1963 Studebaker Avanti R2 Coupe
Chassis no. 63R1727
By any rational, experienced, automobile standard what Studebaker did in a year with the Avanti design, prototype and start production is impossible. Yet, showing the benefit of a dedicated, talented, small team with an intense focus on accomplishing an objective and energized by the finality of their failure to achieve their goal on time, failure of their company, they did it.
The Avanti was sparked by Studebakers new leader, Sherwood Egbert, who came from the consumer products business and McCulloch chain saws and didnt know what couldnt be done. To design the car he brought in Raymond Loewy. The Franco-American industrial designers postwar Studebakers had helped re-energize the company but he had been forced out in favor of Brooks Stevens by Packard and had something to prove beyond design concepts when offered the sports car job by Egbert. In just five weeks Loewy and a team of three holed up in a house in Palm Springs took the project from a clean sheet of paper to a two-sided (2-seater sports coupe on one side, 4-seater gran turismo on the other) 1:10 clay.
The 4-seater was approved by the Studebaker board and engineering manager Gene Hardig and his team took over. They adapted a shortened Lark convertible X-braced frame, created the molds for the fiberglass body, production engineered everything and had running prototypes ready to display to desperate Studebaker dealers in just a year from the time Egbert kicked off the project, now named Avanti.
The Loewy-let teams design made it through to production, fortunately, relatively unchanged, retaining all number of distinctive features which have made the Avantis collectors favorites for generations. Its most immediately apparent feature is the unique nose, rendered completely without a conventional grille and taking its cooling air in through a wide, nearly hidden, gap under the bumper. The front fenders, too, are distinctive blades extending well forward of the nose. The fenders have a pronounced Coke bottle sweep and the wheel wells are shaped with unique parabolic curves.
Under the hood Studebaker put its well-proven 289 cubic inch V-8 engine, energized with a 4-barrel carburetor, high lift cam, dual point distributor, clutched cooling fan, high compression heads and revised intake and exhaust system including dual exhausts with low restriction mufflers to bring output up to about 240 horsepower.
As an option Studebaker got together with Andy Granatellis Paxton Supercharger company, recently acquired by Studebaker, to create the R2. With a lower 9:1 compression ratio to forestall pre-ignition the Paxton blown R2 with its distinctive pressurized Carter AFB carburetor brought output to at least 1 horsepower per cubic inch displacement and probably as much as 300 brake horsepower in the lenient SAE testing environment of the time. With the engines power counteracted by disc brakes, an attractive, comfortable interior and a complete list of comfort and convenience options and assists, Studebakers Avanti was received with fanfare and anticipation.
Unfortunately as good as Studebaker had been at designing the Avanti in an inconceivably short period of time, it hadnt been able to get production going. Molded Fiber Glass didnt have a clue how to convert its individual body panels into the complete bodies Studebaker was planning on and Studebaker was slow to respond to the delays. By the end of 1963 the attention of the car market had turned to other, newer things like Corvettes and Mustangs. Avanti had delivered just 3,834 cars and thousands of consumer orders had been cancelled. Although production continued into the 1964 model year with minimal changes just 809 were built before all Studebaker production in the venerable South Bend plant ended on December 31, 1963 and with it production of Avantis.
The Avantis appeal was so powerful, however, that after Studebaker shut Avanti production down a group of dealers and enthusiasts resurrected the Avanti in 1965, gave it Chevrolet power and through a history recalling the Perils of Pauline silent movie serials continued building Avantis through ownership changes and redesigns until 1990.
This 1963 Avanti, however, is one of the originals, one of relatively few Avantis originally built in Black. It has Off White interior trim and Metallic Burgundy upholstery. More important, however, it is a factory R2 supercharged car with 4-speed manual transmission, the most sporting and desirable of all 1963 Avantis. Fitted with Avanti wheel covers and narrow whitewall tires, the chrome and paint are good and the presentation under the hood and the engine are sound and usable. It does not appear ever to have had, or to have needed, a complete restoration but rather to be a sound and well maintained example that has enjoyed consistent, sympathetic attention throughout its life.
This is an excellent opportunity to acquire a rare American gran turismo with excellent credentials and a highly desirable drivetrain. With other limited production American sports cars and GTs like Nash-Healeys and Kaiser Darrins enjoying a resurgence of interest the few original Avantis built have been largely overlooked. Their Raymond Loewy-designed bodies were design milestones that feature in every history of American automobile design. Their conventional chassis were unsophisticated but effective and the Paxton supercharged R2 engines are known for their performance. It is a milestone in the history of the American automobile and the absolute best automobile any manufacturer ever built in its final days.