The Avanti was an automotive Hail Mary, a last-ditch effort to bring excitement and warm bodies to Studebaker showrooms. In 1961 Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert made the decision to build a sports car-and to do it as fast as possible. He called upon one of the best-known industrial designers in the world, Raymond Loewy, who assembled a group of talented designers in Palm Springs, California. The team produced the basic Avanti design in just a few weeks.
The Avanti is an automotive design that few are neutral about. When new, its all-fiberglass design looked as ordinary on the American road as a UFO, and many of its visual cues are still controversial today.
On August 14, 1962, Andy Granatelli took a specially prepared Avanti to the Bonneville Salt Flats and came home with 29 new national stock car records. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday was the rule, and the Avanti was, for a short time, the car to have.
Production problems plagued the first Avantis; the earliest cars had a tendency to lose rear windows at speed. Molded Fiberglass of Ohio provided the bodies for Studebaker, as they did for GM's Corvette.
Underneath, the Avanti used a Lark Convertible frame, and Studebaker's heavy but dependable 289-c.i. engine. Avantis came standard with a three-speed manual transmission; a four-speed and a Borg-Warner automatic were optional. They were available with air conditioning, though the Paxton/McCulloch supercharger unit could only be ordered on cars without A/C. Non-supercharged cars are referred to as R-1 models, the supercharged cars are known as R-2 models.
The Avanti pecking order is easy to follow. The non-supercharged R-1 cars are the entry level option. Opinions differ as to the collectibility of the 1963 "round headlight" style versus the 1964 "square headlight" style. The 1964 has a monotone interior as opposed to the two-tone used in earlier models. To further confuse matters, there are also some "transition" cars with round headlights and a single color interior. Look for the usual things in the purchase of any Avanti-equipment, ownership history, condition.
The supercharged R-2s were built in 1963 and 1964. Although both R-1 and R-2 cars came with Studebaker's 289-c.i. motor, the R-2 is "breathed on" with different heads and camshaft. The R-2 has a lower compression ratio, and the factory Carter AFB carb has a different air breather assembly to accommodate the supercharger plumbing.
Factory build sheets exist for most Studebaker Avantis. Most show all equipment from the factory and dealer first delivered, and occasionally they contain pages of valuable information about each specific car-fun stuff like modifications made to the car when on the production line and little gems like "door fit bad" "rush, sold car," or "needs repainted."
Decent R-2 Avantis sell in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Look for cars without rusty frames or sub floor boxes, known to the Avantistas as "hog troughs." Rust can generally be found in the rear section where the frame twists upwards with the rear wheels, or in the rearmost section. The hog troughs are the outrigger attachment points that run directly underneath the door areas on both sides of the car. They can be replaced, but it is a nasty and expensive job.
The four-speed cars tend to sell for a bit more, and options such as Twin Traction (posi) and original AM/FM radios and power windows increase value. Find a car with the optional power steering unless you want to grow your arm muscles. Show cars can wiggle well into the $30,000 range. Modified cars (and there are lots of modified Avantis) will sell for far less than original and restored examples.
With only 4,643 total cars built in two years, and less than half of those being R-2s, someday the Avanti will be worth some serious money. As an Avanti owner since 1972, I'm still waiting.