Wednesday, April 1, 2009
1963 Studebaker Avanti
Probably the most remarkable car that came on the market in 1963: the Studebaker Avanti sports car. The Studebaker management felt that the company needed a product that would boost the slipping image of its name in order to survive. In that respect they commissioned the development of an exotic sports car in 1961.
World-renown designer Raymond Loewy, already responsible for some great Studebaker-designs in the early 1950s, was asked to do what he did best: to design a car with an elegant four-seater coupe body. Because the development and production costs for this model had to be as low as possible, the body was made of fiberglass and was placed upon the 2-door Lark chassis. The car was named "Avanti" (=forward in Italian) and meant to be introduced at the 1962 Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately production problems resulted in a costly delay and so the car appeared in 1963.
Caliper disc brakes
...safety roll bar
At its introduction the Avanti aroused a lot of attention, and it still does today as you can see on this picture. Still, the 6 month production delay caused by lacking body-shell quality by the manufacturer (the same that supplied GM with Corvette bodies), proved critical. A lot of advance orders were cancelled and sales remained limited.
The Avanti design however turned out very well. On the outside it looked very modern and a trend-setter with very clear and flowing lines. On the inside it was inspired by aircraft. It featured overhead rocker switches which controlled lights and ventilation, a wonderful padded interior with full bucket seats and fancy red-illuminated dials. Practical luxuries were the interior access panel to the luggage compartment and the beauty vanity in the dashboard on the passenger side, complete with pop-up mirror, makeup tray, accessory shelf and beverage tray. For safety and rigidity reasons a "safety steel arch" was fitted behind the doors, something we now call a roll-over bar, to protect the inhabitants from decapitation in accidents where the car landed on its head (the fiberglass hull itself offered virtually no protection at all).
Dashboard with "beauty vanity"
...interior luggage access panel
The rear looks special too with tiny lights and a big panoramic rear window. Judging by the plates on this car it was registered late 1962, so it was probably one of the first Avantis in Holland.
Standard motorization for the Avanti came from the 240 hp Jet-Thrust V8, propelling this 1500 kg car to an interesting maximum of 225 kph. To cope with that speed a modern front wheel suspension lay-out was fitted including racing-type caliper disc brakes. In the rear there were finned drum brakes and all brakes were power operated. Transmission was Studebaker's Power-Shift, an automatic that also permitted manual shifts.
For model year 1963 some 3,834 Avantis have been produced. For model year 1964 a mere 809 Avantis left the factory, and after that the production of this model was stopped. By Studebaker that is. Because in 1965 the Avanti reappeared, but now it was produced by the Avanti Automotive Corporation in a small portion of Studebaker's original South Bend plant. Two local Studebaker dealers had bought the name, plans and molds of the Avanti and managed to produce it (as the Avanti II) with some commercial success up to the 1990s. These were however hand-built exotics, custom-made and rather expensive and only a few hundred of them left the factory each year.
Studebaker offered the Avanti with the un-blown Jet-Thrust R1 V8 as standard, but if you wanted more, you could. A lot... Most common option was the supercharged Jet-Thrust R2 engine. This engine featured Andy Granatelli's Paxton supercharger like you see here on the picture, and it offered 290 hp instead of 240. It increased top speed and 0-60 mph (0-96 kph) acceleration was brought down to 7.3 sec.
More exotic options were the bored-out Jet-Thrust V8s, now with 4990 cc (304.5 cid) capacity: there was the supercharged R3 with 9.6:1 compression and 335 hp, the un-blown R4 with twin 4-barrel carburetors, a 12:1 compression and 280 hp and the more experimental R5 version with two superchargers (one per cylinder bank), magneto ignition, Bendix fuel injection and a staggering 575 hp! The Jet-Thrust R3 and R4 were manufactured in 1963 but designated to be model year 1964 engines; the R5 wasn't offered by the factory but probably was by Paxton Products.
Nowadays the Avanti enjoys an enthusiast following and is one of the best valued Studebakers. A lot of the 4,643 original Avantis have survived to this day and have ended up in collections and museums. Still it has remained a car that only car buffs seem to know about, especially outside the US. That's probably the reason why here in Europe you can pick one up for a rather agreeable price, if you can find one...
For Studebaker the Avanti wasn't the rescue that was hoped for. It came too late to end Studebaker's downward spiral and at the end of 1963 the South Bend plant, Studebaker's 100 year old home ground, was sold off. Production was transferred to Studebaker's small assembly plant in Hamilton, Canada in a desperate attempt to survive as a low-volume manufacturer. The management hoped to continue on a profitable 20,000 cars a year basis, but without development facilities and sufficient financial backing this proved to be a dead end. After producing a mere 8,947 cars in 1966 the Studebaker Corporation's long history eventually ended there in Ontario.
Posted by Palmer at 5:04 PM