The Studebaker Avanti was simultaneously introduced on April 26, 1962, at the New York International Automobile Show, a shareholders meeting, and at a press preview in South Bend. Shortly thereafter, the company flew an Avanti prototype to 24 cities in 16 days to introduce Studebaker dealers to the new car designed by Raymond Loewy.
In spring 1961, Studebaker’s new president, Sherwood Egbert, enlisted the famous industrial designer to design a car to give the company’s product line a shot in the arm. Loewy then sequestered John Ebstein, Robert Andrews, and Tom Kellogg in a California studio to design the advanced car in a very short period of time. The name they selected was Avanti, which means “forward” in Italian. The Avanti had the international look and feel of a high-performance GT coupe.
The sleek, fiberglass, Coke-bottle-shaped coupe bodies where mounted on the new convertible chassis with a standard high-performance V-8 engine rated at 240 horsepower. Additional engines were available for up to 289 horsepower. One of these versions would go from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a scant 6.7 seconds. The Avanti interior resembled a plush airplane with instruments set in neat, easy-to-reach groups with two bucket seats and rear bench seat for two.
In spring 1962, the Avanti was named the honorary pace car with a Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible was selected as the official Indianapolis 500 pace car. I clearly remember Pole Day 1962. There was a great deal of chatter up and down pit lane as the Avanti drove around the track fulfilling its honorary role. There is a popular publicity photo showing this Avanti and three Studebaker executives behind Tower Terrace at the Speedway.
What a sensation! I was drawn to the Avanti’s aerodynamic Raymond Loewy styling, which I believe is timeless even today. Rodger Ward, winner of the 1962 Indianapolis 500, received a Studebaker Avanti as part of his prize package, “thus becoming the first private owner of an Avanti.”
Later that summer, Granatelli brothers – Andy, Joe and Vince – prepared a high-performance Avanti R-3 prototype to run on the Bonneville Salt Flats and set 29 American Class records.
It’s a great time to think back to the Avanti! If money was no object, an Avanti would be my first selection for a collectible automobile. One can hope, can’t we?
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