It was no secret that in the early 1960s, Studebaker was up against the ropes. Financial troubles that began years earlier led to a dubious merger with Packard, and the failure of that relationship left the company reeling. The product line consisted of good quality, economical cars that didn’t offer much in the way of excitement. What Studebaker needed was a stylish “halo” model to drive traffic into the showrooms, yet budgets were tight. Newly appointed company president Sherwood Egbert had the idea for a sporty “personal car” to compete against the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird. A sporty new car could boost their rather staid and conservative product line. He doodled out his idea for a four-seat personal car while on a flight from South Bend to California to meet with his design team, led by Raymond Loewy. At the meeting, Egbert shared his plan and charged the designers with the task of creating an image-booster for Studebaker, giving them a virtually impossible timeline with which to do it in.
After just eight days of feverish work by Loewy, Tom Kellogg, John Ebstein, and Bob Andrews, the team produced a two-sided clay model, one side featuring a four-seat design, the other a two-seater. Company brass settled on the four-seater, and the styling team refined the concept for production. To power the new car, now named Avanti, engineers used the 289 cubic inch V8 and reinforced chassis from the Lark Daytona convertible. It was an affordable and reliable platform for Studebaker to work with, and updates like Bendix disc brakes added an air of sophistication. But the underpinnings played 2nd fiddle to what sat atop – the body by Lowey and his team was jaw-dropping. Fiberglass construction allowed them to accurately reproduce the coke-bottle curves and fine detail as penned by the artists. The smooth, grille-less design was groundbreaking, the first car to use a “bottom feeder” radiator and intake. It was a clean, finely detailed, and sophisticated design.
Ambitiously, Egbert predicted Avanti sales of 10,000 units in the first year, but thanks to production issues and concerns from buyers about Studebaker’s health, a fractional 1,200 were sold in the first year, with fewer than 4,600 units sold the following year. Studebaker ceased operations by 1964, yet in spite of the drama surrounding its gestation and ultimate demise, the Avanti remains a genuinely iconic automobile and a brilliant piece of American industrial design history.
Completed on August 23, 1963, this beautiful Avanti R1 coupe is one of the first examples to feature the revised square headlight treatment introduced for the 1964 model year. Presented with an excellent, high-quality restoration, this Avanti has well-known history from new. Studebaker made running changes between the 63 and 64 model years, with the square headlight openings being one of the most noticeable differences between early and late cars. This car’s mid-August production date coincides with the time of the changeover, and it is believed to be one of the first dozen cars with the revised design. According to factory documentation, this car left the South Bend, Indiana plant destined for Broadway Motors in Chicago, finished as it is today in Avanti Turquoise over black upholstery. Rather fittingly for an Avanti, the first owner was reported to be a pilot for American Airlines. He later sold the car to a colleague, who then passed it to its first long-term owner. The fourth owner, an active member of the Studebaker Driver’s Club, acquired the car in 1999 and performed the bulk of the restoration work during his tenure. Health problems forced its sale in 2013 to the most recent owner, also a dedicated Studebaker enthusiast. In his care, the Avanti was extensively detailed and dialed in to enjoy on the road or in club concours events.
Accompanying build records show this car, serial number R 5016, remains just as it first left the factory. Options include a floor-shift automatic transmission, Twin-Traction (limited slip) differential, silent mufflers, power steering, pushbutton radio, electric washers, and sun band tinted windscreen. With its exemplary restoration, this Avanti displays lovely paintwork, good body fit, and fine detailing. The Avanti’s unique razor-edge chrome bumpers are in excellent condition, and the distinct original wheel covers are in place on factory steel wheels shod with proper narrow-whitewall BF Goodrich radials.
Aircraft-inspired design is a highlight of the Avanti’s stylish and comfortable four-seat cabin. This car looks particularly sharp and sophisticated with its black factory-correct upholstery, presenting in superb order throughout the cabin. The clear, easy to read instruments are positioned in a wraparound binnacle ahead of the driver, while the center console houses jetliner-style controls for the heater and primary electrical functions. The headlining is excellent, and this car features seatbelts as originally equipped. Fittings and upholstery are all in fine order, befitting a car that has enjoyed such meticulous care and restoration work.
Studebaker’s proven and powerful 289 cubic inch V8 sits beneath the forward-hinged hood. Detailing is executed to a high standard, with gleaming chrome plated valve covers and air cleaner, along with period-correct labels, decals, and fittings. It shows appropriate levels of light patina from regular enjoyment, and the recent history is backed with service receipts and records.
This Avanti is an outstanding example of Studebaker’s groundbreaking swansong GT car. Thanks to its fine quality restoration and many years of care in the hands of passionate aficionados, it remains in marvelous condition; certain to provide many years of enjoyment on the road and in club events.