The Avanti; Studebakers Last Stand

September 29, 2015

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By: Matt WolfeNews

By the 1960’s, Studebaker was one of the last small independent American car manufacturer’s still standing. However, the company was not financially stable and desperately needed a hit. In early 1961, Raymond Loewy was asked by Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert to help create a car that would revitalize Studebaker’s image and sales by appealing to younger buyers. The Avanti was Studebaker’s final attempt to stay afloat by returning to the company’s basic principles; excellent original design, building what the competition couldn’t, and doing more with less.

Loewy already had a well-established relationship with Studebaker, having aided in the designs of certain models since the 1930’s, and his track record for creating eye catching shapes was outstanding. Lowey had overseen the design of the 1953 Starlight Coupe, widely regarded as one of the best-designed cars of the era, as well as the 1956 Hawk. To conceive the Avanti, Lowey recruited experienced designers like John Ebstein and Bob Andrews, as well as a young student named Tom Kellogg. Loewy and his team were given less than two months to produce a finished design and a scale model to present to Studebaker executives. The men were sequestered in a house near Loewy’s residence in Palm Springs, California to in order to minimize outside interference and distractions.

Under Loewy’s direction, the team worked around the clock to complete the design in time. Once the scale model was completed, Loewy rushed it to Studebaker headquarters in South Bend Indiana. Egbert and the Board of Directors were thrilled with the cars curvaceous and aerodynamic shape and approved the design for production. The Avanti was publicly introduced on April 26th, 1962 at the New York International Auto Show.

The public’s reception to the Avanti was overwhelmingly positive, and advance orders came pouring into South Bend. However, production delays, complications with the fiberglass bodies, and the news that Studebaker might soon be leaving the automotive business caused many customers to cancel their orders. Despite the tremendous publicity from the Avanti, Studebaker was unable to survive the decade. Avanti production ceased in 1963 with the closing of the South Bend Indiana factory and the last Studebaker rolled out of the Hamilton Ontario plant in 1966.

Despite its production issues, the Avanti was too good to die young. The Avanti would actually out live the Studebaker name and was reproduced for many years, most notably by a pair of former Studebaker dealers; Nathan Altman and Leo Newman. After Studebaker folded, Altman and Newman bought the rights to the vehicle and founded the Avanti Motor Corp., which built Avanti II’s in the former Studebaker factory in South Bend.

Created on a shoestring budget and in record time, the Avanti embodied definitive Studebaker qualities. The car was not only beautiful, but its shape was so timeless that it’s impossible to attach it to one particular era. Though the Avanti could not save Studebaker, what the company was able to produce with their backs against the wall was astonishing.

Andrew Beckman of the Studebaker National Museum contributed to this story. Now on display at the Automotive Hall of Fame is an example of a Studebaker Avanti II owned by Conrad Zumhagen.



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