By on June 23, 2021

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 4.7-liter V8, which was good for 240 horsepower in standard guise. When equipped with the optional supercharger, the engine produced a whopping 289 horses. 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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60 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Studebaker Avanti Story, Part I...”


  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    God, I loved those things. My Dad bought a new car nearly every year, and I begged him to buy an Avanti. Anything with less than 4 doors was not a car he was interested in buying at the time, so it didn’t happen. But I remember seeing one at the showroom for the first time. It was even more magical in person than the photos indicated. I’m not a person who rates the looks of a car as a top priority. But to my eyes, this is as pretty a vehicle as about any I can think of. Way ahead of its time – my two cents worth, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I too, begged my father to buy an Avanti, but with a sticker price near $5K I basically was side-eyed and dismissed. I tried a compromise on the cheaper Corvette even making the argument that my sister and I really didn’t need a back seat, he still wouldn’t budge :(

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Still better looking than almost anything on the road.
    I wish someone still built them new today.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Definitely one of my all time favorite cars. As a kid seeing it at the 1963 auto show along with the split-window Corvette Stingray and the Riviera my love for the automobile was firmly implanted. Until this day my fantasy garage would contain these three cars

    Good choice, Corey, a legend and a classic with a timeless design that still looks good today

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      >LIE

      Man, you nailed it again. Could not agree more. My 3 top are the Avanti, C2 Corvette and the RIVas well.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      My dad did get the first generation Riviera, which is on my avatar; I don’t think he ever considered the Avanti, as he was a GM guy through and through (though usually Oldmobiles; the Riv was our only Buick).
      If the Avanti was indeed $5000 as Lie2me said, that would have put it well above the $4400 or so we paid for the Riviera.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Lol, my dad worked for GM and probably would have lost his job had he shown up with a Studebaker. His boss got one of the first Rivieras off the line, being a junior in the department my dad did the politically correct thing and got a Le Sabre

        I was devastated :(

  • avatar
    96redse5sp

    Credit where credit’s due. The iconic Starliner was designed by the great industrial designer Robert E. Bourke. Loewy deserves credit, I suppose, for hiring and employing Bourke, and putting him on the project, but the Starliner was a Bourke design…

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      There’s an old legend that Loewry locked his design team in a remote cabin and wouldn’t let them leave until a workable design for the Avanti was achieved. It took two weeks for the team to create the Avanti

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Speaking of remote cabins and legends…when the composer for the film “Doctor Zhivago” turned in the original draft for the music, the director, David Lean, was not pleased. Apparently the music wasn’t romantic enough. So Lean arranged for the composer and his lady friend to spend a few days in a remote, snowy mountain cabin, and told him to rewrite the score afterwards.

        Based on the finished score, a good time was definitely had in the cabin.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    Early to mid sixties was really a golden age for American styling. Besides the Avanti –

    the suicide door Continental
    the first-gen Riviera
    the ’65 Corvair
    the ’67 Barracuda
    the ’65-66 full size Chevys

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    There was a kid in HS whose dad daily drove a silver Avanti, even in the winter in SW Missouri. Another kids Dad occasionally drove their Delorean. I’m blessed to have grown up in the 80s.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I liked the style and design of the early Hawks and the Starliner coupe, but I have always thought Avantis were just a bit odd. Something about the proportions. I want to like it, and I feel like I’m supposed to, but I just don’t.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    I agree, the Avanti from a styling standpoint is my all time favorite with a close second being the 1st generation Rivera and the split window Corvette pulling in 3rd place. I’ve heard the stories about the creation of the Avanti by a small team assembled by Lowey; a small team of highly mot every titivated individuals can out perform a bureaucracy time.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    A great choice! Beautiful car, interesting history. I wasn’t aware of the 178-mph top speed – that’s legit. And frightening.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The houses from this period are simply the best-looking houses that have ever been built.

    Cars, not as much, but many of them (including this one) were quite beautiful. The late ’50s and the late ’60s were both times of baroque excess in cars, but the early ’60s were a nice respite of simplicity and good proportions.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I agree with everyone’s lists on the most beautiful cars (Riv, ‘Vette, Barracuda, Avanti). The ’67-69 Barracuda is the car that, as a 5-year-old witnessing one drive by, got me into a lifetime of cars. I currently own a ’69 Barracuda Convertible, which I’ve had since 2005 (bought it on vacation while in Canada – a helluva souvenir!).

    A girl I grew up with (her father was an industrial designer/inventor), and who I dated for a while about a decade ago, let it slip early on in our relationship that her grandfather was a car designer and worked for Raymond Loewy. Her father’s now-dining-room-table was an old table that had been in his living room as a child, and that many of the designers (including Loewy) would come over to his house in the evenings and do clay modeling on this very table. One time her father brought over a 3-ring binder for me to look through. It was one of those old-style binders with the blue burlap cover, which was embossed with the Studebaker logo and signed on the front by Loewy. Inside were original drawings (on vellum) for literally dozens of cars that they worked on. It was amazing to carefully turn the pages of that book and see the instantly-identifiable, perfectly-executed pencil drawings of this group. So many iconic vehicles in that book.

    As an unrelated aside, Raymond Loewy designed the Coke bottle. ‘Nuff said….

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      ” I currently own a ’69 Barracuda Convertible, which I’ve had since 2005″

      Nice nest egg you’ve got there, Dave…

      Convertible $60,250

      https://www.conceptcarz.com/valuation/10451/plymouth-barracuda.aspx

      • 0 avatar
        cardave5150

        It’s a slant-6 (the Leaning Tower Of Power!), 1 of 128 built in ’69, allegedly 1 of 9 left, and the only Canadian one left. Almost completely original (driver’s door has been repaired after it was kissed in a minor accident prior to me owning the car). The spare has never been out of the trunk. Only filters, tires, wiper blades, belts, etc have been replaced. It’s far, far from perfect, but it’s a joy. Red, white top, white interior. I’m the 2nd owner. You’d be shocked at what I paid for it.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    My grandfather was an engineer with Studebaker – I believe he helped design the brakes and suspension on all models. And according to my mom and uncle, there was always a new Studebaker in the driveway each year. It was a sad day in South Bend when they shut down. There is a redone museum celebrating the Studebaker in South Bend and recommend a visit.

    He took his experience to Bendix when Studebaker shut down. But we recently found some of his old Studebaker papers and pictures while going through some boxes. Studebaker was South Bend and when they closed, a big part of the city went with it. But the cars they made, well, they had to be some of the most stylish cars of the era.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I have an elderly cousin in South Bend who has a pristine Avanti in his garage. A souvenir from his stint at Studebaker

    • 0 avatar
      jeffmete

      I worked for Bendix in the 80’s and we had a lot of older ex studebaker hourly employees as most lost their pensions when studebaker folded.

    • 0 avatar
      96redse5sp

      Studebaker didn’t die in South Bend. They packed up and moved to Canada for the final two years and packed it in in 1966 as a Canadian-based company.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        That is a story that would probably interest many of the younger readers here as well as those from the USA who do not know the whole story.
        It seems that Studebakers Board/executive did not want the auto manufacturing business to succeed. Studebaker in Canada was originally profitable even when they had to use GM engines sources from the St Catharines Ontario plant. Studebaker had the rights to Mercedes and made a profit importing VW’s and reselling them to VW as Studebaker paid less duty on them than VW itself would. Studebaker also nearly had the rights to Nissan/Datsun but that was curtailed by a bad management decision.

        It is a bit of a shame because Studebaker did have a small but loyal following.

  • avatar
    Robs

    The Avanti team, which my dad headed, worked in a rented home in Palm Springs (where Loewy had a house). My dad drove Loewy’s personal Avanti back from South Bend, he arrived home to Long Island many hours before he was due – he had quite the heavy foot on the accelerator! As an aside the 64 updates used my father’s Avanti where they taped up the square surround for the headlights. Of the many projects my father worked on I believe he was proudest of the Avanti. His name was John Ebstein.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Wow, so this is your dad…

      “In the spring of 1961, Sherwood Egbert, the new president of Studebaker, hired Raymond Loewy to revitalize Studebaker’s public image to attract younger buyers. Loewy agreed to take on the job, despite the short schedule allowed to produce a finished design and scale model. Loewy recruited a design team consisting of experienced designers and former Loewy employees, *John Ebstein* and Robert Andrews, as well as a young student Tom Kellogg from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The team gathered in Palm Springs and sequestered themselves in a house leased solely for the purpose of developing the new car design…”

      https://www.theavanti.com/designteam.html

      It’s a pleasure to meet you, I bet you have some great stories :)

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent! Good to see someone in the comments with such a personal connection here!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s way too cool, Robs.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    The Gen-1 Mustang is a pleasant enough looking car, but it’s still busier with unneeded creases and trim bits than the cars on my list.

    Of course, compared to the dementedly over-styled cars of today, it’s downright minimalist.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    I have to award some major props to the president of Studebaker. How would you like to be a third grade boy with a name like “Sherwood H. Egbert”?

    I don’t know if I’d a made it out alive.

    ‘Course now, ya gotta wonder about that middle initial. Heathcliff? Humbert? Horatio?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Upon arriving in the Motor City area in 1990 to start my new job (first of many Bad Decisions), was puzzled to see an Avanti dealer stocking brand-new cars not too far from my apartment. [Used to believe I was aware of most new cars on offer – well you missed this one, Junior.]

    (Will wait for Part II to see if my memory is validated.)

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Corey I’ve got your next RR, I’ve never seen one of these so clean before.

    https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/cto/d/pittsburgh-1989-tc-maserati-chrysler/7337465611.html

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I always loved the Avanti and the Hawks. The Avanti, 63 Rivera, 63 Grand Prix, the GTO, and the early Impalas especially 62,64,65, and 68 made me a car lover as the 64 1/2 Mustang, Mercury Marauder, Cougar, 63 and 64 Galaxy 500 XL with the bucket seats. If I were growing up today I would likely have little interest in any of the new vehicles. There were some beautifully styled vehicles in the 60s especially early 60s. Most of today’s vehicles elicit as much excitement as a refrigerator, washing machine, or vacuum cleaner.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Ah, the one that got away.

    My dad had a friend who was relocating to Denver from the Bay Area,
    and boy was he a car guy.

    He needed to move some metal quickly and had a T bucket, a 1965 Monza rolling body and…a very nice Avanti, beige on beige with the supercharger.

    1800 bucks and it could have been mine.. but too far out of reach for a high school kid in 1973 with no savings yet.

    So I did score the Monza from him. 35 bucks for a rolling body with no engine was a screaming deal. It became my main ride for a few years, and I still miss driving it to this day. There’s a photo on Google showing it parked at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle for the 1975 CORSA convention.

    I’d still have that Avanti to this day if I could have snagged it.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I wasn’t aware the original Avanti came with the supercharger as standard. Thought it came with a regular 4-bbl carb and the blower was an option.
    Anybody?

  • avatar
    northeaster

    Never an Avanti, but I do have fond memories of one of the Canadian built 65 or so Lark wagons that my dad bought used during the late 60’s. Cute car with a GM 289 and a sliding hatch roof at the rear.

    Dad didn’t do quite what you’d have liked about brake adjustment, though. Sitting at a stoplight on a steeper-than-you’d-like downhill about 50 yards from the local river, the brake pedal sank suddenly to the floor.

    As a 14 year old, I’d been doing high school weights and could leg press 400 lb: neither that nor pumping the pedal quite solved the problem.

    I was lucky enough to quickly discover the value of parking pawls and how a car can ring back and forth once you engage one while in motion…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Four postings on the Avanti and I cannot recall seeing one mention of Andy Granatelli.

    Must be some sort of generation gap as his name and the Avanti were closely attached for a number of years.

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