Another of the sportiest cars in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1963 Studebaker Avanti.
In retrospect, it appears that Studebaker saved its best for the last—the Avanti. In early 1961, Sherwood Egbert began concept drawings for a new car that would repair Studebaker’s tarnished image. With his desire to introduce a new car at the New York International Auto Show in April 1962, he enlisted Raymond Loewy to look at his drawings and return with a new model proposal. In the first part of April, Loewy’s one-eighth scale clay model and styling drawings were in South Bend. Egbert introduced the Avanti full-scale styling model to the board of directors on April 27, 1961. By the fall of 1961, orders were placed with outside suppliers for items that Studebaker could not produce internally. The Avanti is best known for its under-the-bumper air intake and “Coke-bottle,” wedge shape design. The fiberglass body sat on a modified Lark Daytona convertible chassis. Avanti’s safety theme was prominent throughout with a recessed and padded instrument panel with red lights for night vision, built-in roll bar, and safety-cone door locks. The car was also one of the first American passenger cars to use caliper-type disc brakes.
In January 1962, Studebaker suffered the longest strike in its history over “personal-time” per shift. The company and labor union finally settled on 34 minutes per shift, which still exceeded the industry norm by 10 minutes. When the new Avanti was unveiled to the public in April 1962, production problems crept up with the fiberglass body. Production for 1962 moved up a little to 86,974 units produced. In addition to the Avanti, another unique model debuted for 1963—the sliding rear-roof, four-door, Wagonaire station wagon. Plus, the Lark and Hawk lines were slightly restyled.
As the 1963 calendar year opened, Studebaker started with a little over $50 million cash on hand. Production of the 1964 models started in August. The Lark with a squared-up design and new model names were the only new additions. The Hawk and Avanti remained unchanged for 1964.
Sales for the 1963 model year closed out at 67,918 cars produced, but the cash position shrank to $8 million. In October 1963, with an 86-day supply of unsold cars on hand, the production lines were stopped. On November 25, Egbert resigned. The halt of production in South Bend was made public on December 9, 1963. Automotive operations would shift to Hamilton, Ontario, closing there in March 1966.
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