By on July 17, 2014

A perennial candidate for most beautiful of all times lists is the Studebaker Avanti. It’s admittedly somewhat of a polarizing design since the Avanti also sometimes shows up on lists of the oddest looking or ugliest cars ever made. I’m in the former camp and think it’s a great looking piece of human creation, but I can understand those who think it looks a little funny. Perhaps that’s how it should be as the Avanti was created to get people’s attention for Studebaker, the last independent car company in America, which was quickly becoming irrelevant as its financials got worse and worse. Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert did what he could with limited resources and a board of directors that seemed determined to run the more than century old company into the ground. The Avanti was part of Egbert’s plan in the early 1960s to give Studebaker, a company with a dowdy reputation in consumers’ minds, a new image, a rebranding in today’s parlance.

Egbert had designer Brooks Stevens update the entry level Lark and turn his attention to the Hawk. Fewer beautiful cars have suffered as many indignities as the 1953 Studebaker coupe, the basis of the Hawk and Golden Hawk. First as the Fifties and fins developed, to keep the coupe fashionable Studebaker tacked on exaggerated tail fins and an upgright grille and called it the Hawk. Some say that the grille was inspired by Studebaker’s role as distributor of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the United States. In time, more tackiness would be added to make it the Golden Hawk. Then, after the ill-fated Studebaker-Packard merger was consummated and true Packards ended production, there were the fish-faced “Packardbakers“. Stevens was assigned the task of not just making the Hawk look good, but also make body shell that was a decade old look modern. The GT Hawk featured a revised front end and the fins were replaced with very trendy bladed rear fenders, something that can be seen on the 1961 Lincoln Continental and the mid-1960s Chrysler Imperials.

Stevens was also tasked with creating a number of attractive and innovative concept cars that would have been the 1967 Studebakers, had the company survived; the Cruiser sedan, the Skyview wagon and the great looking Sceptre coupe. Stevens wasn’t the only outside designer that Studebaker used. The ’53 coupe is known as the “Loewy Coupe” because it was the work of the Raymond Loewy studio, but Loewy’s relationship with the South Bend based automaker dated to the 1930s, when Loewy designed a new logo for the company, replacing the wagon wheel that reflected the company’s origin as a carriage maker with a more contemporary and stylish Art Deco S. ‘

Loewy was a gifted designer himself, but he was also a gifted self-promoter. Many “Raymond Loewy” designs were more accurately the work of designers who were employed by Loewy. Like Nuccio Bertone years later, Loewy wasn’t adverse to taking personal credit for the work of his employees. In the case of the “Loewy” coupe, the employee in question would have been Bob Bourke. Egbert also had Loewy do some concepts for the ’67 model year, but that’s getting a bit ahead of the story.

You see, Loewy’s concepts for the 1967 model year for Studebaker were notchback and fastback sedan variations of Egbert’s ultimate brand changer, the Avanti coupe, a car whose design originated in a doodle by the Studebaker president. Egbert saw the success of the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird and thought that a sporting coupe would be just the thing to change the company’s image so he turned that job over the Loewy’s team. Some say that Egbert wanted Loewy to come up with an entire lineup of cars based on the Avanti’s styling, which explains the existence of the two Avanti sedan prototypes on display in the Studebaker museum in South Bend. However, that doesn’t make sense to me as Brooks Stevens was then busy working on his own concepts for 1967; the aforementioned station wagon, sedan, and the Sceptre coupe, a broader range than what Loewy’s team delivered. I suspect that Egbert planned for the Avanti sedans to sit above the concepts designed by Stevens, a Porsche Panamera, if you will, to the Avanti coupe’s 911.

Regardless of where it would have fit in a surviving Studebaker’s showroom, the Avanti looked nothing like any other of the Studebakers. Actually it looked nothing like any other car on the road, Studebaker or otherwise then, and the Avanti still stands out today. Most of the styling was done by a team made up of Bob Andrews, Tom Kellogg and John Ebstein, though apparently it was Loewy’s idea to eliminate a conventional grille. In many ways today’s cars replicate Loewy’s smooth front end body work which draws cooling air into the radiator via a small opening below the bumper. Those bumpers were very thin. The rest of the styling was also very forward looking, reflecting the Italian meaning of Avanti, forward. The Avanti has an aggressive stance with a prominent forward rake. In plan and side views it has a Coke-bottle shape with a noticeable waist. Razor edged, almost delicate front fenders flow into a muscular rear end that features an enormous rear window that complements the coupe shape. Also delicate is the thin roof, so to give the fiberglass composite bodied Avanti some safety, a steel tubing roll bar is molded into the plastic at the wide C pillar. In addition to the unusual front end styling, Loewy added some visually interesting fillips like the asymmetrical hood bulge. The novel styling carried through to the inside, which featured four thin-shell bucket seats. The padded dashboard (something rare in 1962) had a cockpit-like design that put all of the instruments in front of the driver. It must have looked modern 50 years ago because it still looks fairly modern today. It was the “jet age” so like the GT Hawk (and contemporary Ford Thunderbird) many of the Avanti’s controls had an aircraft look to them.

YouTube Preview Image
Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

As with the original Corvette, fiberglass was chosen for the body not because it was an advanced composite material, but rather because it’s cheaper and faster to tool up and produce fiberglass bodies than steel ones, particularly if production is going to be limited. Mechanically, the Avanti was based on the compact Lark, though there were significant improvements. The Lark convertible chassis was chosen by Studebaker chief engineer Gene Hardig because it was stiffer than the frame used in the sedans. To make it even stiffer, it was shortened and fittings were welded on so that anti-sway bars could be installed, along with radius rods to help control the rear axle.

To power the Avanti, an R1 tune of the 289 cubic inch Studebaker V8 was standard. That meant a 3/4 race high-lift camshaft, twin-breaker distributor, four barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, good for 240 bhp. In 1961 Andy Granatelli, who had bought Paxton with his brother, sold the supercharger company to Studebaker, becoming a vice president and chief engineer of the automaker. Granatelli developed a supercharged 290 hp version of the V8 known as the R2 and then a larger displacement 335 hp R3, which was produced in very limited numbers. Granatelli even developed an experimental engine with two superchargers and Bendix fuel injection that put out a reported 575 hp. Though time didn’t allow for any wind tunnel work, the Avanti’s body proved to be pretty aerodynamic, allowing Granatelli to break 29 speed records on the Bonneville salt flats with an R3 equipped car, including a record for the fastest American production car that stood for many years.

YouTube Preview Image

To control all that power, Bendix disc brakes were standard equipment on the Avanti, the first caliper disc brakes in an American production car (Chrysler put disc brakes on some Imperials and Crosley had them on their Hot Shot roadster, but those used the Ausco-Lambert system, not calipers with pistons as used on the Avanti).

Initial consumer response was strong, with Studebaker dealers booking many orders. Unfortunately, working with the then fairly new fiberglass composite meant quality issues from a supplier, forcing Studebaker to start molding bodies themselves, causing delays. Many customers who put deposits down canceled their orders. In the end, only about 4,600 Avantis were produced by Studebaker. Taking the unusual step of saying that the Avanti would not be “designated by model year, but incorporates changes whenever appropriate,” Studebaker did make some revisions for the 1964 model year, the most notable being optional square headlight bezels, and a larger opening for the radiator.

Other than the headlight surrounds, there were few options as the Avanti came loaded with standard equipment including a more powerful generator (the auto industry hadn’t yet completely switched over to the more reliable alternators), ashtrays front and back, a bigger battery, chrome dress up parts for the engine, a clock, a console, remote releases for the trunk and hood, courtesy lamps and lights under the hood and trunk lid, padded sun visors, tinted glass and multi-speed electric windshield wipers. You may think that “electric” is a bit redundant but in the early 1960s, some cars were still using windshield wipers that ran on manifold vacuum. Back then you could also buy a car without a heater or defroster, those were usually extra cost options but were standard equipment on the Avanti. One option that you could order was factory installed air conditioning, though many “factory” A/C units at the time were identical to aftermarket coolers, with the cooling coils and blower in an underdash housing, not built into the dashboard.

Unfortunately, the company’s finances continued to worsen, with Studebaker (and Avanti) production ending in South Bend in late 1963. The company would continue building Larks in Canada for a couple of years before finally giving up the ghost for good in 1966. Though Studebaker discontinued the Avanti in 1964, thanks to a Studebaker dealer in the company’s home town of South Bend the little sports coupe lived on for decades.

Nate Altman and his partner Leo Newman owned one of the biggest and oldest Studebaker dealerships in the world. Altman and his brother Arnold had engineering backgrounds, were impressed with the Avanti and realized that there was still enough interest in the car to make limited production a profitable venture. Together the three men founded the Avanti Motor Corporation and bought the rights to the design and manufacture of the Avanti, along with necessary tooling and some buildings in Studebaker’s South Bend manufacturing complex. They also hired a relative handful of former Studebaker employees to start building what they called the Avanti II, to orders. Initial plans were for a volume of 300 cars a year and while Altman and crew never reached that goal, they did manage to consistently sell a couple hundred cars a year and make money at it. As part of the deal the Altmans and Newman also bought the rights to Studebaker’s truck division. The automaker had had a fairly successful truck operation and in 1965 there were still many thousands of Studebaker trucks still in commercial use. Newman was put in charge of selling truck parts, a venture that gave the new Avanti Motors immediate revenue and some financial stability as they got Avanti production up and running.

As with some other small manufacturers like Checker Motors, Avanti Motors used small block Chevy V8 engines and Hydramatic transmissions sourced from General Motors (that Avanti branded as Power Shift, modified to allow the driver to hold first and second gears). Combining those components with NOS (new old stock) parts left over from Studebaker and bodies they molded themselves, Avanti Motor Corp was a modest success. Since the cars were essentially hand assembled, the Altmans and Newman could offer an almost unlimited range of customization, the kind of bespoke or personalized assembly that today is offered by high end automakers like Ferrari and Aston Martin. Many buyers easily ran the $6,500 base Avanti past the $10,000 mark. The option list was much longer than when the car was a Studebaker: Hurst shifted four speed, power steering, power windows, AM/FM radio, fog and driving lights, a limited slip rear end, and the buyer’s choice of bias ply Firestones or the then fairly new radial ply tires introduced by Michelin. Interiors could be ordered in vinyl or full leather and exterior colors were whatever the customer wanted.

The bodies remained largely unchanged though Altman changed the stance of the Avanti to reduce some of the car’s dramatic rake, and the radii of the wheel openings were reduced and reshaped. Contemporary road tests gave the Avanti II a 0-60 time of between 7 and 9 seconds (depending on which Chevy motor was specified), quick for the day, with a top speed of 120 to 125 mph. The power disc/drum combination could decelerate the Avanti at 1g from 80 mph. Since the Chevy motor was a bit lighter in weight than the Studebaker V8, balance was improved and the Avanti II was a pretty good handling car by the standards of the day.

Realizing that price meant they were competing with Cadillacs and Corvettes, Newman and Altman marketed the Avanti as a personal luxury car before that term was invented. As federal safety and pollution regulations came into effect in the early 1970s, the small operation tried to keep up, adding somewhat less than attractive front bumpers. That decade was not a good one for Avanti Motor. Nate Altman died suddenly in 1976 and the inflation of the late ’70s drove the price of the Avanti II past $12,000 in 1976 and beyond $23,000 by the early 1980s.

Nate Altman’s death temporarily put an end to negotiations with businessman Stephen Blake, who wanted to buy the Avanti operation, and Altman’s brother Arnold (“Arry”) took over management of the company, Leo Newman having also passed away by then. Blake continued to pursue Avanti and in 1982 he finally bought the South Bend operations from the Altman family. Blake had grandiose plans for the Avanti, including a convertible, a race team and a new chassis with a trick independent rear suspension designed by racer Herb Adams. He did improve the way the car was built, but he became financially overextended, his bankers pulled the plug, and Blake sold off the company in 1985. Arnold Altman died in 2006 at the age of 88.

After Blake’s bankruptcy, subsequent owners would eventually build an “Avanti” that was a rebodied Chevrolet Camaro, giving a great automotive story an unfortunately sad coda. As far as I’m concerned the Avanti stopped existing when Blake sold the company as later “Avantis” had no trace of Studebaker genetics in them.

We’re not about to see the likes of Nate and Arry Altman and Leo Newman again. With all the regulations and standards that car manufacturers must meet today, the chance of someone buying the tooling and putting a major manufacturer’s automobile back into production for the same market just isn’t going to happen. Sure, older products live on in the developing world. Much of the Chinese auto industry got started by building, under license, older Mitsubishi Pajeros and other previous generation vehicles from established automakers. While you may be able to buy a new old Mitsubishi truck in a  third world country, you’re not likely to see someone put the C6 Corvette or Fox body Mustang back into production.

The blue 1963 Studebaker Avanti pictured here was photographed at the 2014 Motor Muster at Greenfield Village. The silver Avanti II also featured in this post was photographed at the funeral of Naomi Floch, of blessed memory. You wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t for Mrs. Floch, she was my first grade teacher, the person who first taught me how to write.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

59 Comments on “Avanti – The Car Too Striking To Die With Studebaker...”


  • avatar
    Duaney

    I vote for one of the most beautiful!

    • 0 avatar
      mechaman

      Agreed. As a lone car nut in my West Side of Chicago world as a boy, it was like seeing a UFO land in front of you, seeing an Avanti. Yep, someone in ‘K’ Town had one. A new one. I never could find out who it was .. but I’d see it somedays on my way to and from school. Wow.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Another über-interesting historical article, Ronnie. Keep them coming.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    Loved the article, vehemently disagree with you on the looks, despite its cameo appearance in “The Karate Kid.”

  • avatar
    geeber

    Great article on an interesting car. I would quibble about two points. Studebaker wasn’t the last independent car company. American Motors was in business, and it was still considered an “independent” car maker.

    The Studebaker board wasn’t determined to run the company “into the ground” when Egbert was hired. It was determined to exit the automobile business. The board had been on a diversification binge since the late 1950s. The goal was to create a conglomerate that did not live or die by automobiles. The board largely succeeded in reaching that goal, to the point that it was ready to exit the automobile business by the time it had hired Egbert.

    Egbert convinced the board to give the auto business one last try. The Avanti was one result, while the “new” Hawk and heavily face-lifted Larks were the other. Unfortunately, none of them gave the company’s auto business the permanent lift it needed.

    Egbert tried to get money for an all-new line of automobiles that would have debuted around 1963, but the banks demanded that Studebaker put up all of its non-automotive businesses as collateral. Even Egbert couldn’t stomach that, and the board would never have agreed to those conditions. Studebaker’s automotive operations were doomed by that point.

    It’s telling, however, that when Studebaker announced the decision to shut down its South Bend operations, its stock price actually ROSE. By that point, it had become a conglomerate with an unprofitable automobile business on the side. Wall Street felt that Studebaker would be better off without the automobile business. While the automobile division was gone, Studebaker survived as a corporation.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the quibbles. I agree with your clarification about Studebaker’s demise regarding the board’s attitude towards their automotive operations. I should have been clearer. As for Studebaker being the last independent, I decided not to consider AMC as an independent since it was formed by the merger of two independents, Nash and Hudson.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        I’ve always considered AMC-Nash to be the last independent since the merger with Hudson mostly produced Nash products, there was so little left of the Hudson product that Nash only benefited from gaining former Hudson dealerships. Another independent that produced a model in the 40’s that’s still quite popular today, was Willys-Overland. Jeeps are still produced, although it looks like they’re a Fiat product.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert did what he could with limited resources and a board of directors that seemed determined to run the more than century old company into the ground.”

    GMs Board of Directors has often been derided as a “Board of Bystanders” but for me Studebaker’s Board seems like a “Board of Backstabbers”. Every time there was some money being made they would start snapping up other companies instead of actually investing money in the cars.

    I know the car business wasn’t “profitable” but I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder about the lost of historical companies. Studebaker destroying Packard (and falsifying things to get their hands on it) and then Studebaker’s demise.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Funny enough I was just conversing about the Avanti today with a friend.

    Questions:

    -There is a convertibel 1989 Avanti for sale on ebay right now, which looks factory. Was this extremely rare?

    -Seems like they were made up through 2007, and the Avanti operation then shut down. The interior pics show the inside of a Mustang. Any details on what happened to them after the 80s? The convertible example I saw looks to have interior components from an XJS.

    -The other day on a different article around here, someone commented they almost crashed into an Avanti sedan once. There were never any made for sale, so they had a bad memory – or were there some sedans floating around?

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I, too, was thinking more about Avanti last week, when a friend invited me to an exhibit of California design near Boston, at the Peabody Essex Museum. The first part of the exhibit,at the museum entrance, was one of the last real Studebaker square headlight bezel Avantis, and it dawned on me, sure, the styling team did their work in Palm Springs, though Avanti conjures more of a South Bend image, otherwise.

      As for the article, what a pleasant and lengthy surprise. I too think the Avanti is an iconic American car, as was the Studebaker Starliner coupe and the early Hawks , and I applaud Studebaker and the Altman team for producing the Avanti and Avanti II. Sure, underneath it’s basically a Lark, but something similar can be said about the early Mustang and its Falcon/Fairlane basis. Good and clever design is just that, whatever you start with. Great job, Ronnie.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      Some of the newer Avanti models were 4 doors also, there was one at a recent show here in Colorado, I found it to be very attractive.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      The last Avantis based on the original Studebaker body molds were made in 1990 when the factory burned and the tooling was destroyed. By this time production had been moved from South Bend to Ohio. All Avantis made after 1990 were based on the GM F-Body and Ford Mustang. There was also a proposed Studebaker SUV which would have been based on the Hummer H2. Fortunately this idea never got beyond the concept stage.

      Production of the convertibles began in the mid-1980’s. Sedan production began later in the decade. Raymond Loewy’s Avanti sedan mockups were used for reference in the design of the production Avanti sedan. There are 1980’s period photos of these mockups in the Avanti factory.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Thanks for a great article and pics, as usual. I still see a 4 door Avanti nearby, usually parked in a driveway. Still a classic design.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The Avanti has always been one of my dream cars I’d like to own. Yeah, it’s beautiful and odd at the same time. I love them.

    We were recently at the Studebaker museum in South Bend. Worth your time if you’re nearby. It does make you wonder how they managed to stick around as long as they did, because besides the Avanti, the rest of the lineup was six years behind in styling. Who were the few buyers?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Who were the few buyers?

      People saddened by the loss of DeSoto who thought Buicks were too flashy. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “James Bond author Ian Fleming ordered a black Avanti and shipped it to foreign countries he visited outside his native England. Ricky Nelson, the second most popular (behind Elvis) rock and roll singer of the late 1950s and early 1960s, also owned an Avanti”

      They weren’t exactly cheap…

      ” The 1963 and 1964 models each had a $4,445 base price, when a less practical Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray two-seat coupe cost $4,252.”

      From “Road Tests and Classic Cars” Dan Jedlicka

      http://www.danjedlicka.com/classic_cars/studebaker_avanti.html

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Speaking of both the Studebaker Museum and the Avanti itself, the museum archivist, Andrew Beckman, published a book in 2012 devoted to the Avanti. It’s called “Studebaker’s Last Dance – The Avanti”. I’ve known about the book since last summer, but while visiting the Larz Andersen auto museum lawn show for American cars and trucks yesterday, I noticed the gift shop still had one copy left, and bought it. It sells on Amazon and Alibris for around $25, is about 62 pages and hardbound, and is about the size of one issue of Automobile Quarterly, for those of you who subscribe to AQ. It covers a little Studebaker history, goes into a little bit of post-Altman Brothers Avanti history. Most of it, though, centers on the Loewy-led Palms Springs design team with drawings, and the production Studebaker and Avanti II versions.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Another nice article, Ronnie. Though I agree with your opinion on the polarizing nature of the Avanti’s design, I always thought it unique but never attractive. Even so, this line from your story is the absolute truth:
    “Fewer beautiful cars have suffered as many indignities as the 1953 Studebaker coupe, the basis of the Hawk and Golden Hawk.”

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      While I’m a fan of the design, I also think that much of its impact is that it was so different from what the big 3 were offering. I remember how much my brother and I were wowed by the Avanti when it came out just because it was so distinctive.

      IMO, the Malibu Maxx is reminiscent of the Avanti when seen in profile.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Put down the pipe…

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The Malibu Maxx is horrible and I don’t want you to ever compare it to any Studebaker motorcar ever again!

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        Whinge all you guys want about the Maxx, my wife, sister-in-law and niece all have them and really like them for practicality and reliability. I see many of them on the road, so other drivers seem to be happy with them as well. As a driving appliance, the Maxx works pretty well. It’s about the biggest hatchback car you can find, the seats have been fine for long road trips, and the controls all make sense (unlike the Verano we rented recently).

        As to the Avanti resemblance, the front and back bumpers are what really remind me of the Avanti in side profile. But believe me, I don’t in any other way relate the Maxx to the Avanti, which remains sacred in my memory like the MGA and the first gen Riviera.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    One of my all time favorite dream cars from the moment I laid eyes on it at the 1963 Auto Show in Chicago I knew it was something special that would endure time, likewise the ’63 Riviera and Corvette Stingray. What a year for auto design

  • avatar
    50merc

    I owned an ’82 Avanti II for a time. The Avanti is an exotic that will always have many admirers. Partly because most of the admirers will never drive one. Many little things about the design–such as the airplane-style controls located at the top of the windshield–were not well thought out. The old Stude convertible frame, even with torque boxes added, wasn’t strong enough. Of course, no one buys a Ferrari because they’re cheap to maintain.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    Interesting perspective from an owner here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMz-M9L9suY

    I love the comment about his father’s driving from (I presume) Sioux Falls to Pierre in two hours.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    ” in the early 1960s, some cars were still using windshield wipers that ran on manifold vacuum.”

    Ha, I had a ’67 Lincoln Continental that had vacuum operated wipers that worked whenever they felt like it, on or off

  • avatar

    >>>Many buyers easily ran the $6,500 base Avanti past the $10,000 mark.

    Inflation adjusted, the base was almost 50k, and the 10k inflation adjusts to 75k.

    Gorgeous car. And very clean.

  • avatar
    redoglambo

    “Studebaker did make some revisions for the 1964 model year, the most notable being optional square headlight bezels”

    This change was actually made after about 300 or so 64 models were already built. I have a 64 Avanti with round headlights. It needs a new fuel line and possibly a new frame, but I’m always toying with the idea of putting a chevy LS1 in it.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    As always, thanks for sharing, Ronnie,

    I wonder if 40 years from now a similar article will be written about Fiskar.

  • avatar
    wmba

    One of the all time great designs.

    Used to gaze at the MT spread on this car and just lust for one as a teenager.

    Even then, we were all pretty clear that the chassis was as up to date as any 1950 torpedo nose Champion. But the design was of the whole world, being reminiscent of no country. Just achingly pretty, and then they couldn’t turn them out in any quantity. Ruined everything because you couldn’t imagine finding a used one in a few tears – too rare.

    Another great article.

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    Ronnie, thanks for another wonderful article. After reading it I called my dad and spoke to him for a bit. He worked in accounting at the Vernon, CA, assembly plant from 1951 to ’56 when they closed. He was proud to tell me about Raymond Loewy’s involvement with the company, and asked me if I’d ever heard of him. Thanks to you, I had. My dad rattled off the cars put together at the plant: the Champion, Commander and Land Cruiser. At 91 his memory is simply amazing. After we got off the phone I looked up Loewy; his portfolio blew me away. Thanks again for the article!

  • avatar
    MattPete

    Everytime* I see one, I think “Schit, that’s an ugly car”. I just don’t get it. The worst part is the nose. As a styling exercise, it’s interesting, as in “I wonder if this would look nice. Nope. Let’s move on”

    * OK, I’ve seen that sliver one a few time, and from a few angles, it hints at sexiness. Nonetheless, the Avanti is a collection of nice lines that are not integrated in any meaningful way. It’s anti-Gestalt: the whole is definitely less than the sum of it’s parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      It’s interesting how everyone’s opinion of styling is different. At a recent meet, there were two Avanti’s, and I thought how utterly beautiful. Apparently most eye’s find the car beautiful too, since various groups continued to build the car way beyond it’s era. I even have appreciated the 4 door model. Thank goodness we don’t all like the same thing, otherwise it would be a boring world. For the fun of it, if MattPete would list some of his favorite styles, we could see if there’s any thumbs down.

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        The Avanti is just one of those cars I just never “got”. I remember first reading about them in Road & Track and Car & Driver back in the 1980s (there were also a few Avantis running around Knoxville then). The experts would write about how it was such a beautiful car, but I could never see it.

        So, what do I like that brackets that era (American only? 1963 Corvette Stingray. Gt40.1968 Dodge Charger.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Great article. As a child I always loved the looks of the Avanti, 63 Buick Rivera, 63 Pontiac Grand Prix, 61 Lincoln Continental, 61 Olds 88, 61 Buick Electra, and the early Chevy Impala SS–61 thru 67. The Golden Hawk was a nice looking car as well. My father bought a 58 Studebaker Champion 2 door which was a very poorly finished car. The Avanti to me was a work of art which most cars and crossovers today are very similar with a few exceptions.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I just so happened to see one of these on the road about two weeks ago. No idea where it came from or where it was going- I don’t think I’ve ever seen one other than at a car show or a drive-in/cruise night.

    Now that I’ve read the story of them, I have no idea if it was an original or an Avanti Motor Corp. car. I just happened to see an Avanti and it was a thrill for me to simply see one. I’m a big enough gearhead that I already knew they could hit 160mph ;)

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Ronnie, Have you ever seen photos of Raymond Loewy’s 1957 BMW 507 concept car? Many of the Avanti’s styling cues were developed from this BMW.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    Thanks for another great article, Ronnie. When I was just learning to read back in the early 70s, there was a book in my elementary school library called “Car of the Year.” Every time you turned the page, you moved up one year, got photos, specs and history of that year’s car of the year. I must have checked it out 20 times and I still remember many of the cars including the Mercer Raceabout & the Stutz Bearcat, but my favorite was the very last entry–the Avanti. When my ship comes in, I just might seek one out.

  • avatar
    shaker

    If I’m not mistaken, this car (I forget the term for this) does not have a “step-in” body/frame; it’s just bolted on top. Thus, the “Avanti” was essentially a coachbuilding effort, which allowed it to continue on for many years, as it could be adapted to different platforms.
    Methinks that’s why the design seems a bit overdone, as they were trying to disguise the high COG of the body-on-top-of-frame design.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    nice story.

    great tribute.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    While some may have a problem with the looks and styling of the car, the prototypes were hideous and truly ungainly. I think what they ended up with was different enough to be noticed and attractive. These cars had staged seating, disk brakes (as mentioned) and a fuel economy (vacuum) gauge. Can’t fault them for trying. Side note: There was a dealer for Avanti IIs in Salem NH for years in the 90s (and maybe into the 2000s). I never stopped in but wish I had. Didn’t pique my interest at the time but there were a bunch of cars there on the lot available.

  • avatar
    lon888

    If I ever get to a point when I can have one helluva car collection, I want one of these. Preferably the R2 engine version. I remember reading road tests about this car when it first came out and at the time it was one of the fastest, if not the fastest cars sold in America. It could suck the doors off virtually anything foreign or domestic.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I was told the reason for so many under-dash AC units was that there just wasn’t enough room under the hood – these cars had small engine compartments for the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I think that’s true of the supercharged cars but not of the naturally aspirated R1’s.

      • 0 avatar

        The A/C components in the underdash unit, the cooling coils and blower, wouldn’t be under the hood in any case, they’d be built into the heater assembly inside the dash or someplace else on the passenger compartment side of the firewall. Under the hood you need room and a belt drive on the engine for the compressor and space for the evaporator (which isn’t that large) and room in front of the radiator for the A/C’s heat exchanger to get rid of the waste heat. I’ll have to check my photos, but I believe that I shot an R2 or R3 GT Hawk that had A/C.

        Okay, I checked. If you go to link below, click on the image and a flash player will start a slide show. Select mono and look at the engine compartment of the red GT Hawk. You can see the alternator, the big red Paxton supercharger on top of the engine, and off to the side there is a chromed cylindrical housing that looks like it’s an A/C compressor.

        http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=5985

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          In the passenger-side of the Red GT Hawk engine compartment photo, you can see the fan motor on top of the heater core box, which protrudes into the engine compartment to save room in the passenger compartment. I think that in the early days of A/C, it required a separate under-dash housing for the evaporator; but once A/C became more ubiquitous, the heater core box was redesigned and enlarged to accommodate the A/C evaporator, and dash vents were incorporated, even in cars W/O A/C.

          BTW, that red Hawk GT is Sweeeeeeet!

  • avatar
    oldkystude

    Great article! I’m a lifelong Studebaker fan and the son of two former Studebaker employees. I also own a much loved, but very tired 63 Avanti with over 500,000 miles which has been on static display in my barn for nearly two decades. It’s great to see the Avanti still getting such a positive response after so many years. Obviously I’m in the camp that thinks the design is inspired and timeless. A few quibbles:
    1. The roll bar is in the B pillar, not the C pillar
    2. All 1963 Studebakers had an alternator, not a generator. The Avanti’s did have a larger output as stated.
    that’s it! Again a well researched article.
    Regarding the comments on AC systems: My Avanti is equiped with factory air as is the blue car in the article. The two round ducts in the console below the radio are the only sources of cooled air. The Avanti was the only factory AC equipped Studebaker that did not have an under-dash evaporator unit. Air conditioning was only available on non-supercharged engines due to the limited room under the hood for the large York compressor. There have been modern small aftermarket compressors adapted to supercharged Avantis but none came from the factory. The normally aspirated R4 engine was supposedly developed to allow an AC system yet give performance similar to the supercharged R3 option but production ended before any were installed to the best of my knowledge.

    The Studebaker Avanti is still a joy to drive. The car is incredibly stiff . The engineers felt that the convertible Lark frame with its massive X member in the center would be needed for the unknown fiberglass body. It turned out that the body was far more rigid than a steel body and the combination gave it amazing rigidity and a side benefit of lowering the CG. The Lark was a fun car to drive ( much more so than the longer Hawks), and the Avanti is basically a Lark convertible with a sexy fiberglass body and powerful engine.

    I’d also like to add that the Studebaker Automotive Division was dealt it’s final blow by the terminal illness of President Egbert. The young man succumbed to cancer shortly after he was forced to resign due to his deteriorating health. He was singlehadedly keeping the New York bankers that controlled the Board at bay. The closure was probably inevitable, but maybe Mr Egbert could have pulled off the impossible if he had not been stricken. His story is one of the most amazing and tragic in American automotive history and almost completely unknown by most. The story of Studebaker, Loewy, Egbert and the Avanti would make one hell of a movie,

  • avatar
    snakebit

    In June 6, 2010, the New York Times printed a story in its Auto Ego series about a New York owner and his Avanti II. As of this morning, you can still read the account and look at color photos. The site is http://www.nytimes.com/autos and search for ‘Avanti II’. You’ll probably end up with three or four related stories, as well, in the search. I think the Auto Ego story is the first listing. The Times has a limit of articles you may read per month without subscribing, I think it’s four or five, so click on the right one. They run an automotive page in each Sunday paper, usually one piece being a new car or truck road test, and another either related to the road test, or a separate piece about a classic or special interest vehicle. Personally it’s interesting enough for me that I subscribe.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States