1963 Studebaker Avanti R3

Sixty years on, there’s nothing quite like the Studebaker Avanti. Formed from the radiant plasma of Studebaker’s dying star, the Avanti was briefly many things; Studebaker’s first dedicated performance coupe, the only supercharged car in production during its lifetime, and with the Ford Thunderbird now more Cadillac than Corvette, the Avanti was the lone domestic threat to Chevrolet’s popular sports car.

It was also proudly marketed as “The World’s Fastest Production Car,” a claim made genuine thanks to a modified supercharged Avanti cresting 170 mph on the Bonneville Speed Flats, breaking 29 records and cementing the performance bona-fides of South Bend’s super-coupe. This stunning pace, matched with legendary designer Raymond Loewy’s evocative, streamlined shape inspired the appropriate nickname of “America’s Ferrari.”

Much like the Corvette, even the least of the lineup was capable, with the standard 4.7-liter (289ci) Studebaker V-8 in the Avanti R1 spinning out a healthy 240 hp and close to 280 lb-ft. The supercharged R2 was the media darling; developed by motorsport legend and STP frontman Andy Granatelli, the addition of a Paxton supercharger spun output up to 289 hp and a thick 370 lb-ft from the 4.7-liter engine.

Impressive, but this was to be just the start. Studebaker had grand plans for its new svelte star, and the Avanti’s incredible record sweep at Bonneville was the opportunity. Granatelli made his immortal salt run behind the wheel of a specially prepared Avanti Gold coupe with an uprated 299.5 ci engine of his own design that begat the Avanti’s hottest production drivetrain; now 304.5 ci, the “R3” engine packed higher compression, forged pistons, and upgraded heads for a tremendous 335 hp and 400 lb-ft. Studebaker’s potent R3 V-8 has since fallen into legend, with many enthusiasts claiming each R3 left South Bend largely de-tuned, with rumors claiming Granatelli himself wouldn’t let an R3 roll out of the workshop without hitting the 400 hp waterline.

Unfortunately, Studebaker’s fortune turned just as the R3 program was getting underway. Early production problems—particularly with the supplied fiberglass body—stymied schedules and led to a significant portion of withdrawn purchase reservations. The automaker forecasted 10,000 Avanti’s would be sold in the first year, but at the close of 1963, a bit over 4,500 cars had left Indiana before production ceased that December.

Of these, only nine Avanti’s were equipped as R3s. These are considered the most desirable post-war Studebakers, embodying the optimistic and incredibly forward-thinking ideas of Indiana’s largest and last automaker. Both strong values and rarity have inspired Avanti enthusiasts to assemble a number of R3 tribute cars, each with varying degrees of accuracy and attention to detail.

This particular 1963 Avanti is one such tribute and is presented as close to an original Avanti R3 as was possible using both original and reproduction parts. This project was initiated under previous ownership and was recently refreshed and finished by Avanti specialist Brad Bez at Bez Auto Alchemy under commission of the consignor.

Though originally titled and assembled as a 1963, those involved have gone to great lengths to update the car to 1964 appearance and specification in keeping with the R3’s late 1963 production. This included swapping the ’63 round headlight housings for appropriate square housings, and updating the previously two-tone interior to a monochrome appearance.

A recently rebuilt R3 304.5ci V-8 stamped “B38” and built to R3 specifications replaces the original 289, complete with high-output Paxton supercharger, Forged-True pistons, large port heads, electronic ignition distributor, and larger diameter pulleys. It’s backed by a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic transmission, along with an airbox, deep-sump oil pan, Prestolite trans-igniter, flange axle, and cold-air intake behind the front grille—all correct hardware for an R3. Everything under-hood presents in as-new condition, with pristine chrome finishing on valve covers and a suite of period-correct decals and tags scattered throughout the engine bay.

The Avanti Gold paint is in excellent condition, as is exterior brightwork, trim, and Halibrand-style sport wheels wrapped in aesthetically correct replica white-wall tires. The 1964-style interior appointments are also in exceptional condition, with deep red Claret upholstery and thick-backed bucket seats, the latter found equipped in all R3s. Updated 1964-style gauges are installed in the new vinyl dash, complete with R3-specific 8,000-rpm tachometer.  Even the console switches are correct for the 1964 conversion, now rounded in place of the first model year’s flat-style controls. Finally, an AM/FM radio unit with USB and Bluetooth connections is smartly integrated into the otherwise period-perfect cabin.

This meticulously prepared Avanti R3 tribute is a rare opportunity to experience the pinnacle of both Studebaker and early 1960s American performance without worry of wearing down originality. A fresh restoration that has only been shown once, at the 2023 AOAI meet in St. Louis, where it scored 100 points, this Avanti R3 tribute is perfect for local and national level shows, and would be a welcome participant at Studebaker Drivers Club and Avanti Owners Association International events around the country.

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