The Studebaker Avanti, originally available as a two-door coupe only, was America’s first personal luxury muscle car and was the result of the doodles made by the new president of Studebaker on an airplane ride in 1961. Shortly after the flight the president, Sherwood Egbert, working with designers and engineers, had a prototype of a radical, newly designed automobile, the Avanti, complete with a fiberglass body.
MCF thanks Gateway Classic Cars for the images used here.
The body mounts on a modified Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible frame and has a modified 289-cubic-inch Studebaker Lark V8 engine under the hood putting out 240 hp (179 kW). The car has front disc brakes made by Bendix and designed by British Dunlop. This is the first American-made production car to offer disc brakes as basic equipment. All this was done within 40 days of the president’s airplane ride.
Egbert planned to build 20,000 of the fiberglass bodies with the same company that built the 1953 Corvette fiberglass panels, but the company could only turn out 1,200 within the time frame. Not to be put off, the Studebaker Company announced through the newspapers that it would also turn out the molded bodies to help meet production goals. There were many other production problems and delays with material supply as well as cancelled orders.
Studebaker introduced the Avanti to the public April 26, 1962, at the New York International Auto Show. At the same time, during the show’s annual shareholders meeting, Roger Ward, the winning driver of the Indianapolis 500 auto race received an Avanti as part of his prize package making him the first person to own an Avanti. A Studebaker Lark was the Indianapolis Speedway’s honorary pace car that year.
Studebaker did have a good year in 1962, though, but it was too little, too late and the last Studebaker factory closed its doors on December 20, 1963. Contrary to conflicting reports that there were thousands of Avanti models gathering dust in the warehouse, the plant only had five units left. The dealers collectively had about 2,500 unsold units with a total of about 1,600 cars sold. This is a long way from the Chevrolet Company’s Corvette sales for ’63, which totaled 23,631 units.
The Studebaker Corporation did reopen its plant after forming an alliance with Packard under the new ownership of Newman & Altman, and it did resume producing cars in 1965. According to a book written by Stewart Chapman called My Father the Car, the plan was to place Avanti back in dealer showrooms for 1966, but that never materialized. Two ex-Studebaker dealers purchased the Avanti name along with most of the manufacturing equipment. They were the first in a line of many that continued to build Avanti replicas and other new custom-designed automobiles until 2006.
The Avanti “has a rare combination of safety designed into it with blazing fast speed.” This car equipped with the stock 289-cubic-inch engine and the stock, optional equipment Paxton supercharger broke 29 records on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Avanti has been described as “one of the most significant milestones of the post war automobile industry.”