Classic Cars A to Z

Studebaker Avanti History (1962-1964)

Article by Mark Trotta

As the decade of the sixties began, Studebaker was in financial trouble. Although they had merged with the Packard Motor Company in 1954, Detroit's Big Three (Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler Corporation) continued dominating American car sales, and smaller independent companies were floundering.

1963 Studebaker Avanti at classic cars automotive show

In February of 1961, newly appointed president Sherwood Egbert proposed designing and building a sports car to help boost the company's image and attract younger buyers. He contacted industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

Loewy had worked with Studebaker previously. Among others, the Starlight and Starliner models were designed by his team.

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Egbert asked Loewy if he could create a new sporty car, and have a full-scale clay model ready within a six-week period. A design team was assembled in quick order and the scale model car was completed on schedule.

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Fiberglass vs Steel Body

To get the car produced quickly, fiberglass body panels were chosen over conventional sheet metal. There were two main reasons for this:

There would not be enough time for the tooling process required for steel panels, plus a fiberglass car would be lighter (Loewy has been quoted as saying, "Weight is the enemy").

1963 Studebaker Avanti

After debate of whether or not to mold the fiberglass panels in their own factory, Studebaker contracted them out to Molded Fiberglass Products Company, the same outfit that had been making the Chevrolet Corvette bodies. This would prove to be a bad decision.

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Avanti Chassis

The budget for the Avanti allowed for a new body only, so the frame and suspension had to be taken from an existing model. The 109-inch wheelbase of the Lark convertible's was chosen, but for the Avanti body it was too short in the front and too long in the back. To remedy this, engineers cut the frame just behind the rear leaf springs.

Front coil springs were taken from the Lark's heavy-duty police package, with rear leaf-springs borrowed from the Lark station wagon. Measuring just over 192 inches, the Avanti weighed in at about 3,700 pounds.

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Drivetrain

Powering the Avanti were one of three derivatives of Studebaker's 289ci V8 engine:

The base motor was referred to as the R1. It featured a four-barrel carburetor, 10.25:1 compression, and produced 240 horsepower. Dual exhaust was standard with all engines.

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The R2 engine option became available on the 1964 Avanti. It was fitted with a belt-driven centrifugal supercharger, boosting standard horsepower to 289.

The R3 engine, while getting a great deal of publicity, was very rare. It was larger in displacement than the other two engines (304.5 cubic inches), and records show just nine 1964 Avanti's were so equipped.

Transmission

Base transmission was a stick-shift three-speed manual, with most cars being fitted with either the optional four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

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Avanti Safety Features

1962 Studebaker Avanti's came standard with front disc-brakes - a first for a major American car manufacturer. There is also a roll-bar built into the roof. T-tops were suggested but would have been too expensive to manufacture.

Avanti cars history

Inside, the Avanti featured bucket seats, full instrumentation, and a stylish console. The dash panel was padded for safety as well as aesthetics, with the light switches moved above to an aircraft-inspired overhead panel. Early models came equipped with a 140-mph speedometer.

Optional equipment included air conditioning, power steering, and electric windows.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Avanti is the smooth nose - Loewy considered front grilles far too commonplace. To ensure the engine would be cooled properly, a special radiator was designed, used in conjunction with a bottom air dam.

Studebaker Avanti value

As to the curious bulge on the left side of the hood, Loewy explained;

"...that panel was oriented forward where the roadway would bend with the horizon, parallel to the centerline of the chassis frame. It made the car and driver integral, like the sight of a gun."

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Avanti Introduction

The Avanti was publicly introduced on April 26, 1962, with a base price of $4,445 - as much as a new Ford Thunderbird and slightly more the 1963 Buick Riviera.

Initial Production Issues

After great initial reception and an encouraging amount of pre-orders, the factory ran into serious production issues. The tolerances of the 100+ fiberglass body parts and panels were off, and the cars could not be assembled.

There were reports of the rear window glass popping out at high speeds due to air pressure. Months rolled on and production backed up. The car finally made it to dealer showrooms in the fall of 1962.

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Studebaker Avanti Performance

With the base 289ci engine, 0-60 mph times were about 9.5 seconds. The supercharged option cut that figure to 7.5 seconds. The shape of the body, being very aerodynamic, was well-suited for high-speed runs.

Avanti At Bonneville

In October of 1963, a specially-prepared Avanti set a flying-mile record of 168.15 mph at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Another 28 production-car records were also set.

200 mph Studebaker Avanti at Bonneville

The "world's fastest production automobile" was equipped with full roll-cage, additional instrumentation, and extra oil and supercharger cooling systems. It was driven by famed racer Andy Granatelli.

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Avanti Production Figures

Studebaker's financial situation worsened, and the South Bend, Indiana factory was forced to close its doors in December 1963. Only 3,834 Avanti's were built for 1963 and a mere 809 for 1964.

Originally intending to sell tens of thousands of these beautiful cars, the final total for it's 18 months of production was 4,643.

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Avanti Car Value

In 2017, a four-speed, R2 equipped Avanti sold for $99,000 at the Mecum Monterey auction. A second example, a pristine #1 condition example with factory supercharger and four-speed, sold for $126,500.

1963 Studebaker Avanti at classic car show

pictures courtesy nashnut.com

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