It was no secret that in the early 1960s, Studebaker Corporation was up against the ropes. Long-term financial troubles 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 fresh excitement. Studebaker needed a stylish “halo” model to drive traffic into the showrooms and boost their image. Newly appointed company president Sherwood Egbert devised a plan for a sporty, four-seat “personal car” to compete against the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird. He doodled out his ideas on a bar napkin while on a flight from South Bend to California to meet with his design team, led by Raymond Loewy. Egbert shared his plan at the meeting and tasked the designer with creating an image booster for Studebaker, giving him a virtually impossible timeline with which to do it in.
Loewy assembled a design team, and after just eight days of feverish work by himself, Tom Kellogg, John Ebstein, and Bob Andrews, the team produced a two-sided clay model, one side featuring a four-seat design, the other side a two-seater. Company brass settled on the four-seater, and the South Bend design 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, initially grille-less design was groundbreaking, the first American car with a “bottom feeder” radiator and intake. It was a clean, finely detailed, and sophisticated design.
Egbert ambitiously predicted Avanti sales of 10,000 units in the first year, but thanks to production issues and concerns from buyers about Studebaker’s health, just 1,200 found homes in the first year, and fewer than 4,600 sold the following year. Studebaker ceased US production by late 1963, yet despite the drama surrounding its gestation and ultimate demise, the Avanti is recognized today for its style and sophistication, courtesy of one of America’s most celebrated industrial designers.
Per the factory production records, the gorgeous Avanti featured here was completed in March of 1963 and is a genuine supercharged R2 model, equipped with twin-traction diff, power steering, and heavy-duty springs. It is the subject of a body-off, nut-and-bolt restoration performed by an Avanti specialist, including new torque boxes (aka hog troughs) and beautifully refinished fiberglass bodywork. The excellent shell is finished to a remarkably high standard in a striking livery of jet black over orange and fawn upholstery.
The Avanti’s driver-focused, aircraft-inspired interior stands apart from its contemporaries, demonstrating the remarkable attention to detail Loewy and his team paid to every aspect of the design. With its orange seats and door panels, the interior provides a striking contrast to the black paint. The fawn color of the dash continues onto the upper door panels, breaking up the bold orange color for a lighter, airier feel to the cockpit. Black nylon carpets with molded “S” rubber floor mats and seat belts are correct for the period. The instrumentation, switchgear, and pushbutton transistor radio are to the original specification.
Of course, all that style is nothing without a healthy dose of American horsepower – and this Avanti R2 certainly delivers. The 289 cubic-inch Studebaker V8 was an excellent engine in its own right, made even better with the addition of the Paxton supercharger, elevating output to 280 hp. This car left the factory with a 3-speed auto, though it was updated during the restoration to a preferred four-speed manual using all factory Studebaker parts. It’s also noted that the engine is a period-correct replacement, though the original numbers-matching short block is available. Like the rest of the car, mechanical detailing is outstanding, with authentic markings, labels, and decals, including a proper Prestolite ALE 5003 alternator and external regulator. The mechanical detailing is so good that the rolling chassis was displayed at an event before the body was set back in place.
With its striking color combination and high-level restoration from a devoted marque enthusiast, this Avanti is easily one of the finest we’ve ever offered, a superb example of Studebaker’s high-performance swansong.
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