Studebaker Avanti II: Spotted

It's an American car made of plastic. "All American cars are made of plastic" I hear you cry; but this one is different, I assure you. This is the story of a desperate attempt by a newly elected company president to rescue a historic brand, a French stylist, and group of dealers who tried to save a bewitching luxury coupe which died before its time.

Quite an intro for a 1980s American car then, especially one which already looked a bit past it when it was new. The story of the Avanti goes much further back than that though, all the way to the 1960s, to South Bend, Indiana and the home of Studebaker. This period was boom time for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler; but not for much smaller brands like Studebaker, who were beginning to wilt under the almighty power of the big three.

Studebaker had been quite successful during the late 1950s with the Lark - a compact, affordable car which could still seat six people. But by the 1960s people were becoming richer, a young John F. Kennedy had become President, and the world was looking to the stars as NASA was aiming for the moon. People weren't interested in a practical economy car, they wanted something much more aspirational.

To try and tap into this new found prosperity, new Studebaker president, Sherwood Egbert, thought a personal luxury coupe would do the trick, much like the Ford Thunderbird had for the blue oval. He gathered together a team which included the French-born, American industrial designer Raymond Loewy - whose C.V included Lucky Strike packaging, Coca-Cola vending machines, the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus (Google it) and the Air-Force livery. With a list like that, it's easy to see why he was often referred to as the man who shaped America.

Within six weeks, they'd created a full-scale clay model of the new car, which was promptly given the name Avanti, Italian for forward. It had numerous novelties, such as aircraft style switches in the interior, an integrated roll-cage, and front disc brakes - a first for an American production car. The front was also devoid of a grill, with it instead being moved below the bumper line, in a bid to make the car look more streamlined.

The body was to be made of fiberglass, which is arguably what doomed the project. The thinking was that it would reduce the weight, but it also helped to get the car into production sooner, as they didn't have to create the tooling for an all-steel body. They enlisted the same company which produced the bodies for the Chevrolet Corvette, but early quality control problems delayed orders, with back windows popping out at high-speed and tolerances being a bit hit and miss. Impatient customers simply cancelled their orders and took their business elsewhere.

Despite the early interest, the Studebaker Avanti lasted just over a year in production, with only 4,643 made. For other cars, this would be the end of the road, but not the Avanti. Enterprising ex-Studebaker dealers Nate Altman and Leo Newman bought the rights, tooling and South Bend factory to carry on production as the Avanti Motor Corporation. With a number of improvements they launched the Avanti II in 1965, keeping it in production until the business was sold on in 1982.

The Avanti II in this advert comes from towards the end of this run, which by now was using a smaller 305ci 5.0 V8 also found in the Chevrolet Camaro. Despite what it may say, the 305ci certainly didn't make the 305hp suggested, instead managing a meager 155hp driven through a three-speed turbo 350 gearbox. A far cry from the supercharged Avanti of 1963 which managed nearly 200mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

But who cares? Are you really going to want to drive the wheels off of a 36 year old car? Especially one with what seems to have blemish-free bodywork. I'd suggest you take it easy, enjoy the fantastic Lowey styling, revel in the burble of that American V8 - it sounds a lot more potent than it actually is - and be satisfied in the knowledge you'll be driving a rare car. It's guaranteed to be the talk of your local car meet, and unlikely to receive the negative glances of those who can't stand the ostentatious looks of the Avanti's contemporaries. Aside from anything, it's the perfect classic for a UK owner, because not being made of steel, you won't ever have to worry about using it in the rain.

: 4,998cc, V8
Transmission: three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 155
Torque (lb ft): 240
MPG: Not many
CO2: Lots
First registered: 1981
Recorded mileage: 50,000
Price new: $4,445 (1963 original)
Yours for: £22,750

See the original advert here.





[Words: Max Adams]


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Comments (36) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Turbobanana 19 Sep 2017

    It's certainly distinctive, but to me it looks like it was designed by a group of people who never met each other.

    As a quirky, rare curiosity, it seems good value for £22,750 though.

  • LotusOmega375D 19 Sep 2017

    You wouldn't know whether you're coming or going in that.

    Interesting, nevertheless.

  • Lowtimer 19 Sep 2017

    Huh? 305 c.i. never even tried to suggest 305 hp. It's the cubic capacity in imperial measure. 305 cubic inches.

  • jsc15 19 Sep 2017

    Always had a soft spot for these. Definitely a bit "Miami Vice" but not in a bad way.

    I'm fairly sure they were getting made till around 1990 though

  • bertie 19 Sep 2017

    I'm sorry but that's just ugly.

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