30 October 2015

Collector Classics: Remembering the Studebaker Avanti

Fibreglass coupe was first North American-built production car with disc brakes

The Studebaker Avanti was produced between June 1962 and December 1963 by the Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana.

In just five weeks, the design team accomplished their task, starting with a blank sheet of paper in a rented house in Palm Springs, California. This team of stylists was put together by industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

The Avanti is Italian for “advanced” or “forward.” For 1962, it was, as far as the body design and shape. That said, the floor pan and mechanicals might be viewed a little differently.

The fibreglass body was mounted on the Studebaker Lark convertible frame that had its beginnings in the 1950s. The Studebaker V8 was an excellent engine; the Avanti was fitted with a 232-cubic-inch engine bored out to 289 cubic inches and known as the R-1. It produced 240 horsepower. The optional R-2, fitted with a Paxton supercharger, put out 289 hp, one for every cubic inch of displacement.

The Avanti can lay claim to being the first American-built production car to be fitted with disc brakes. In 1951, the Chrysler Crown Imperial was fitted with what was called a “Spot” disc brake, which was certainly different from the drum brake, but I would hardly say that it resembled the disc brakes that we are familiar with today — or anything like the one fitted to the Avanti.

The heavily promoted Avanti was embraced by many enthusiastic buyers, which resulted in the order books filling up quickly. However, the outsourced fibreglass bodies produced by Moulded Fibreglass Products of Ashtabula, Ohio, — the same firm that built the early Corvette bodies — let Studebaker down.

Some of the problems included poor panel fit and alignment, and the opening for the rear window was so large the glass would fall out. Studebaker took drastic measures and decided to build the bodies in-house, but it was too late and many of the lucrative orders were lost.

In late 1963, Studebaker announced that it would end automobile manufacturing in South Bend and consolidate all manufacturing at its Canadian plant in Hamilton, Ontario. The Avanti, Grand Tourismo Hawk and pickups were dropped. The final Avanti was chassis No. 4,643.

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