The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part I


Today’s Rare Ride is a design legend that was built for a very short while by Studebaker in South Bend, Indiana. One of those cars which just wouldn’t die, its two-year history of original manufacture was followed by about 43 years of sporadic independent production.

Onward, to Avanti!

In the early Sixties as the combined Studebaker-Packard company headed toward its final days, it commissioned an all-new coupe to succeed the various Hawk models marketed mostly by Studebaker and for a short while by Packard. The last of these was the Gran Turismo Hawk which concluded production in 1964, but it was essentially the same car Studebaker sold as the Starliner starting in 1953.

Said Starliner was a design by Raymond Loewy and Associates and the firm was hired once more to draw up a new coupe called Avanti. Heading a different direction to the Hawk, Avanti was aerodynamic, smooth, technologically advanced, and very fast. The new president of Studebaker, Sherwood Egbert, doodled a personal luxury coupe on the back of an envelope during a plane journey in 1961. He dreamt his company might throw down competition to Ford’s Thunderbird. Loewy filled in the design blanks, and the now-famous luxury coupe entered production in 1962. It was immediately notable for its sleek looks and considerable performance.

Fitted as standard to the Avanti was a supercharged 4.7-liter V8 good for 240 horsepower. Paired to a three- or four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic, Avanti had a top speed of over 178 miles per hour from the factory. Studebaker took the Avanti to Bonneville Salt Flats, where it broke 29 world speed records. Avanti was hauled to a stop by Dunlop disc brakes at the front, a first in an American production car. It was also one of the earliest designs to feature a grille-free facade. The Avanti was light because it was made of fiberglass, its body produced in Ashtabula, Ohio by the same company that made the Corvette’s panels in 1953. Though steel was more desirable, it would’ve been too complex and too expensive given the Avanti’s shape.

At its debut on April 26, 1962, Studebaker proclaimed the Avanti “America’s most advanced automobile.” Excited orders for the Avanti poured forth. And though Studebaker planned to sell 20,000 its first year, there were several production issues at Ashtabula. Problems with fit and finish meant big delays, and reservation holders pulled out – probably to go buy a Thunderbird. As a result Studebaker made only 1,200 Avantis in the first year. Its second and final production year in 1963 less than 4,600 were completed. Studebaker closed down Avanti production on December 20th that year, and the company closed entirely in November 1967.

But the Avanti didn’t go away! Studebaker sold the tooling and space in its plant to two Studebaker dealers who almost immediately continued Avanti production. More on that in Part II.

[Images: Studebaker]

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