March '21

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12 THE SHOP MARCH 2021 THE STUDEBAKER STORY PART II 12 THE SHOP MARCH 2021 The history of Avanti really deserves its own article, and is much more complex than we have space to present here. Sherwood Egbert came to Stude- baker Corp. as its new president in 1961, and soon after went to work designing a halo car to build excite- ment for the brand. He put in a call to famous designer Raymond Loewy, who had worked with Studebaker six years earlier, to discuss the creation of a new sports car. Loewy hand-selected a group of three men to help tackle the project— designers Bob Andrews, Tom Kellogg and John Epstein. The four men worked on the project in a rented house in the desert, finishing an early design after two weeks of intense 16-hour workdays. The wedgy silhouette of the proto- type design was unlike anything ever produced in America, and besides the curvy Coke bottle-shaped side body profile, the lines of the fuselage were very pure in design. The dramatic new creation was ulti- mately joined to a Lark convertible chassis and the new concept received quality components throughout. Origi- nally, power came from a trusty Stude- baker 289-ci V-8, and an optional Paxton supercharged 289-ci engine was available, known as the R2, which was said to deliver some 275 hp. The interior was adorned with numerous toggle switches, providing the look of an aircraft flight deck. The name Avanti is the Italian word for forward, and legend has it that Loewy came up with it and insisted Egbert use it. The Avanti was about two things— style and perfor- mance. After some initial hiccups with the fiberglass body, the car was intro- duced to the public on April 26, 1962, with a base price of $4,445. A number of records were set with Avantis on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and minor changes for the 1964 edi- tions included square-bezels around the headlights (replacing the round plexiglass covers of the original model year), a protective thin-barred grille for the radiator opening, restyled parking lights, chromed drip railings above the windows and quieter mufflers. After being diagnosed with inop- erable stomach cancer, Egbert was replaced by newly elected president Byers A. Burlingame, who didn't share in the enthusiasm for the Avanti. On Dec. 31, 1963, the very last Avanti was built by Studebaker, and with the production being cut so early, only 809 Avantis were built as 1964 models. AVANTI II In July 1964, South Bend, Indiana Studebaker dealer Nate Altman, his brother Arnold and partner Leo Newman refused to let the Avanti die and purchased the complete inventory and tooling from Studebaker, along with rights to the name. Even though the selling price was never made public, it was believed to be a bargain at under $500,00 for the whole works, including Studebaker truck parts and the rights to reproducing trucks as well (which never happened). In 1965, the first new Avantis rolled off the assembly line, complete with 300-hp Corvette engines, and pro- ceeded to carve a niche in the sports car market. Nate Altman died unexpectedly in April 1976, and production quality soon flagged. The company was bought by Stephen Blake, a successful Wash- ington developer who had owned sev- eral Avantis himself. The vehicles persevered, and over the years Avanti cars were built in small numbers. In 1997, Kellogg was brought back by Jim Bunting to work on a new project called the AVX. The name was short for AVanti eXperimental and the cars were built with General Motors F-body (Pontiac Firebird) cars as donor vehicles, later switched to Ford Mus- tangs, with modified body panels fitted to replicate the original Studebaker sports car, but with a modernized flavor. The last AVX Avanti was built in 2006 in Mexico, and it is believed that, starting with the first Avanti II built by Altman and Newman and going all the way to that last 2006 version, a total of 8,187 non-Studebaker Avantis were produced. —James Maxwell The Avanti Story Staged on the Studebaker test track, this early promotional shot has the two men mostly responsible for the all-new Avanti posing proudly with a pair of prototypes—Sherwood Egbert and Raymond Loewy. This 1994 Avanti rode on a 121-inch chassis.

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