed me round his car, and said (IIRC) that as a youth in 1963, he had wanted an Avanti but could only afford the slightly-cheaper Stingray. (We should all have such problems!) Then, later in life, he also got his dream of getting an Avanti. Can’t recall if his was supercharged, but it was a stick, and definitely a goer not just a shower.
My other Avanti anecdote, from even further back in time. Maybe someone on here can verify, but I have distinct memories from an Avanti parked (though not for long) on my street as a kid, that there were little chrome plaques on the door panels which read something like: “ELECTRIC WINDOWS NOT TO BE OPERATED AT SPEEDS OF OVER 100 MPH.” Although this is probably good advice in any car, it’s especially important in the Avanti as a sudden blast of air at that speed can apparently blow that huge curvaceous bubble of a backlight right out of its frame!
My company, Hollywood Loser, pays tribute to the original round-headlamp Avanti I with this exclusive T-shirt. Available with or without the logo:
Thanks for another great article. I know the Avanti story pretty well, but still learned new things about it today.
My neighbor’s 64 Avanti had power windows but I don’t recall the warning plaque that you saw. We kids just knew it was a fast car because of the 160 or 180 mph speedo, which of course meant that the car’s top speed was the highest number on the dash.
I believe there was a warning informing the operator not to lower the side windows, either power operated or manual crank, at excessively high speeds as the Avanti’s back window tended to blow out if this was done.
Mr. Bill (aka Avantiguy)
I believe this is somewhat of a urban legend. Nowhere in any of the Avanti specs and data is any mention of such a warning. Back in the ’60s there was a novelty sticker you could buy with this warning, a lot of people put them on VWs as a gag
I re-read my response and I am sorry that it appears to substantiate that there was an actual warning sticker placed on an Avanti about the back window. To my knowledge, there never was such a thing, However, I have read on more than one Studebaker/Avanti forum that the back window, especially on early Avantis, tended to blow out at excessively high speeds when the side windows were down. Truth, or urban legend, I won’t stake my life on either one here, I’m just recounting what I have read.
My comment was more general because Alexander had asked for verification, I didn’t mean to sound like I was countering your comment specifically, sorry if I came off that way
No, you are fine Ottomobill – my response wasn’t quite how I wanted it!
Mr. Bill (aka Avantiguy)
When I think of the unrestricted design talent available in the 50’s and 60s, then I look at the classic icons that came out in just a year’s time, 1963/64, I understand why I started lusting after cars at such an early age
I actually drove an original ’63 R2 in LA in the 80s. By the way, an earlier post surmised that “driving one with a stick must have been fun”. It was, up to a point but the rear end was so low that it felt like there should be at least two more gears. It certainly attracted attention.
Great car. Had never seen it before, nor did I know about these, since Studebakers were not that common here. But last saturday, I visited an old car museum in my region, in southern Chile, which resulted to be the largest Studebaker collection outside the US (about 65 Studebakers from a total of 130 cars: http://www.moncopulli.cl). And I couldn’t believe when I saw a white Avanti, just like the one in the article. It is also the only car in the collection which was not bought/found here (note the Oregon plates). What I did’t know is that Studebakers were also built in Arica, Chile for some years, even after the US production stop… I think I’ll have to research more about it.
LOL!!! That was my car…. I sold it to them… Last time I looked inside it still had the Ryan Lucas name plate…
imagine owning one,just imagine owning an avanti and a gt hawk ..i mean who hasent fallen in love with this car i know i have.
i do own one of each
i currently own a 1967 Avanti II red with a 327 corvette engine 3 speed auto.Just love the styling. So James Bond looking and drives and handles great. The Avanti just is a timeless look.
Great article about one of my favorite cars. Both my grandfather, who ran the parts department, and my father worked for Studebaker. Around town, in the late 60s and early 70s you would see a 63′ every now and again and our neighbor had a 64′ well into the 80s. I’d lost track of the cars when we moved east to Boston, but fell in love again while driving past a farm at the end of our street. Parked in the back of the garage, the tail of a white 63′ was just showing through. Stopping by a couple of years later, I met the son of the owner and found out it was an R1, bought new by his father in 64′ abd stored for the last 20 years. Beautiful car.
Thank you for this blast from the past. My husband and I bought an original (used) Avanti R2 before we married and then drove it from MD to TX as newlyweds. It had several special characteristics not mentioned in your article: part of the instrumentation was actually above the windshield in the center, and was inspired by airplane instrumentation; it also had more of a ‘rake’ than shown in the photos, giving it a less awkward side presentation, but contributing to it being nose-heavy, along with the heavy engine- both of us had it spin 180 degrees in wet weather even at slow speeds. We loved the car, but eventually sold it when the frame rusted to an extreme extent. We later purchased an Avanti II with a Chevy 350 engine. They were always among our favorite cars, both for styling and driving.
of all the r engine studebaker from r1 to r5 the horse power ratings were much higher than they say… dino tests revel that eg, a r2 say at 289 hp has been tested and came out at 320 approx or just under .. a r4 has much more than 280 hp a r5 has been tested at 664 hp so yea…most over 600 a r1 at 240 hp comes out at 254 hp .. maybe thats why we got 140 mph out of a 1963 lark r1 automatic with a 3.08 diff yet they say 115 and some say 132 .. yea well ..facts are facts…ill go by my own..and what i find with all studebaker performances .. i know they are good…drags or what ever…right set up matters .. cheers pete
I love my 63 Avanti R2 when I go to car shows it always draws a big crowd .
The sound of the loud tone mufflers makes me feel good I have owned it 10
years , I have rebuilt & replaced many parts , I belong to The Studebaker Drivers
Club & the Avanti Owners club .
My Dad drove Larks, the last one (’62) a two-door post with 289 4-barrel, dual exhausts, stick overdrive, and Twin (posi) Traction. In that light car it was a bomb.
While I have owned and loved a ’64 Sting Ray for almost 50 years, the Avanti beats it because of the back seat IMO. Two buddies can’t pick up girls in a Corvette!
I consider the Avanti the best-styled postwar (WWII) American car. Update the wheels and tires each decade and it looks brand new!
My pick for best-styled prewar American car? Easy, Cord 810 sedan.
Great article. I have been in love with the Avanti since 62 when they came out. I liked the view from the rear with the larger exhaust tips. The were larger then most cars back then. When they put chevy motors in the Avanti II the fan blade would go thru the hood so the front end had to be pivoted up for fan clearance is what I have been told. I have owned 2 Avantis in the past. I am building an 1930 Erskine street rod that is using as much Avanti design points as possible. Love those Avantis!
Well done article. I’ve always really liked Avantis. Their design is unique, and if you think of it, the rear passenger side windows as well as the fenders, are a reverse design of what was going on in America at that time. The Avanti was a pioneer in several regards, and the use of the Paxton supercharger really defined it as a true performance car.
As is many the fate of a car, the Avanti had the unfortunate luck of poor timing. The Corvette was still trying to define itself as a real force, as its shortcomings in 1953 were saved by several people at Chevrolet that were willing to lose money on it to realize its potential. And the game changing Stingray was still a year away (GM had already toned down Shinoda’s more wilder designs with it). Studebaker made the wise decision to make it a four seater (something that made the Mustang a practical sporty car), but in some respects, that had already struck a compromise in the minds of hardcore sports car enthusiasts that had no need for the seats in the back, anyways. From that, one can understand that even the Mustang had its fair share of doubters in the design stages that thought that it was the “next Edsel”.
I’m sure a lot of prospective buyers noticed that the front seat was on the floor because a lowered floor for your feet was not possible and the rear seat had no legroom for the same reason. I think possibly the rear seat had half-footwells inside the frame, like the ’53 and on coupes. Obviously a half-assed solution if they were there.
The ride must have been pretty stiff because of the choices made in spring and shock rates and anti-roll bars to try to make the old chassis handle. Everyone knew about all these compromises at the time, and I bet the ’53 chassis really basically dates back to the first postwar ’47 chassis. They never even updated to ball joints like everyone else did even if retrofitting onto an older frame. All that plus everyone knowing that Studebaker was going down kept all but really justifiably enamored buyers away.
Also initially the plain panels on the console and behind the instruments were an easily corrected mistake. They should have been brushed stainless or wood from the beginning. The crappy parts bin door handles were just because they couldn’t do better. And all those Stewart Warner gauges had archaic surrounds and and could have been ordered from J C Whitney. They had no money to inject any style into them so it just looked home made kit car, particularly without the distraction of wood or stainless. Quite strangely, Studebakers in 1953 had way cooler interior door handles and window winders than later Larks did. They should have dug deeper in the parts bin for the Avanti. Probably would have fooled everyone.
People expect the whole car to look designed, not with old parts bin and catalog parts here and there.
And not being able to get the hot supercharged versions with A/C was another cheap compromise drawback. Particularly in the southern half of the country A/C on a non-stripper car was considered a necessity by then and becoming understood to be a necessity in the north as well. It was obviously just quickie bolt on supercharger expediency on an old engine. I was a kid in Arizona and by then, and even in a more temperate 5000 ft elevation area no one bought a car without A/C by then.
I think it’s clear you don’t like the Avanti. You should remember that, when it was conceived, everything Studebaker was doing was ‘on the cheap’. They had very limited resources available to the car division. Parts bin engineering? Take a look at a ’65 Mustang. There were, it’s true, many compromises to get the Avanti into production, but it’s a miracle it was ever built at all.
The most correct comment in your post? “They had no money to inject any style into them”. Exactly, but they did a helluva job with what they had. It’s been jokingly said that Studebaker’s design budget in the early 60s was whatever loose change they found in the desks.
The idea that A/C wasn’t available on supercharged cars because it was a ‘cheap compromise’? No, they just didn’t have room. Many performance cars from major manufacturers had the same limitations. The first that comes to mind was no power steering on big block mopars in early Barracudas, iirc. A/C was still an uncommon option in the early 60s. Except in luxury cars, if you wanted A/C, you wound up with an under the dash box. Just a quick research shows it wasn’t until the late 60s that A/C broke 50% of the new car market. I would say ‘most people’ bought a car without A/C then.
It was hardly a ‘quickie bolt on’ with the supercharger. Studebaker had experience with supercharging their engines going back to the 1957 Hawks. They were well engineered installations, not something slapped on as an afterthought.
While it wasn’t a perfect car, you have to admire the men who dared to try something different, on a shoestring budget, and actually achieved it, however flawed.
… say what you will but the envelope is more or less current – you do not need to squint much to see it in all modern coupe-ish cars produced today.
Avanti fan from way back. Well done Paul. One of those cars that looks so right at certain angles and so wrong at others. I don’t think anyone has mentioned the 4 door version I recall seeing in the 90’s. Was one ever built?
My Dad also worked for Loewy-Snathe(not sure of the spelling) in the 70’s for a short time and felt as an industrial designer, there was no equal to Raymond Loewy.
Also had a family friend who ordered two Avanti II models over the phone directly from Nate. Picked both up at the factory.
I’ve been an Avanti fan from way back…when I was a kid, in the late 80’s, an older couple at our church owned one and would drive it to mass when the weather was nice. If I’m remembering correctly, it was gold. Not sure if it was an original or a II, it’s been too long since I’ve seen it, but if it was a II it was before they started making many changes to the design. Dad was a fan too, and he’s never been much of a car guy. It was definitely the type of vehicle that made an impression!
I was 16 when this car was introduced. While it may not have been “the next hot thing” for adults, most of my buddies (and I) lusted after the Avanti. Of course, none of us could possibly afford such a car as we were all just getting our driver’s licenses and were going through high school…
Although I’ve seen pictures of the Avanti, I only saw one in person. Some people like the round headlamp surrounds, I also like the squarish headlamp surrounds.
the HPs of the avanti R engines were much higher than they said , a R3 with DD valve springs were over 400 Hp and a R5 dino tested could reach 664 a R2 over 300 Hp R1 254 Hp not 240 … this I know
Here’s an image from a newspaper ad in 1964. My father’s first new car was a ’53 coupe. When I was in 11th grade, my best friend’s father bought a new ’63 Avanti, gold paint with orange upholstery, and a supercharger. One Saturday afternoon my friend and I drove the Avanti at about 100 mph, heading south towards Dallas. Unfortunately, because the vents were open, and the windows rolled up, the back window blew out. My friend wasn’t allowed to drive it after that.
just a note , the HP of the stude engines were higher than they said ,, dino tests prove that , depending on diff ratio some were faster too a R2 could reach over 150 mph even a R1 about 140 with tall diff .. the R3 335 hp was really 354 hp with DD valve springs set up ,, well over 400 hp with the right Diff 170 mph the R5 set up , dino test shows well over 600 hp not that 575 they said so yea
What a civil discourse on a legacy subject!
My own experience goes back to architectural design school in 1963-5. Loewy was the subject of an extended lecture within which the diversity of his work was presented and discussed. A medley of locomotives, pencil sharpeners, dutch ovens, corporate logos, refrigerators, Air Force one, the coca cola bottle, early post war Studebakers and of course the Avanti. When the Avanti was shown, then contemporaneous, I knew I had to have one but also knew I lacked the financials to do so.
I think it is without a doubt that Loewy regarded highly and was influenced by the work of Batista Farina, later known as Pinifarina, the design studio for Ferrari, Alpha, Lancia, Maserati, Fiat and numerous other automobile manufacturers. He openly expressed an affection for their ‘stream lining” and future vision. In my view, he was directly influenced by these Italian designs. The logo emblem on the roof support panel is pure Maserati. In no way do I seek to diminish his creativity but he sought, and found, inspiration not in Detroit, but in Turin! He didn’t choose a French, German or English name, he chose Italian, not an accident.
Finally, after over 50 years, I bought my Avanti in November of 2016. It is a registered 1963 but is a model 1964 with round windows but interior 1964 details. It is R4944, delivered in August of 1964 to a buyer in Connecticut.
Today, when I drive it on the streets of Houston, it turns heads, 55 years after it’s production and 57 years after its design. Truly amazing. Regarding the discussion about its “failure, I think the jury is in, it was not a failure, it was early. What production car anywhere has had Phoenix like rebirths like has the Avanti? I think none, none. Regarding the proportions others have discussed, I submit the front window should indeed have been more sloped as Loewy wanted and Egbert rejected. The problem was the were limited by the Lark chassis dimensions and needed another 9-12 inches to get that slope but of course couldn’t due to the compressed manufacturing schedule imposed by Egbert, no criticism intended. So the man that wrote a book titled “Never Leave Well Enough Alone”, and hated unneeded ornament, and was dedicated to simplicity of form and function, the Avanti is perhaps his most enduring legacy. It was perhaps 15 to 20 years early, all the best for its admirers, aka collectors. The fact that a very high quality Avanti can be bought today for $20-30K remains a tribute to his forward thinking. Before the “Mid century” design trend ends, I anticipate that Lowey’s work, and the Avanti, will be discovered for the genius that they were and have always been.
Mine is in the shop being painted a metallic root beer, it should be out soon and will turn even more heads, especially my own…
I’m not a fan of the Avanti. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the car (the styling certainly can’t be faulted). No, my beef with it began after I saw the Sceptre concept car at the Studebaker museum.
Studebaker could not afford to build both the Sceptre and Avanti. Inexplicably. it was the much more expensive Avanti that got the go ahead. If they had instead, built the Sceptre to do battle in the PLC category against the Thunderbird and Riviera, I dare say they might have had a chance to make a little money and Studebaker might have lived a bit longer.
I’ve pondered the reasons some halo cars brighten the stars all around them and seemingly lift their spirits along with their sales, whereas others like the Studebaker Avanti and Plymouth Prowler utterly fail to spark a brand renaissance, and what is the key trait the former has and the latter is lacking?
The video above lays out a mission the Avanti couldn’t keep. The filmmakers seemed to think the Avanti was a much roomier, more comfortable, more posh car than it was, something that would appeal to those sophisticated mid-century party-going couples. Something like an early personal luxury coupe like a four-seat Thunderbird, a Grand Prix, or a Riviera. Something like the prototype Studebaker Sceptre from 1962. The Irony is that Stude had such a car two years before Ford or anyone else did with the 1956 Golden Lark, but the presence of non-hardtop six-cylinder strippo models (which accounted for most of their sales) prevented the Golden Lark from establishing a luxury image. At least they didn’t repeat that mistake with the Avanti, making a nice interior and a R-series V8 minimum kit. But Ford did with Mustang, and could afford to because Ford could fulfill hi-po orders with 389s and four-speeds and let their image rub off on the greater number of Mustangs that had the Falcon six mated to a Ford-o-Matic. But it looked sporty, and Ford had an ample supply of steel bodies. Yet conceptually, the process that turned the Falcon into a Mustang was similar to that which turned Larks into Avantis. Take your compact sedan, stuff it with hi-performance gear at least on higher-end models, keep the aging platform, but make it look lower and sleeker and nothing like the car that sired it, leaving a sporty and youthful-looking 2+2 where everyone can see. Am I describing the Mustang or the Avanti? But the Mustang had to be cheap to be successful, whereas the Avanti needed to be expensive. That’s why a small fastback coupe with out-there styling, limited legroom and noisy mufflers was the wrong car for the job.
Frustrating because they got so much right with the Avanti. The interior certainly looked the part, especially on 1964 models with the wood paneling on the dash and console. and other updates.
Golden Hawk that should be not Golden Lark, I shouldn’t try to write at 6am
The weird, a-bit-off details of the design subconsciously catch the eye now, long after grille-less, aerodynamic, low-slung coupes became common. The slight droop of the side window sill changes the stance of the whole car.
Never a fan of the domestic auto manufacturers, but even less the little ones, I was smitten by the Avanti, when, or somewhat after it came out, I’m far from young, but only so old. It was the only Stude I’d ever seen that wasn’t completely frumpy/dumpy.
In retrospect, I doubt anything could have saved the company, but IMO the Avanti was a valiant effort, tragically styling trumps engineering, at least short term, and it was a good looking car.
My deseaded wife & I picked up our Avanti at the factory in 1978. It still has her name engraved on the dash. At 80K miles the car has never been a problem. I still love driving it. Marlin