In the early 1960s, Studebaker, at more than 100 years old was the longest surviving nameplate in the automotive industry. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company had been formed in 1852 as a wagon and coach builder, gaining a reputation for affordable, reliable products. They went on to become one of the precious few American coach makers to successfully transition to automobile production at the turn of the century. An early partnership with E-M-F had Studebaker selling E-M-F automobiles in their dealer network. But quality issues led to Studebaker taking over that firm’s automobile line and the rest, as they say, is history.
Through the years, Studebaker remained staunchly independent in the face of competition from GM, Ford and Chrysler. They produced many a great car, and particularly in the post-war era, were not afraid to take some daring stylistic risks. Yet as the 1940s rolled into the 1950s, Studebaker began to struggle financially and their product line became more and more staid and dated and they lacked the funding to fully develop new products at the same pace as GM and Ford. In the early 60s, new company president Sherwood Egbert saw the runaway success of the Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette and realized he needed a “personal car” of his own; a sporty Grand Touring coupe with four full seats and healthy performance. Just 37 days into his tenure as the top man at Studebaker, Egbert sketched out a concept whilst on a flight from Chicago, handed it to his team and demanded quick action.
Given just 40 days to work up a design, chief stylist on the project Raymond Loewy and his team (comprised of Tom Kellogg, Bob Andrews, and John Ebstein) worked 16 hours a day from a rented Palm Springs ranch home, and penned a sleek and ultra-modern body to sit atop a somewhat antiquated Lark Daytona platform, reworked by engineer Eugene Hardig to resemble a sporting car. Given the complexity and subtlety of the Avanti’s curves, fiberglass was chosen as the most cost effective material to build the bodywork. Early production woes with the body supplier meant delays and buyers grew impatient. Although production of the Avanti lasted only two years, with fewer than 5,000 examples built, it has rightly earned its place as a stylistic icon; one of the greatest designs of the era, and a significant piece of both Studebaker and American automotive history.
This handsome 1963 Avanti R2 (63R-1049) comes to us via the collection of a noted Avanti enthusiast and it has been restored to a very high standard. It is presented in original specification, restored to the build sheet with an original, numbers-matching supercharged 289 cubic inch V8 and four-speed manual gearbox. Very few Avantis are restored to such a level, making this one of the best of the breed and one of the finest we’ve had the pleasure to offer. It is exceptionally well-documented with a full complement of original paperwork that includes, rather remarkably, the original factory assembly notes and quality-control check lists and build sheets. The car was found in the 1990s in need of restoration by noted champion of the Avanti, Jim Bunting. Mr. Bunting had 1049 restored to exacting standards by Jim Sinclair of Pennsylvania, a respected expert craftsman. The car then passed to a fellow enthusiast who carefully maintained the car, using it sparingly. In 2016 it was freshened by Grand Prix Concours using NOS trim and assorted parts, bringing the car to a factory-fresh standard. The fiberglass body is finished in Avanti White (63S91) as original with deep gloss and fine detailing. Panels are straight, with crisp definition and very consistent gaps. Chrome trim is notably sparse on an Avanti, but the bumpers, headlamp trims and window trims are excellent and properly fitted. It rides on correct original wheels with proper Avanti wheel covers and whitewall tires.
The interior is trimmed in wonderfully lurid orange upholstery with black and orange carpets and a fawn dash as per original, making a dramatic statement against the white body. As with the exterior, the interior is fully detailed to original specification and exceptionally well-presented. Seat upholstery, two-tone orange/white door cards and black/orange loop carpets are in the correct original patterns and materials and the quality of the fitment and restoration work is outstanding. The four-speed shift lever in the console defines this as the most sporting and desirable Avanti, and the dash retains the original comprehensive array of instruments, the original radio and switchgear.
The engine bay is dominated by the big R2-specification Paxton supercharger and chrome air cleaner assembly. The addition of the supercharger to the Avanti was convenient for Studebaker, as the company had recently acquired Paxton, and with them, boss Andy Granatelli, who applied his wealth of experience in forced induction to the 289 cubic inch Hawk engine. Again, the detailing on this example is factory correct and beautifully executed. The engine is finished in correct colors, and topped with original chrome valve covers. Ancillaries such as the alternator, brake booster and radiator are presented in correct colors and finishes. The engine shows little use since the restoration was completed and is exceptionally clean and tidy. Disc brakes and a well-sorted chassis make for very respectable handling, and with 290 horsepower and 360 ft lbs of torque, this four-speed Avanti is certainly no slouch. It is a fabulous car to drive, even in modern traffic.
Studebaker was on the back foot when they introduced the Avanti, and in many ways their fate had already been sealed. In spite of its compromises as a last-ditch effort to save the struggling independent manufacturer, the Avanti was no less a brilliant piece of design and a worthy competitor in the burgeoning Personal Car marketplace. Raymond Loewy’s masterful team designed a car that is truly timeless, and thanks to this car’s remarkable restoration and highly desirable specification, it is a true collectible worthy of virtually any collection.