Studebaker Avanti

The Production of the Studebaker Avanti

The Studebaker Avanti was characterized by a pinched "Coke-bottle" waist and blade-like front fenders.
The Studebaker Avanti was characterized by a pinched "Coke-bottle" waist and blade-like front fenders.

Egbert met with Andrews, another avid aviator, while the design of the Studebaker Avanti was underway. Naturally, the two talked about airplanes.

Loewy said Egbert liked the customized Jaguar and wanted, as Kellogg put it, "something kind of California-ish -- tail up in the air." Loewy told his crew to visualize the car on posh Palmdale Boulevard in Palm Springs. Andrews said he imagined the typical owner would be a young airline pilot who enjoyed performance and style.

As Loewy's chief assistant, Ebstein was put in charge of the project, effectively a studio chief who conveyed Loewy's wishes to Andrews and Kellogg and guided them in the boss' absence. However, Loewy dropped by regularly, and, according to Kellogg, even did some sketching himself.

"I sat next to the fireplace at this tiny, ridiculous desk," Kellogg recalls. "Bob was working on the counter near the kitchen sink. He had a bunch of chunky little clay bits, and John just kind of oversaw us. So Bob came up with some sketches, and I came up with some sketches, and John encouraged us.

"But each of us was trying to pull in a different direction at first. Bob wanted to make the car a two-seater. I wanted to make it a four-seater. And Loewy had his ideas, too. So we had to put it all together.

"I was pushing more in the direction of his BMW coupe. Something about the roundness of the rear I liked. Bob [favored] a more downward-sloping rear end like the 1953 Studebaker, something more Terrari, more traditional."

Two weeks of intense work with little sleep took the team up to Easter. Loewy gave his designers a three-day weekend while he flew to South Bend with two scale models that he showed to Egbert, who approved Kellogg's four-passenger theme.

Back in Palm Springs, the Easter break brought an invasion of bikini-clad coeds. "And since we'd have to go downtown to eat, we'd see these girls," Kellogg recalls. "And we'd come back to our boards in rather a stimulated state. I'm sure the sensuality of the car was intensified [during that] week."

While most early concepts included a conventional grille, Loewy urged Andrews and Kellogg to substitute a simple large opening beneath the thin front bumper, something like that on the Citroen DS. The final sketches and clay model took another two weeks to complete.

By the time Loewy took them back to South Bend, the design was very much like the soon-to-be-born Avanti: high haunches; pinched "Coke-bottle" waist with a horizontal "bone"; blade-like front fenders; "chin scoop" air intake instead of a grille; a "speed ramp" running up the left side of the hood, roof, and door lines reminiscent of Loewy's custom BMW and Lancia.

The rear was also rounded, and 1953-vintage Studebaker wheel-covers restamped with a "starfish" pattern over a brushed inner cap.

The result was "all of a piece" and totally non-derivative. Amazingly, the team made its 40-day deadline, though just barely.

A full-size clay mock-up was soon prepared in South Bend under Loewy and Ebstein's direction. The car's name was pure Loewy: Avanti is Italian for "forward."

The car that emerged for production was built on a modified 109-inch-wheel-base Lark chassis. Total length was 192.4 inches. The Avanti stood 53.8 inches high and 70.3 inches wide.

Andrews later said he was glad to hear that the first Avanti buyer was indeed an airline pilot. Kellogg recalled wondering whether the car would even be produced until he saw three Avantis roll out of a transport plane for the Los Angeles dealer introduction.

Go to the next page to learn how the Studebaker Avanti performed once it hit the market.

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