This year the Studebaker Avanti turns 50. This car was only made for two years, 1963 & 1964, by Studebaker before Studebaker began to scale down as they headed into bankruptcy. Avanti was introduced to try to save Studebaker, but unfortunately it missed the target. As I will get into later, it turned out that the Avanti outlasted Studebaker.
An Advertisement For The 1963 Studebaker Avanti
The story goes that the original design of the Avanti was based on some sketches that the president of Studebaker Corporation, Sherwood Egbert, drew while on a cross-country airplane flight. The final design of the car was completed by Raymond Loewy’s design company.
The design of the Avanti has always been controversial. Most people either like it or hate it. I belong to the rather small group in the middle, while leaning towards to the “like” side.
A 1963 Studebaker Avanti
The Avanti (Italian for “forward”) featured a fiberglass body design mounted on a modified Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible chassis. The design was completely different from every other North American car at that time. In many ways the Avanti design which had a long hood and short trunk deck was a couple of years ahead of the design of the “pony” cars of the 1960s.
The Avanti Had The Long Hood & Short Deck That Became The “Typical” Design For The Later “Pony” Cars
The Avanti was available with a number of different engine horsepower ratings. The base Avanti engine was the 289-cubic-inch V-8 which was a V8 engine used in many other Studebaker models over the years. In the Avanti, this “Jet Thrust” engine developed 240 horsepower in standard “R1” form with improvements such as a 3/4-race high-lift camshaft, dual-breaker distributor, four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhausts.
There were several optional versions of this engine which featured a Paxton supercharger. The “R2” form of this supercharged engine developed 290 horsepower. There also were a few supercharged “R3” V-8s with 335 horsepower.
Apparently there was an experimental non-supercharged “R4” 280-horsepower 289 cubic inch V-8 with dual four-barrel carburetors. The ultimate powered Avanti was a twin supercharged, fuel-injected “R5” V-8 with magneto ignition producing 575 horsepower.
The picture below shows the red-colored Paxton supercharger in an Avanti.
This Car Had 289 R2 Supercharged V8 Engine
While the exterior design of the Avanti is controversial, I find the interior design to be among the best ever. Perhaps only approached by the Studebaker Golden Hawk. The instrumental cluster is truly driver-focused. The gauges that are not directly in front of the driver are angled towards the driver. No idiot lights are present. Real, clear to read gauges are used.
The Avanti Had Possibly The Best Instrument Cluster Of Any North American Car – Ever
The interior of the Avanti is simple and luxurious. It was all part of a package that drew many people into Studebaker dealerships. The 1963 and 1964 models each had a $4,445 base price, at a time when a Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray coupe cost $4,252.
But things did not go well with the Avanti. Anxious to benefit from the early excitement of the Avanti and to get people into the showrooms of the then financially troubled Studebaker, the car was rushed into production. However it turned out that production was delayed for months because Molded Fiberglass Co., which also built Corvette fiberglass body parts, botched the Avanti bodies–forcing Studebaker to set up its own fiberglass production in order to build the cars.
As a result, many Avanti buyers canceled advance orders and then bought a Corvette or some other car. All of this was happening amid stories that Studebaker was on its last legs, which also turned off many potential buyers as concerns over servicing and parts arose. It turns out that these concerns were valid as Studebaker closed its South Bend operation in
December, 1963, when the last 1964 Avanti was completed.
The Interior Of The Avanti Is Very Nice
The first Avanti had been completed in April 1962. That year the Studebaker Lark had been selected as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. Somehow Studebaker got the Avanti selected as an “honorary” pace car, which gave them the opportunity to have the Avanti shown to a wide audience at a famous race. In the early 1960s the Indianapolis 500 was perhaps the largest single sporting in the country. The photo below shows the official Studebaker Lark convertible that was the pace car at the 1962 Indianapolis 500.
While The 1962 Studebaker Lark Was The Official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, The Avanti Was The Honorary Pace Car
The photo below shows the Studebaker Avanti as the honorary pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Studebaker wanted to promote the performance image of the Avanti.
Early Avanti At The 1962 Indianapolis 500
Much of the Avanti’s performance image came from the records that the Avanti established at the Bonneville Salt Flats. At Bonneville a R5 engine equipped (Studebaker 304CID V8 with dual superchargers with a Bendix fuel injection system) set 29 speed records.
The driver for these speed records was Andy Granatelli of Indianapolis racing fame who at the time was director of Paxton Supercharger Division of Studebaker.
Studebaker Avanti At The Bonneville Salt Flats
In the early 1960s Andy Granatelli’s name was strongly associated with racing due to the success of his racing teams at the Indianapolis 500. So Studebaker and the Avanti greatly were helped by the involvement of Andy Granatelli’s involvement with the records set at Bonneville.
Andy Granatelli At The Wheel Of The Avanti
Studebaker’s Avanti advertising to full advantage of the records set at Bonneville.
Studebaker Took Advantage Of The Bonneville Records
Despite all of the good news about the Avanti, it just was overwhelmed by all of the production problems and the general bad odor surrounding any of the Studebaker cars of that era as Studebaker was in its death throes. As a result, only 3,834 Avantis were built in 1963 and another 809 were classified as 1964 models. In general, the 1964 Avantis can be distinguished from the 1963 Avantis by the square headlight bezels on the 1964 Avantis.
The 1964 Avanti Had Square Headlight Bezels
The Avanti design did not die with the Studebaker Corporation. Over the years the rights to the Avanti design have been kept alive by several rather small car builders. The subsequent cars are known as Avanti II. After the Studebaker parts ran out, General Motors parts have frequently been used as the basis for the Avanti II. It is not unusual to see an Avanti II. In fact, I was at a large New England car show this past summer where there were about four Avanti II cars and only one original Avanti.
I am not sure if anyone is currently building the Avanti II, but like it or hate it, the Avanti design outlived the Studebaker Corporation and 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Studebaker Avanti.