Studebaker Avanti Is Now 50 Years Old

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.

Avanti Ad 2

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.

Avanti Original Supercharged (1)

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.

Avanti Original Supercharged (4)

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.

Avanti Original Supercharged (6)

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.

Avanti Original Supercharged (3)

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.

Avanti Original Supercharged (5)

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.

Studebaker Lark 62IndyPaceCar

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.

Avanti at 1962 Indy

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.

Avanti at Bonneville_1962

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.

Avanti at Bonneville Andy G

Andy Granatelli At The Wheel Of The Avanti

Studebaker’s Avanti advertising to full advantage of the records set at Bonneville.

Avanti Ad 1

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.

Avanti 1964

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.

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4 Responses to Studebaker Avanti Is Now 50 Years Old

  1. Peter says:

    it was a r3 engined avanti that broke the 29 speed records… from the 6s to the r4 there was 337 speed records broken by the end of 1963

  2. Mark Roberts says:

    I find it so amazing in such little time that Andy Granatelli had produced a great running Avanti, R3,R4,R5, he surly had the right idea by wanting to push more air thru the engine. What Studebaker did back in late 62, 63, and 64 Chevy, Mopar, and Ford has just now
    caught up, it just took them 50 years. I have to ask you a question, if you roll over which would you rather have, a padded roll bar, or however many air bags deployed by C-4, SO I have to ask you have the Auto’s today actually caught up with Studebaker’s safety. I hear 300 and something HP from the R3 engines, where do
    these folks get their hear say knowledge, it is a proven fact that all 9 of these production engines
    were dyno tested @ 4600 rpm pulling 425 HP or Studebaker would have not sold the car, this was
    also a 9 hour test that all these engines ran at. After they were tore down, all settings torqued, and
    all resealed for production sale. Shelby’s SC427 twin supercharged Cobra would barley produce
    425 Hp. At the auction this car sold for $4.5 million dollars, yes it’s a awesome car but so are the
    R3 Avanti’s, why isn’t the money there for these car’s. It should be, there were only 9 that were
    produced and they were a very trick Automobile, nothing like a R1 or R2. Look out folks cause
    my R3 is soon to be finished, 824 hp on the fly and 746 on the tires, it is fully optioned out, Tilt, pw-windows, am-fm black knob, P/steering
    tinted/W sun-band ft. and bk., full instruments r-3 tach., round knob wood grain, regal seats W/
    thick seat back, black cut/pile carpet W/ factory floor ” S ” mats, all 4 seat belts, padded roll bar,
    vireo speed wipers, all curtsey lamps including hood light and trunk, 1 strato-view mirror, R3SB-100
    engine W/ auto trans, 3:54 T-T, special solid sleeve A-Arms, transistorized ignition system, ram
    equipped air pressurized filter system, HD/springs W/Koni shocks and Halibrand 15X8 wheels with
    up to date sway bars front and back and handles like no other but a true R3. It is the original color
    of white, do you know it takes 17 different colors to produce the correct color of Studebaker’s Avanti white and finished with a beautiful coat of clear and body is flawless and is a pleasure to
    look at.
    Yes ” Avanti, ” does mean FORWARD >>>

    • Hi Mark,
      The Avanti was under appreciated and perhaps it was just the timing of it. Studebaker was going down the tubes and many people knew it. They made some great cars in addition to the Avanti, the Golden Hawks come to mind.
      Regarding your question about rolling in a car: I have rolled in car that had burst into flames on impact. It had a roll cage. I barely got out of that burning fiberglass car and I think that if I had to fight air bags to get out that car, then I would not have made it out.
      Steve McKelvie

  3. Mark Roberts says:

    Yes, I have to say; I worked for Autoliv. I was not impressed, I saw test that fail constantly. Air bags are a gimmick #1. to raise the cost of the automobile #.2 to pay a manufacture to produce the product. They may save lives but they also take lives. My daughter’s arm become broken when
    the bag deployed, their dangerous they have even decapitated people’s heads and have killed many babies. These worthless bag manufactures should be sued for hundred’s of billions of dollars. It’s a gimmick bases solely on ” SAFTY. ” It saves more than kills? This should never be! Air bags should be up to the individual as a option, if you want the dangerous things you can order it, as it is all my air-bags have been taken off my cars, I WILL NOT HAVE IT!

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