In the early 1960s, Studebaker was in need of a style makeover. The economical but unexciting Lark was the mainstay of the range, while the Gran Turismo Hawk was the style leader, but due to the poor financial health of the Studebaker, the Brooks Stevens-penned Hawk’s underpinnings remained firmly rooted in the early 1950s. Shortly after taking over the reins at Studebaker, company president Sherwood Egbert recognized they were in desperate need for an image booster. While on a flight from Chicago, he doodled out his concept for a “personal car” to take on the likes of the Ford Thunderbird, which he promptly delivered to Raymond Lowey’s design team, a wealth of talent consisting of Tom Kellogg, John Ebstein and Bob Andrews. Given just 40 days to bring Egbert’s concept to reality, the design team proposed both a two seat and four-seat GT car that would utilize a modified Lark platform and a 289 cubic inch V8 engine lifted from the Hawk. After just 8 days of work, the team produced a two-sided clay mockup to present to company brass. The bosses settled on the four-seat concept and development of the newly named Avanti continued at a rapid pace.
An industry wide steel strike had caused a drastic increase in raw material prices and given the complex and subtle curvature of the new Avanti’s revolutionary design, it was decided that the Avanti would be constructed of fiberglass, supplied by the experts at Molded Fiberglass Body of Ashtabula, Ohio. The chassis was lifted from the Lark convertible, for its superior torsional strength and modified with front disc brakes by Bendix of Dunlop design. The beautifully styled body was a drastic departure from the Gran Turismo Hawk. Most notably, the smooth, grille-less front end was a stark contrast from the Hawk’s somewhat garish chrome grille and fussy detailing. The Avanti was in essence, the first car to feature bottom-breathing – where radiator intakes are fed from below the front bumper. With all of the fanfare surrounding its release, the Avanti was stricken with production delays and the financial state of the company was of serious concern. The car was introduced in dealer showrooms in the fall of 1962 and sales were almost instant. In all, 3834 1963 model Avantis were produced. 1964 production was limited to 809 by the termination and shut down of auto production in the Studebaker South Bend facilities.
As a testament to its advanced style, the Avanti managed to live on, first under new owners Newman & Altman and later as reproduction cars based on modern running gear. In spite of its low production and troubled gestation, the Avanti has nonetheless earned its place as a truly iconic American GT car.
Our featured Avanti R1 is a 1963 model, finished in its original colors of Avanti Gold over a fawn interior. It has been extensively restored by a marque expert to a very high standard. The gold paint is beautiful, laid down on very straight and properly aligned panels. Known for its lack of excessive adornment and heavy trim, this delicately detailed Avanti features straight, crisp bumpers, correct side-view mirrors and restored emblems. The superb factory wheel covers are highlighted by correct whitewall radial tires, the owner wisely avoiding aftermarket modifications and maintaining the purity of the original design.
Like the exterior, the interior has been restored to a high standard with Fawn upholstery appearing very fresh and attractive. The dash is highly stylish, inspired by the supersonic jet age and featuring extensive instrumentation all packed into a driver-focused pod. An original AM/FM radio is fitted to the dash and additional switchgear resides in the center console which again, continues the jet-cockpit theme. The quality of the restoration impresses in the very well sorted cabin, with beautiful instruments, excellent brightwork, as well as a correct headlining and soft trim.
Studebaker’s proven 289 cubic inch V8 engine resides under the forward-hinged hood and presents in lovely order with proper detailing. The presentation is gorgeous with correct valve covers, air cleaner, period correct battery, and assorted fittings and markings. The engine is mated to an automatic transmission for relaxed, all-day cruising ability. The chassis and undercarriage appear in very good order, and while not benefitting from a full restoration, remain nevertheless in very tidy and correct condition. This is surely one of the finest Avantis we have encountered in many years. The expert, highly correct restoration make it suitable for shows and events with the Studebaker Driver’s Club, AACA and others. Thanks to its fastidious previous owner, it is very well sorted and would make a fine driver. The Studebaker Avanti is considered by many to be one of the great pieces of industrial design of the 20th century; a style piece well ahead of its time in many aspects. This example is beautifully presented in handsome and correct colors, is finely detailed and ready for enjoyment.