Avanti coulda been a contender

Had it been sold by Ford, GM or Chrysler, the Avanti might have been a real sales winner.

But it had the misfortune to be a product of the financially challenged Studebaker company, and its full potential was never realised.

Styled by famed American industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, the car was the last throw of the dice for the ailing Studebaker company.

Sherwood Egbert, Studebaker’s president, first sketched the car’s overall design theme on a napkin while on a plane flight in early 1961.

Egbert then called Loewy, who had just re-designed President John F Kennedy’s Air Force One, giving the plane its distinctive colour scheme, which remains on the US Presidential jet today.

Lowey and his team spent the next two months in seclusion in Palm Springs, California, styling a sensationally curvaceous close-coupled coupe.

They drew a coke-bottle waist line and slim pillars supporting a thin section roof with a huge rear window

Razor-edged front fenders swept back into the jacked-up tail.

Loewy replaced the conventional grille by putting an air scoop under a thin front bumper.

Inside, ample crash padding was combined with four slim-section bucket seats, seat belts and an aircraft-style dash board.

The car was publicly introduced in April 1962 at the New York International Automobile Show and at Studebakers’ Annual Shareholders’ Meeting.

Roger Ward, who won the 1962 Indianapolis 500, was given a Studebaker Avanti as part of his prize package and was the first American to own one.

The Avanti was built from June 1962 and to the end of 1963.

It featured a fibreglass body which was bolted to a modified Studebaker Lark convertible frame.

The engine was a 4.7-litre V8. Those who hankered for more power could tick the option list for a Paxton supercharger.

Unusual for the time, at least for an American car, was its front disc-brakes.

Studebaker believed it would sell 20,000 Avantis a year, but could only produce 4500.

Production problems with the fibreglass body resulted in many delays and cancelled orders.

Then came the hammer blow. In December 1963 Studebaker’s financial woes meant the shutters came down on its south Bend, Indiana, factory and Avanti production ceased.

Studebaker exited the car business in 1966.

The shame of the Avanti was that it was Studebaker’s version of the Ford Mustang, but they could not capitalise on its good looks, great handling and strong motors.

The Avanti name and tooling were sold to a succession of entrepreneurs and would be car moguls and small numbers of replicas have been marketed over the years.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

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