A tribute to the polarizing Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker is a classic car company known for having made some excellent cars. Unfortunately, the company is no longer with us, but the cars they built and the name association live on.
The history of Studebaker is indisputable. They originated in 1852 as a producer of the pre-car wagons and associated old-school mobility products. They did indeed change with the times and later made automobiles and their related products.
“Perhaps ahead of their game, their first automotive product was an electric vehicle introduced in 1902.”
Unfortunately, as with many companies, particularly automotive companies, they were very susceptible to market problems. During wartime and the Great Depression, vehicle sales fell, and they eventually went out of business in 1966. Different parts of the Studebaker company were sold off, but Studebaker was it was known went kaput.
One of the last cars built by Studebaker was the Avanti. It is a gloriously hideous fantastic car. For its time, it was a high speed, safe, and relatively luxurious car. At the time, it was considered the fastest.
Because of Studebaker’s financial problems, they were not mass-produced, with less than 5,800 being made before production being ceased and Studebaker ultimately coming to an end.
The Studebaker Avanti
When you look at the Studebaker Avanti, one wouldn’t immediately think that it is a Studebaker.
“It does have particular classic Studebaker detailing and styling, but when you think of Studebaker, the Avanti is definitely not the car you’re thinking of.”
The design of the Studebaker was extremely fast in terms of automotive design to the end result of actual production. Built to be reminiscent of a supersonic aircraft, the lines are curved. Due to this design, the body panels were built in fiberglass instead of the customary steel. The design is also similar to the rounded style of the Corvette.
There were many problems with the actual build of the Studebaker Avanti. It is this, rather than Studebaker’s financial problems, which led to the limited production of the Avanti in 1962. Orders were canceled, and the production issues prevented further orders from being taken.
It’s safe to say that had these problems not occurred, not only would there be more of the Studebaker Avanti on the road today, but it’s possible that Studebaker would still be in business and producing the same reliable and stylish cars they were known for.
Reception of the Studebaker Avanti
The car initially had a good reception because of its speed and aesthetics.
“The problems began when Studebaker was unable to fill the orders. People began canceling and moved onto other automobiles.”
The introduction of the fiberglass body caused distortions, which eventually required Studebaker to buy and manufacture its own fiberglass panels to complete the cars. Despite this there were still distortions with the paint. That’s why there were very few black Studebaker Avantis produced.
The Avanti had a very short conception time. A short period of time, specifically 40 days, was spent developing the car before it went into production. By the time it was being physically manufactured directly for the customer, there were kinks and bugs that had to be sorted out. This delayed, and at times, completely stopped production.
These kinks and bugs led to a very limited production run for the Studebaker Avanti. Though initially well-received, people grew tired of waiting and moved onto other vehicles.
“The speed capability meant nothing if you couldn’t actually get your hands on the actual car.”
The Studebaker Avanti was envisioned as a four-door performance couple. It was the first production car to reach 170MPH. That’s pretty significant.
If the speed performance of the four-door coupe is not enough, it should be noted that it was also a car purchased by Bond author Ian Fleming. He purchased a shiny Ebony black version, which was particularly rare as the body styling and use of fiberglass didn’t lend to the paint applying nicely.
Aside from this, what else do we know about the famed and polarizing Studebaker Avanti?
It was considered an unusual car at the time. Because of this, there was difficulty in marketing it. Buyers also tended to be wary because of the financial issues surrounding Studebaker.
It would be quite costly to repair and to keep the car running if Studebaker happened to go out of business. After producing approximately 5,800 of these, that is exactly what they did.
Studebaker Avanti styling
Styled after a jet, the Studebaker Avanti was all smooth lines and a coke bottle shape. It was the style of the moment, very Art Deco. Some referred to it as “America’s Ferrari.”
It brought in the air from underneath the car instead of through the grille, not necessarily a great idea in retrospect.
“Featuring a V8 engine with an available supercharge upgrade, the 170MPH top speed was not just notable because it was the only one at the time, but also because it was a 4-seater. This was unheard of.”
The handling was not as refined as the Corvette, but it was superior to other sportscars available at the time. The lack of refinement is probably also because of the 40 days timeline in which the car was produced.
For reference, these days some cars are produced over a period of 4 to 6 years. The time span of 40 days is crazy, let alone for a sports car that was the highest speed rated at the time. Unfortunately, the high speed and coke bottle styling couldn’t overcome the rest of the problems Studebaker was experiencing.
The polarizing nature of the Studebaker Avanti
So what was particular about this Studebaker Avanti that raises the hair on the back of people’s necks? It was fairly different from the styling of most of the cars at the time. Particulary weird is the squarish design on the front with the rounded coke bottle back end.
Even though it had the familiar coke body styling, it looks very different from its normal brand of automobiles, and also the other Gran Turismos available at the time. It’s not the specs that stand out particularly about the Studebaker, it’s the style and looks. It does stand out.
“For some, this is a good thing. For others, it stands out in a bad way.”
The visible outside styling made it stand out. The speed and the interior style and gauges made the Avanti an unusual car for its time.
Studebaker shuts down
Studebaker was doing bad financially before the Avanti was even an idea. The president, Sherwood Egbert, wanted to take the company in a new direction. He wanted to diversify. The first step towards this was the Studebaker Avanti. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.
The fiberglass and other issues led to massive delays in production and canceled orders. Production ceased shortly before Studebaker shut down for good.
Two men, Leo Newman and Nathan Altman, who were partners in a Studebaker dealership, bought the manufacturing rights, created the Avanti Motor Corporation, and started building the Avanti again.
They started building them in an abandoned Studebaker plant. The Avanti had further versions that were produced sporadically until 1991. They stayed true to the original styling of the Avanti, as you can see from the 1991 Avant below. Versions of the Avanti were built until 2006.
Being such a polarizing car, there is a market for the Studebaker Avanti and for its later editions. It really is a super interesting car.
Because of the limited production and work required in restoration, the vintage market isn’t super high value but seems to range in the $30,000 range. It looks like you can get a pre-restoration model Studebaker Avanti for less than $5,000.
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