A Look at the Studebaker Avanti


Looks Like It is From the Future

While Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens was working on emergency updates for the Lark and Hawk, Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert enlisted the help of Raymond Loewy to design a new generation of Studebaker passenger cars. Loewy, who hadn’t worked for Studebaker since 1956, jumped in with both feet, promising Egbert a revolutionary sports coupe from which a full line of family cars would emerge. Studebaker went out of business before the family cars were completed, but Loewy did give Egbert a brief shining moment with the memorable 1963-1964 Studebaker Avanti.

A Look at the Studebaker Avanti

Mostly, we enter our vehicles in the same manner: we lift or squeeze a door handle, and hinges near the front tire allow the door to open. Then we climb into a driver’s seat and begin our journey.

The Avanti, designed in secret by Loewy’s talented team of Bob Andrews, Tom Kellogg, and John Ebstein, was a styling sensation. A coke-bottle waist supported a thin-section roof with a massive rear window and a built-in roll bar. Front fenders with razor-edged edges swept back into the curved rear, then into a jacked-up tail. Loewy ditched the traditional grille in favor of an air scoop beneath a thin front bumper and an asymmetrical hump on the hood. Inside, there was plenty of crash padding, four slim-section vinyl bucket seats, and an aircraft-style control panel. The entire package was approved for production with little deviation from Loewy’s small-scale model.

Studebaker decided to build the Avanti’s body out of fiberglass to save money and time. It would require a strong platform, so chief engineer Gene Hardig shortened and modified a beefy Lark convertible frame, adding anti-sway bars and rear radius rods. Bendix disc brakes used on the Avanti were the first caliper discs produced in the United States. The engine was the faithful 289, Studebaker’s best V-8, and it produced 240 bhp in standard (“R1”) tune thanks to a 3/4 race high-lift cam, dual-breaker distributor, four-barrel carb, and dual exhausts.

Andy Granatelli and Paxton also created a supercharged “R2” with 290 bhp, as well as a bored-out 304.5-CID version with three tuning stages: R3, R4, and R5. Only nine supercharged R3s were built, while the R4 and R5 were experimental. The latter was outfitted with two Paxton superchargers, one for each cylinder bank, magneto ignition, and Bendix fuel injection. It produced a whopping 575 horsepower. Even though designer Raymond Loewy did not have time for wind tunnel testing, the 1963-1964 Studebaker Avanti had a remarkably slippery shape! Granatelli broke 29 Bonneville speed records with an Avanti R3 in late 1962, traveling faster than anyone had ever done in a stock American car.

Unfortunately, Studebaker was unable to meet the initial wave of orders by delivering Avantis to dealers quickly enough. Part of the delay was caused by unexpected distortion during the fiberglass curing process, which forced the company to add its fiberglass body facility. By the time all the bugs were worked out, the majority of customers who had placed advance orders had given up and purchased Corvettes or imports. In 1963, less than 4,600 Avantis were produced. By the time Studebaker ceased car production in South Bend in December 1963, production had already ceased.

Despite slow sales, Studebaker began making numerous detailed changes to the Avanti in July 1962. The car was “not designated by model year, but incorporates changes whenever appropriate,” according to the company. The registration date was the only determinant of dating, and 809 Avantis were designated as 1964 models. The square-bezel headlamp style, which appeared along with most detail changes in August 1963 for the “1964” models, is a rule of thumb, though not exactly accurate. However, Studebaker’s initial announcement was that these were optional, and some cars with round headlights were registered as ’64s.

Other August changes included a new radiator scoop grille, chrome drip moldings above the doors, restyled parking lights, and smooth vinyl upholstery as standard (rather than smooth or perforated at the buyer’s option). All Avanti’s were extremely well-equipped. A high-output generator, three ashtrays, backup lights, a 60 amp/hour battery, chrome engine parts, heater-defroster, clock, center console, internal trunk, and hood releases, courtesy and trunk lamps, padded sun visors, tinted glass, and two-speed electric windshield wipers were among the standard features.

When Studebaker discontinued the Avanti after 1964, Leo Newman and Nathan Altman, partners in a Studebaker dealership, purchased the manufacturing rights. They established the Avanti Motor Corporation and resumed production of the car in an abandoned Studebaker plant, reviving one of the decade’s great designs.