Curbside Classic 1963 Studebaker Avanti Flawed Brilliance

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Curbside Classic: 1963 Avanti Flawed Brilliance

30, 2013

curbside Avanti posted at the CC Cohort by Foden

Every car has a story, but some are a of a lot more compelling than The Avanti s may well take the it s the absolute antithesis of how cars are were) typically conceived, and built in Detroit. And it shows: it s utterly brilliant and flawed. else to expect when you four designers in a house out in the for a few weeks, stop the clocks, cut the lines, and work them hours per day to create a car to be the Hail pass for a dying Studebaker? s not quite the recipe of measured trial and error that in the timeless perfection of some of the memorable new cars from like the Buick Riviera, Sting Ray and Porsche 911.

No, the Avanti wasn t; but highly it is, perhaps because of just

Studebaker s automotive business was in doo-doo when the energetic Egbert (on left, with Loewy) took the driver s in early 1961. After a flowering of profits from the compact 1959 Lark. of the money had been spent on diversification acquisitions by a board saw the inevitable writing on the car-factory But Egbert was determined to shake up and turn Studebaker s car business

Now that s the makings of a spectacular Death Watch series.

We ve some of those chapters, the 1962 Gran Turismo and the 1963 Wagonaire; as well as might have been, the Sceptre. Egbert was desperately to find a viable niche for in a rapidly changing market, as the segment was suddenly very While trying to synthesize a formula for the longer haul, reverted to a common tactic: the halo car, something to some buzz and floor-traffic for the Studebaker line, while out how to fund a line of new cars.

  A stylish sports car; was the solution! Especially since had worked so well for Kaiser .

It was familiar territory for Studebaker. in 1953, the brilliant Starliner (1954 with non-stock skirts shown; CC here ), called the Loewy coupe for Loewy whose design had a lengthy contract with for decades, generated a lot of excitement too subsequent disappointment). The Loewy had ended some years Egbert arrived, but wanting to the old magic, Egbert picked up the one day in January of 1961, and told to design him a sports car . And it must be a .

And here s the real kicker: the clay model was to be delivered in six

image: Studebaker 1946-1966 Langworth

Of course, Loewy him he could do it, as long as he was left alone, without any interference South Bend. It was so agreed, and took three of his best Tom Kellogg, Bob Andrews and John and sequestered themselves in a rented Springs desert bungalow no clocks. telephone or conjugal They came with no what their mission

Loewy arrived with a of drawings, gave them the and then the work started.

s initial drawings envisioned a glassy green house, but eventually gave way to the more upper body design. But were four aspects Loewy insisted on being and developed: a wedgy stance, a shape, an asymmetrical hump on the that terminated in a wrap-around panel, and a grill-less front All were highly unconventional for the but the Avanti s front end was the most at least for American cars, as the DS had one since 1955.

It certainly was foreshadowing the bikini-wax front that came to dominate design some twenty later, right down to the headlights.

Oddly, the clean original lights were changed to surrounds for the 1964 MY, although 64s still had the round lights. Not an to my eyes, and Avanti-istas will on this issue forever.

The result is utterly unique, distinctive, and something of an acquired Clearly, the Avanti would have come out of Bill s studios. From some like this one, it a bit amateurish, and as if its plastic body had melting a bit.

Look how the of the door heads upwards its jacked-up rear end. You wouldn t see that on a Detroit-mobile.

attracting stares 50 years on

s undoubtedly the result of the Avanti s in a hermetically-sealed environment, with no outside perspective or the ability of the to step away for a while. It s much a true Loewy not unlike all of the cars he designed for his use.

There are so many details that may seem like the unusual wheel They were inspired by the curves of space capsules to earth, from Loewy s with NASA. The rather rake of the windshield was a compromise, Egbert conked his head into the seating buck.

were others too, out of necessity of making the Avanti fit the 109 wb Lark convertible frame, an evolution of Studebaker frames back to at least 1953. Not a bad thing, but it was a rather high, affair, and achieving a low roof meant practically sitting on the as had been the practice on Stude since 1953.

From angles, the Avanti works, superbly even, as long as one in mind the limitations of its gestation and Its Coke-bottle shape and clean were certainly prescient, a that would soon be by GM in 1965.

In its overall conception and market, the Avanti is perhaps analogous to some of the small British luxury coupes, the Bristol and the Jensen. No doubt, the Jensen Interceptor s giant rear window, as well as of its overall design, owes to the Avanti .

Of course, the Avanti went on to quite a long life the Bristol, in its second and protracted as the Avanti II. But let s not go down that today, as it gets bumpier the one goes. The Avanti s original for better or for worse, did not lend well to modernizing ; it should just been left

Egbert was open to either a or four-passenger sports coupe, but insisted on the latter. Given the s evolution and success, limited sales, and the growing interest in personal luxury coupes, it was the wiser choice. But the Avanti s dash, console and other aspects make it clear it was targeted to a more active than the Thunderbird, starting its integral roll bar, visible here.


The Avanti s instrument panel was the of typical Detroit affairs, their over-sized malformed spread across three of real estate, and a few idiot The hood bulge terminated in a wrap-around panel, bedecked a full complement of no-nonsense SW Rear differential oil temperature ok?

It s to see why Avanti owners are so enthusiastic their them, when cars communicate so effectively them.

It wasn t just the of course, that endeared the to its drivers. The Avanti was the first production car to have caliper brakes as standard (Dunlop-licensed built by Bendix). And in order to the disc brakes a workout, the offered different stages of on its venerable 289 CID V8.

The base Jet-Thrust R1 had a high-lift cam, heavy-duty components, four-barrel carb and exhausts, to yield an estimated 240 hp. The on the Avanti were notoriously specifically so specified by Egbert; as if weren t going to notice Avanti on the streets anyway.

image: studebakerdriver

a Paxton belt-driven supercharger the ante to some 285-290 hp, in the R2. And production Avantis got the legendary R3, was bored out to 304.5 cubic and had transistorized ignition and higher all resulting in at least 335 wooly The R4 and R5 were strictly experimental with up to 575 hp.

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image: stevemckelvie

Granatelli took the Avanti to and easily set a slew of international records. Mickey Thompson was the same ones with a hot 421 Pontiac that probably had 100 hp on the Avanti. But what gave the the advantage was its drastically more body, estimated to have a Cd of in the 0.30s , as well as a much frontal area.

The records bagged, and it gave the Avanti rights as the World s Fastest Car . Unfortunately, that certainly t apply to the Avanti s production or its sales take rate.

The s body was not originally conceived to be of fiberglass, but the realities of tooling up for a one was out of the question. Most of all, was of the essence; Egbert was an impatient and he knew he had limited time on his to perform a miracle. The molds for a GRP were much quicker and to make than all the tooling for a body.

Egbert s wanted the to be made in the South Bend but was wisely talked out of that, and its was subbed out to Molded Fiberglass But the initial molds were not sized for expansion and contraction, and the 100 bodies were almost requiring massive amounts of cutting, patching and fitting. The was an echo of 1953, when production snags held up the new coupes.

Some have speculated Molded Fiberglass Products, also built the Corvette s sabotaged the Avanti with the shells, on the behest of GM. Makes for a conspiracy theory, but in reality, s budget and time constraints the real source of the problems. makes waste

As alluded to the Avanti was as slow to leave the door as it was fast on the sands. A 3,834 of 1963 Avantis sold, followed by 809 of the slightly-revised And although some claim today) that the initial snafus were the reason for the sales, the evidence clearly otherwise. Production issues sorted out soon enough, the first 100 bodies, and from on the problem was unsold Avantis up the factory floor.


It didn t catch on; neither the Studebaker sales force and nor with the public. The Avanti was too different and unusual, and was referred to as the from South Bend , other names. Americans to buy into the next hot thing, car or and the Avanti was just not it. It was a dud; one buyers weren t going to their money with, when Buick had its new Riviera in the And Chevrolet its new Sting Ray.

And if wouldn t have done the the Mustang was just around the

Raymond Loewy was born in to Austrian and French parents, and his taste was decidedly more than American. Although his firm was responsible for a number of American industrial designs of all mostly not cars the Avanti was the expression of  a Loewy-mobile ever put production. His personal cars hardly mainstream, and typically exotic, like this Jaguar-based coupe.

Now before you in on it, keep in mind that s a big difference between designing for your personal use and for a client.

His 1957 custom-bodied BMW 507 coupe is one of the ones, and already hints at a of Avanti design elements to

The last car he designed and built for (in 1960) before the Avanti was Lancia Flamina based called the Loraymo. Its anteater end doesn t hint at the Avanti in the

But the rear half certainly Loewy s renderings that he to Palm Springs were an evolution of the Loraymo, except a very different front blunt, with four

Sherwood Egbert essentially Loewy to design a car he might have built for himself, and was taking a substantial risk. In Studebaker design commissions, drew from a wider of creative input, and the design went through various of development with management at each key step. There s doubt these affluent enjoying their drinks in Palm Springs house have been better with something a bit more a Manhattan or Martini instead of a on the rocks.

But like many French wines, the Loewy has aged remarkably well. years after it first the Avanti is still a breath of different air, if not exactly so anymore. It s as distinctive and unmistakable a car as it which is a tribute to Raymond and his three co-prisoners.

But it s hardly the buying public wanted, from a company that was on the already.

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