1960s Studebaker Concept Cars

1960s Studebaker Concept Cars Avanti and Familia Series

The 1960s Studebaker concept cars Avanti and Familia series were the last hope for the failing Studebaker company.

Like Stevens, Loewy had definite ideas about new Studebakers, and went overseas to get prototypes built. But where Stevens chose an obscure Italian coachbuilder, Loewy chose the obscure French house of Pichon-Parat, near Paris. The results were full-size notchback and fastback designs configured as a two-door on one side, a four-door on the other.

Loewy tried hard to sell Egbert and other Studebaker executives on these Avanti-styled sedans, and the mockups he showed were practical yet different.

Either would have been a logical follow-up to the sensational coupe: clean and handsome, with the same unmistakable design signature. Pressing harder than usual, Loewy trimmed both prototype interiors in full leather, though lack of time and money forced the use of decals in place of dashboard gauges.

The one problem with this idea -- aside from Studebaker being almost broke -- was the car that inspired it. Though first shown in 1962, the Avanti wasn't genuinely available until 1963, by which time events had rendered it a commercial failure.

Production delays weren't entirely to blame. As former body engineer Otto Klausmeyer said later: "The fastback prototype should have been built [first] instead of the Avanti. . . . Yet the Avanti was in production, and had been abundantly rejected by the public before the sedan prototypes were finished. . . . The directors would not approve the sedans because they feared the Avanti influence would be the kiss of death, not because they were a bunch of provincial sod-busters, as most articles about these cars imply." So in the end, there was no way Loewy could win this particular battle. Like Custer at Little Big Horn, the odds were overwhelmingly against him.

But the persistent Brooks Stevens made one last try. Determined to save the South Bend plant and its workforce, he met hurriedly in early 1964 with Charles "Cast-Iron Charlie" Sorensen, the renowned Ford production whiz of the 1930s who served briefly as president of Willys in the mid-1940s. Together they hatched a revolutionary new small car with a very spacious interior on a 113-inch wheelbase. Introduction was projected for 1967-1969.

Variously called "Familia" and just "Studebaker," this boxy but attractively clean-lined sedan was conceived around a plethora of interchangeable parts: hood/trunk, doors, bumpers, head-light/taillight housings, windshield/backlight, even side windows.

Sorensen conjured a simple production line to suit the unitized fiberglass construction. Specifically, he devised a carrier that moved four half-body molds around to individual stations for gel coating, outside and reinforcement matting, and bake-oven curing.

The carrier turned and positioned the bodies at each step, and also returned them to the starting point. With this plus all the dual-duty parts, a simple proprietary engine and minimum frills, Stevens and Sorensen pegged unit production cost at an ultra-low $585, which meant a probable profit at a retail price of $1,100 or less.

"I had tremendous hope for this idea," Stevens said later. "I took the project to the board at the end of February 1964, and they were quite interested.

Unfortunately, the financial backers had just breathed a sigh of relief after dumping automobiles at last. There was no way any money was going to be made available for anything on wheels. I quit in disgust. I guess it was too late. It was certainly the wrong time to try."

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: