Motoring Trailblazers - Studebaker Avanti

Sat 2nd Mar 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Studebaker Avanti
Many cars claim to be the fastest production car of their generation, but it is fair guess that almost all those boasts will come from sports cars, souped-up beasts of the road and the elite list of supercars beyond the reach of the average car-buyer.

But in the early 1960s, a car came with the claim, that was a little bit different. Studebaker’s Avanti was a record breaker in more than one sense when it came to speed. Rushed into production in record time, the Avanti was also perhaps the fastest production car of its generation capable of four passengers along for the high-speed thrills.

The origin story of the Avanti is certainly fast-paced. Thirty-seven days after becoming Studebaker’s president, Sherwood Egbert took the time on a jet-plane flight from Chicago to doodle some sketches of his plans for the Avanti. Those sketches were passed to famed designer Raymond Loewy and his team put together a class scale model of those doodles within eight days.

“Loewy envisioned a low-slung, long-hood/short-deck semi-fastback coupe with a grilleless nose and a wasp-waisted curvature to the rear fenders, suggesting a supersonic aircraft,” Tom Kellogg one of the designers said of the plans. The team had built two different sides of the clay model, a two-seat sports car and a four-seat GT coupe. The coupe won out and the engineering team now took on the task of getting to grips with the Aventi’s complex body shape. Using traditional steel frames would have been prohibitively expensive, and would have weighed the car down, so fiberglass panels was the option. The designers also had to content with the lack of a grille, something which meant that the Avanti became one of the first vehicles to feature ‘bottom breather’ design, where the air enters the engine from under the front of the vehicle.

From President Egbert’s doodle in February 1961, the Studebaker Avanti was launched at the New York International Automobile Show in April 1962.

The Avanti was marketed as America’s Only 4 Passenger High-Performance Personal Car and after breaking 29 speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats was described as ‘one of the more significant milestones of the postwar industry’.

Sadly, as fast as the Avanti arrived on the forecourts, it’s demise was already on the horizon. Studebaker was suffering major financial problems and by December 1963 the company’s South Bend plant had built its last ever car.

Egbert’s plan of selling 20,000 Avantis a year was over and in reality only 5,800 ever made it out of the Indiana factory.