Too far ahead

The innovative glass-fibre reinforced polyester bodywork meant certain decisions aimed at containing costs faded into the background.

In the early 1960s, sales of the American marque Studebaker were not going at all well following the 1954 merger with Packard; the fate of the two brands now seemed to be sealed.  Hopes were resting on a new luxury sports car project, the development of which had begun in 1961 under the supervision of the designer Raymond Loewy, famous for having designed the Coca-Cola vending machine.  He imagined a ground-breaking futuristic car body, characterised by its name: Avanti.

The mechanicals were, however derived from the 1953 Lark Daytona model, a choice forced on Studebaker by the limited resources of the parent company; the innovative glass-fibre reinforced polyester bodywork meant certain decisions aimed at containing costs faded into the background. The engine was a V8 with power output ranging from 235 to 260 bhp, capable of accelerating the Avanti from 0 to 100 km/h in under 8 seconds and of reaching a maximum speed of 240 km/h.

The Avanti was presented to the public on 26th April, 1962 at the same time as the New York Auto Show and the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. The first example was assigned to that year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Rodger Ward. Production of the car struggled from the beginning though because of problems with the glass-fibre supplier, delays which led to the cancellation of many orders. It was a blow to the parent company, which in 1962 had forecast annual sales of 20,000 units whilst in fact only 1,200 were actually built. In December 1963 the South Bend plant was closed down, ending production of the Studebaker Avanti; Studebaker itself ceased to exist in 1966.

The Avanti’s fate would be different, however, its production rights and design being purchased by two South Bend dealers, Nate and Arnold Altman and Leo Newman, who put the sporty car back into production as the Avanti II, this time using a Chevrolet engine. This adventure continued until 1962, when the company was sold to Stephen H. Blake, who led it until 1986 when it fell into bankruptcy.

It was then purchased by John J. Cafaro, who moved production to Ohio and during 4 years of production introduced a four-door version of the car. He continued until 1991, when as a final act the company was taken over by Michael Kelly, who resumed production in 2000, this time in Georgia, before it ended definitively in 2005. An agreement had been reached in 2004 providing for the use of Ford Mustang bodies for the iconic car, but since that date there has been no news of Avanti or of a possible return.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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