On the heels of its failed merger with Packard, Studebaker clawed its way into the 1960s, with their image bruised and very much in need of a makeover. The economical but unexciting Lark served as the bread-and-butter of the range, while the Gran Turismo Hawk offered buyers a stylish four-seater coupe. However, due to the poor financial health of the Studebaker, the underpinnings of the Brooks Stevens-penned Hawk remained firmly rooted in the early 1950s. Shortly after taking over the reins at Studebaker, company president Sherwood Egbert recognized that buyers and dealers alike needed a car to inject new life in Studebaker. While on a flight from Chicago, he doodled out a proposal for a “personal car” to take on the likes of the Ford Thunderbird. Upon arrival, he promptly delivered his idea 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 coupled with the 289 cubic-inch V8 engine lifted from the Hawk. After just eight 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.
The team selected the Lark convertible’s chassis as a basis for the high-performance Avanti for its superior torsional strength. Engineers then adapted Dunlop-designed disc brakes (made under license by Bendix) to create America’s first production car so equipped. As if Studebaker didn’t have enough problems on its own, an industry-wide steel strike caused a drastic increase in raw material prices. However, given the complex and subtle curvature of the new Avanti’s revolutionary design, the decision was made to build the Avanti body in fiberglass, supplied by the specialists at Molded Fiberglass Body of Ashtabula, Ohio. 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 large chrome grille and elaborate 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 before finally hitting dealer showrooms in the fall of 1962. Quality problems with the early MFP-built bodies and the tenuous financial state of the company did not sit well with some potential customers, and sales struggled to get off the ground. Despite its performance and revolutionary style, just 3834 1963 model Avantis found homes. For 1964, only 809 cars left the works before production terminated and Studebaker closed its legendary South Bend, Indiana factory. As a testament to its advanced style, the Avanti name managed to live beyond Studebaker, first under new owners Newman & Altman and later as continuation 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 1963 Studebaker Avanti is an R1 model, finished in its original colors of Avanti Gold over a fawn interior. It is the subject of a high-quality cosmetic restoration by a noted specialist, and it presents in excellent condition. The lovely metallic gold paint is laid down on a beautifully straight body with exemplary panel fit and sharp lines. In its day, the Avanti stood out for its clean lines and elegantly simple detailing. This example retains crisp original chrome bumpers, correct side-view mirrors, and polished window surrounds. The restorer wisely avoided temptation and kept the original steel wheels with superb factory wheel covers. Period-correct whitewall radial tires give it a proper stance on the road. With its factory correct colors and specification, the purity and brilliance of the original design are uncompromised.
The interior features correct two-tone Fawn and Elk upholstery, presented in excellent condition. Likewise, the headlining carpets and interior panels are in fine order, and the car retains the factory available seat belts front and rear. The Avanti’s dash styling is heavily influenced by the supersonic jet age, with a driver-focused instrument pod and a clean, purposeful layout. Even the center console air conditioning and ventilation controls mimic jet throttles. In this car, the original steering wheel faces superb restored instruments. Chrome handles, switches, and other fittings are excellent, and this car has a later AM/FM radio in place of the original.
Studebaker’s proven 289 cubic-inch V8 engine resides under the forward-hinged hood and presents in lovely order with plenty of period-correct details. The presentation is gorgeous with correct valve covers, air cleaner, and various labels, tags, and markings. The example features the optional automatic transmission, as well as a modern rotary-type A/C compressor to ensure comfortable, all-day cruising ability. Beneath the car, the chassis and undercarriage appear in very good order, showing some light use and patina appropriate for an accessible, road-worthy example.
The well-detailed restoration and sorted mechanical condition make it suitable for shows and events with the Studebaker Driver’s Club, AACA, and others, and it is a beautiful car to use and enjoy on the road. Thanks to the efforts of its meticulous previous owner, it would make an excellent companion on driving events. The Studebaker Avanti is a car that was well ahead of its time and considered by many to be one of the great pieces of industrial design of the 20th century.