Studebaker’s beautiful Avanti may have been a greatly admired automobile for it’s timeless and perfect design, although the awesome looking car never really sold in great numbers. Designed by Raymond Loewy’s team of designers, who were also responsible for the classic Coca Cola bottle design as well as the dresses of First Lady Jackie Kennedy. the incredible Avanti design was an expensive project for the financially struggling Studebaker Corporation, and never really yielded the big financial benefits that the company really needed to stay afloat. The company was hoping to achieve the modest goal of just 20,000 Avanti cars sold a year, but only managed just 1,200 sold in 1962, and no better than 4,600 sold in 1963, the final year for the automobile beautifully crafted from fiberglass in the plant that built the original fiberglass bodied Corvettes of the early 50′s.
Powered by a 289 cubic inch V8 with 240 horsepower, and with a Paxton supercharged version also available, mated to a modified compact car Lark frame, the radical fiberglass bodied Avanti cars were viewed as a great automotive design milestone, although failing to help Studebaker climb back out of it’s deep financial abyss.
Studebaker even had hopes of marketing a four door sedan version of the car, and this rare prototype from 1962 still exists. In the early 1960′s Studebaker had pinned their hopes of promoting their cars through the popular sitcom, MR. ED, about a talking horse, and the Studebaker cars were used in the production of the show. Studebaker was the main sponsor of the show for the beginning years. But, as the finances of the company only worsened, Ford automobiles took over on the show as Studebaker cut their advertising budget and exited the show as the main sponsor.
Studebaker’s days were really numbered for the company back in 1954, when Studebaker and Packard failed in their attempts to merger with the newly forming American Motors Corporation, involving Nash and Hudson. Studebaker was deeply financially troubled back in those days and really needed this merger for any hopes of survival. In 1952, the Studebaker company had just survived 100 years in business, starting out as a covered wagon producer founded by five bearded blacksmiths. In 1902, the company experimented as an all electric car brand, but became involved in gasoline automobiles two years later in 1904. The company sold many trucks to the U.S. governmemnt for the war effort that were shipped to the Soviet Union to help the Russian allies move troops to fight the Germans, but even this wartime infusion of cash didn’t help the company a great deal. But, a controversial 1950 design, the Studebaker Champion was the subject of much humor, because it had a look that looked much like an automobile hood in either direction. By, 1953, Studebaker was able to dazzle with a much sharper and streamlined design that was only minorly tweeked over the years into the 1960′s that was later known as the Hawk. But, with the failure to become part of AMC in 1954, Studebaker allowed themselves to be taken over by Packard, a smaller brand of large luxury automobiles that was in stronger financial form than Studebaker. Strangely, the last Packard was not a big luxury car, but a customized 1958 Studebaker Hawk complete with a Paxton supercharger. Packard built one last prototype, known as “Black Bess” in the later 1950′s, but the car was never produced.
Dick Teague, who was later to become the most important designer over at AMC in the late 60′s and 70′s helped to design the “Black Bess” prototype, but the car was one day cut up for scrap as the company decided to phase out the larger Packard automobiles and concentrate solely on the Studebaker line. A new compact car known as the Lark sold relatively well for the company from 1959 on through part of the early 60′s, although other first generation compact cars like AMC’s Rambler were much larger success stories.
But, the great Studebaker Avanti was such a beloved small production automobile that several re-incarnations of the car were marketed by private investors since the original car that also include four door as well as convertible versions, complete with slightly more modern headlights and bumper systems, although still retaining the perfect bodylines of the original car.
The beautiful bodywork of the original 1962 car proves that you cannot improve on the perfect. It’s a timeless masterpiece.