17 January 2013

Studebaker Avanti Turns 50

The Studebaker Avanti dropped jaws when it debuted at the New York Auto Show in April 1962, and devotion to the striking design was largely responsible for the car outlasting the brand.

Avanti, Italian for “forward,” sounded sexy and conveyed the direction that Studebaker’s new, young and optimistic president, Sherwood Egbert, hoped a sporty car could take the failing carmaker. Betting on the elusive success of a halo model, Egbert sketched his ideas while on an airliner. Thus began the first chapter of a back story that by itself was enough to secure the Avanti’s place in automotive history.

To turn his ideas into a buildable car, Egbert summoned industrial-design icon Raymond Loewy, who had worked with Studebaker for many years. Thanks to Loewy’s self-promotion, the public knew about his influence on cars, streamlined buses and locomotives, vending machines, corporate logos and household appliances.

Loewy set up the team of John Ebstein, Bob Andrews and Tom Kellogg in a Palm Springs house, where, following his design theme, they went from sketches to a 1/8-scale clay model in five months. Less than a year later, an exciting new American GT coupe arrived to public and critical acclaim.

The Avanti was a stunner, a design without antecedent at a time when some cars still carried vestiges of late-1950s styling. The Avanti’s lack of a conventional grille reflected the aerodynamic jet-age ideas Loewy favored. Its pinched-waist body invited comparisons to the Coca-Cola bottle, which, contrary to some accounts, Loewy had not designed.

Studebaker built the Avanti on the tweaked chassis of its Lark compact. The coupe’s trim size, with a 109-inch wheelbase, 192.5-inch length and 54-inch height, bucked Detroit’s norms for “personal luxury.” Rendering the body in fiberglass reduced tool-up time and kept vehicle weight to about 3,200 pounds.

Advertised as “America’s most advanced car,” the Avanti introduced new safety features, including structural door latches, the first standard front disc brakes on an American car and a built-in rollbar. The fuel tank was placed between the trunk and back seat, an idea that Mercedes-Benz, which Studebaker distributed in the U.S. at that time, would adopt many years later.

The Avanti interior combined European GT themes, such as front bucket seats and full gauge instrumentation, with aircraft-like switches. Rear passengers sat a bit higher than those in front.

For the Avanti, Studebaker revved up performance of its 289 cubic-inch V-8. The standard R1 version with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts offered 240-horsepower. The Paxton-supercharged R2 version upped that to 290.

Motor Trend magazine recorded zero-to-60 in 8 seconds and a 15.8-second quarter-mile at 91 mph in an R2 model with a 4-speed manual transmission. Studebaker stoked the Avanti performance story, dispatching racing impresario Andy Granatelli to the Bonneville Salt Flats to set 29 production-car speed records with a “stock” Avanti.

Production delays and Studebaker’s sinking fortunes dampened excitement for the Avanti and dashed plans to sell 20,000 per year. The $4,445 base price, which could easily balloon to $5,000 with options, didn’t help. Just 4,643 were made before the company shuttered U.S. operations in December 1963. Production of Studebaker sedans and station wagons continued in Ontario, Canada, until March 1966.

Meanwhile, as if Hollywood were writing the script, Studebaker dealers Leo Newman and Nathan Altman rescued the Avanti, putting it back into limited production in Studebaker’s South Bend, Ind., plant in 1965. Called the Avanti II, the car used the 300-hp Corvette small-block V-8. With its $6,000 price tag came a promise of hand-built quality and a wide array of interior customization options. Various company owners would keep building the Avanti in small numbers and additional body styles until 1991.

33 Reader Comments

  • 1
    fred corryton January 19, 2013 at 07:41
    that is a very cool car. there is one for sale on http://nabacar.com and it is just like this one
  • 2
    fred corryton January 19, 2013 at 07:41
    that is a very cool car. there is one for sale on http://nabacar.com and it is just like this one
  • 3
    Bob Palma Brownsburg IN January 24, 2013 at 16:40
    Nice article and a good synopsis, Jim; thanks. The oft-repeated error of a 290 HP rating for the R2 engine crept in, as it often does in general writings like these. Studebaker's official horsepower rating for the R2 engine was 289, exactly one HP per cubic inch. I have that on a personal letter to me in November 1963 from Wm. Dredge of Studebaker Corporation Public Relations, and Studebaker literature of the day corroborates same; Studebaker never rated the R2 engine at 290 HP. Other than that, well done and much appreciated. Bob Palma, Technical Editor, The Studebaker Drivers Club's Turning Wheels monthly magazine.
  • 4
    Gary Lindstrom Wappinger, NY January 24, 2013 at 17:07
    The Avanti continued in production until 2007. The 2001-2007 models were styled in the Avanti theme by one of the original designers, Tom Kellogg.
  • 5
    Jim Leutgens Oak Park, IL January 24, 2013 at 18:11
    As a HUGE fan of Raymond Loewy, I really enjoyed seeing this. Thank you for posting. His vision affected everything from the paint scheme of Air Force One to the timeless corporate logos we see every day. But my personal favorite of his works is the Pennsylvania Railroad S1 Locomotive. Click here: http://www.dieselpunks.org/profiles/blogs/sunday-streamline-14-the-big
  • 6
    Clayton Vern Griffith Reno Nevada January 24, 2013 at 18:45
    Almost bought one, just recently.
  • 7
    chuck studevent 46146 January 24, 2013 at 19:02
    Studebaker was one of the great car makers with features like the hill holder brake system! the farina coupes of the 50s were very beautiful cars. i had 3 myself The Avanti with over 50 fiberglass individual panels was in a class of its own. Alas! The Studebaker,Hudson Hornet with Twin H Power and especially the Packard which was the finest Automobile made in the USA are only a memory. What once was will never be again! Charles Studevent..
  • 8
    DAVID MOTES temple ga. January 24, 2013 at 19:16
  • 9
    Larry Dohrer Elk Grove Village,Illinois January 24, 2013 at 20:16
    I have owned (3) 1953 Studebaker Starliners which was also designed by Raymond Loewy for Studebaker. I first saw and drove a 1963 Avanti when Studebaker took it on a national tour to introduce it to the Studebaker dealers. A relative operated the dealership in our small town in Iowa. I loved the car! I finally bought one 2010. Mine is a 1981 Avanti II built in South Bend by Newman and Altman. I am the third owner and I love driving it. I belong to the Avanti Owners Association International organization and am a member of the Chicago Avanti Owners Association which is a local Chicago car club.This was a good report and would appreciate more Avanti and Studebaker articles.
  • 10
    andy Delaware January 24, 2013 at 20:29
    Crosley had standar four wheel hydraulic disk brakes in 1949-50.
  • 11
    Lanny McNabb Chattanooga, Tenn January 24, 2013 at 21:44
    I have owned three Avantis. Two R1s and an R2. But the article did not mention the R3 of which only 9 were built. A true beast that is still the terror of The Pure Stock Drags and is still competitive today. A real testiment to engineerfs and craftsmen who truly stepped "outside the box"
  • 12
    paul dillon south bend,In. January 24, 2013 at 22:05
    good article, I worked for the altmans from 75' till 85' and you COULD have your car done up as you wanted it, as long as we could get the paint and fabrics, it took about two weeks to get a car built.
  • 13
    Hugh fort Mill, SC January 24, 2013 at 22:11
    In 1966 the only one I could afford was an Aurora HO scale road race model.
  • 14
    bill joslin south carolina January 24, 2013 at 22:39
    I had gone to S.B. Indiana for the 50th Aniv of the Avanti while there I purchased a 1966 Avanti 2 that was the 13th car built out of a production run for that year of 59. This car was restored and its color is BlackCherry. while there when I returned to our hotel from dinner I was asked if I was part of the convention I said yes and asked why the would ask such a question. I was told there was an Avanti in the parking lot that kept changing colors from black to deep read it was my car and the blackcherry paint was changing colors as the sun went behind the clouds. When I got the car home I told a friend of mine about buying this car he told me his brother purchased a new 1989 convertable kept it for ten years and sold it to a gentleman in california for the same amount he purchased it for in 1989. Its a great car and it turn hears and draws a crowd the avanti2 came with a corvette 327 engine so this car can kick up some pebbles
  • 15
    Paul Windish Tinley Park, IL January 24, 2013 at 23:33
    What can I say? Avanti is my favorite car, since I first saw one up close and personal September 1962 at the Farm Progress Show in Morton, IL. I bought a 64 R 1 with round headlights in the Spring of 1966 and enjoyed it for 3 years before getting a 67 Chevelle SS396. Fast forwarding to 2011, I scratched the Avanti "itch" again and got a 76, which I have gone through and have had a mechanical restoration recently completed. I will keep this Avanti "until they pry the steering wheel out of my cold dead fingers!" I thoroughly love the car and am enjoying being active in Avanti, Studebaker, and other driving clubs. People love the Avanti at car shows as they are not the typical car being displayed. Driving the car usually brings honks and a "thumbs up".
  • 16
    Old digger Twin Cities North January 25, 2013 at 14:20
    Good article,some errors on hp. and years of production though.
  • 17
    james mitchell 3446 Park Ave Oceanside NY11572 January 25, 2013 at 14:54
    I will to you from my home computer later today. I am the very proud owner of a 1964 gold Avanti.
  • 18
    james mitchell 3446 Park Ave Oceanside NY11572 January 25, 2013 at 15:00
    I will to you from my home computer later today. I am the very proud owner of a 1964 gold Avanti.
  • 19
    Mato Cleveland, OH January 25, 2013 at 15:28
    I've always said the body style was "timeless". Still looks good.
  • 20
    John MA January 25, 2013 at 09:25
    Great car! Does anyone want to buy mine?
  • 21
    Alan D. Reed Fort Wayne, IN January 25, 2013 at 10:11
    Good article on the Avanti. However, so far as the front end is concerned, to me it is nothing more than a moving bug shield. I'm sure that a good share of the bugs coming out of the corn fields surrounding South Bend did indeed drop their jaws when the saw the Avanti coming.....yuch. Lowery did a much better job designing the front end of the Farmall tractor.
  • 22
    Joe Richmond, VA January 25, 2013 at 11:52
    Except for the front end, the Avanti always wowed me. It's one of the greatest "might have beens" of the era. I hope to spot on in an episode of Mad Men some day.
  • 23
    art wegweiser Allison Park, PA January 25, 2013 at 12:40
    The Avanti and Hawks were among the best looking US cars built in modern times but, thanks to the crap pumped out by Ford, Chrysler and GM, Studebaker died - even with help from Packard who made some really interesting monsters in their later years.
  • 24
    Mel price Pa January 26, 2013 at 13:01
    My R1 1963/62 Avanti to the one in the picture. It is ready for a rebuild. It does need a new engine. I attempted several times to get it to at least turn finally resorting to taking the engine apart found it was blown. Don't know when i will be able to get this project back in gear hoping soon.
  • 25
    Mel price Pa January 26, 2013 at 13:03
    My R1 1963/62 Avanti to the one in the picture. It is ready for a rebuild. It does need a new engine. I attempted several times to get it to at least turn finally resorting to taking the engine apart found it was blown. Don't know when i will be able to get this project back in gear hoping soon.
  • 26
    Mike Alewine California January 26, 2013 at 18:44
    I fell in love with the car when I first saw it in 1963. I bought one 25 years later and drive it still today.
  • 27
    John Feser United States, Virginia January 26, 2013 at 06:53
    Great article. Lots of information that I did not know. The Avanti is still a great looking car today. Always a treat to find one at a car show.
  • 28
    Joe Parspns Raleigh, NC January 26, 2013 at 10:18
    I own a 63 Avanti serial number R-1099 , its a R-2, supercharged with a 4 speed transmission. I just finished restoration on the car which only has 54,000 miles. the exterior is turquoise and interior is turquoise and fawn vinyl .
  • 29
    jerry dickerman Kokomo Ind January 31, 2013 at 09:05
    My high school buddy Mike Alder & I were headed to the kokomo resivoir for a afternoon of swimming when a full size road grator turned left in front of us as we were about to pass at 50mph+ We walked away requiring no medical help. The state patrol at the sceen was convenced that we were on our way to the hospital, much to his and ours that we were in fact watching the accident un fold unharmed. More than likely the most safest car I was ever in. Never owned one but did some restoration on one a 1970.
  • 30
    Frank Socha Morley, Michigan February 27, 2013 at 11:40
    The first two cars I fell in love with were the Avanti and Jag XKE160 roadster. I passed a Studebaker dealer enroute to high school every day and would see those beauties. Never worked out to own one. I think, if you study the lines, you can see where some of the Mustang came from. Just a little. Gorgeous automobile.
  • 31
    Mel Fratzke NC May 9, 2013 at 21:43
    Nice article. I have a '66 which I've had for almost 5 years, have spent a boatload restoring but it turns heads everytime I drive it and wins awards at shows. Getting ready to take it for a road rally Saturday.
  • 32
    Nick Louisville, KY. September 8, 2013 at 04:05
    A breath of fresh air! I have just been watching those Mecum auctions from around the country. If I see one more Chevy, Corvette, MOPAR muscle car, or Mustang I think I will scream. You would think watching these programs that those cars were the only interesting cars ever built in this country. Had I seen a Avanti, I would have fainted. There was a Duesenberg which was such a dramatic change of pace, it was jarring. This was Studebakers conundrum then just as it is now, being ignored. The major publications like Motor Trend did their best to sweep Studebaker under the rug, now there are almost no car companies left in the USA. Americans should give whats left of the US auto industry a look before buying foreign, tho I can't see why anyone would want a Cadillac or Lincoln, really.
  • 33
    Skip Chicago November 20, 2013 at 15:34
    Great article for a classic and design icon that gets little press.

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