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Avanti Garde: Experimental Studebakers

Once thought lost, car finds refuge in museum
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These two Avanti-influenced prototypes, a fastback (left) and
notchback (right), were built by 1962 for possible production in 1964.

The cars were built by Pichon-Parat of Paris, and their Avanti lineage is obvious.

In 1961, just three months after becoming president of the automotive division of Studebaker-Packard Corp., Sherwood H. Egbert had successfully started the transition to an all-new automobile lineup with the hiring of the Brooks Stevens Studio, in addition to the Raymond Loewy/William Snaith Studio, to design new models. Loewy, of course, had presented the initial design for the Avanti, and with that project well underway, he turned his attention to the design of future models to be introduced in the 1964 model year.

At the suggestion of John Ebstein, Loewy again decided to sequester the design team, except this time, he sequestered them in Paris, France. Initially, Raymond Loewy’s design team of Ebstein and Bob Andrews were dispatched to Loewy’s Paris Studio and given the same task as before: design the 1964 Avanti in two- and four-door versions. Tom Kellogg remained in New York to work with Loewy on other aspects of the project.

The first week turned out to be a lost cause, as the French designers currently working in the studio wanted to be involved in the Avanti project and kept making suggestions to Ebstein and Andrews. Also, there was a jukebox constantly blaring Elvis Presley songs in the studio, as his music had recently been discovered by the French. Again, Ebstein asked Loewy for a more appropriate place that gave he and Andrews some solitude and fewer distractions. Tentatively, he suggested Loewy’s hunting camp “La Cense,” located about 40 miles outside of Paris. Loewy agreed, and once there, the situation improved and the actual design work began.

Loewy realized that the real problem in this project was to take a sports car design and transform it into a family sedan. Admittedly, this was a feat that had been tried many times, but never successfully accomplished. To that end, Loewy gave very specific instructions to Andrews and Ebstein, including the dimensions to which they must adhere. These predetermined dimensions were a wheelbase of 113 inches; an overall length of 193 inches; an overall width of 70 inches; and an overall height of 55-3/4 inches over the rear seat. Loewy also dictated that headroom be 36 inches at the front and 35 inches in the rear. He also declared that the track should be 61-1/4 inches in the front and 60-1/4 inches in the rear.

From clay to metal
Within six weeks of their arrival in France, two models were produced: One in a notchback style and the other in a fastback style. One-eighth scale clay models were developed of the concepts and taken to New York where Loewy, Ebstein, Andrews and Kellogg “sweetened” them. One side of each the notchback and fastback were fashioned in a two-door configuration while the other side of each concept was made into a four-door configuration. Once completed, the models were cast in plaster, painted and returned to Paris.

Back in Paris, Ebstein, prepared a set of slides that projected these models in full size. Egbert, upon seeing both models, immediately approved them as prototypes. Ebstein was designated to return to the United States and bring the plaster models to South Bend for approval by the Studebaker Corp. board of directors. The board gave its approval with little discussion, with the majority of the members leaning toward the notchback car. With that approval came a deadline of April 12, 1962, for a full-metal prototype to be produced by Pichon-Parat of France. The fastback model was scheduled for delivery by October of the same year.

Under the supervision of Ebstein, the notchback was produced by the deadline, shipped to South Bend, trucked to the proving grounds and driven up to Egbert’s home. Although he was critically ill, Egbert got out of bed, went outside and viewed the car. He enthusiastically ordered full-size clay models of both cars to be built and shown to the board, key corporate individuals, dealers and select others. From his bed, Egbert dictated many memos to the engineering department covering such things as new tooling requirements and an all-new suspension with torsion rods.

Egbert’s enthusiasm for these cars was not enough to stop those longtime board members in South Bend from doubting their success. They asked, “sort of foreign, isn’t it?” and “I sincerely doubt that Ford or GM would ever build anything like this.”

Once the clay models arrived, the infighting began. In an effort to satisfy everyone, Ebstein and Kellogg developed a cross between the notchback and the fastback. This fit right in with Studebaker’s tradition of everyone playing designer. In the fall of 1963, both cars were built in fiberglass and fit to experimental chassis. However, sales figures from the spring of 1963 cast doubt on the project, and even Egbert admitted that an all-new car for 1964 was an impossibility. Needless to say, these cars were never put into production, but the steel-bodied prototypes survived.

Lost in the shuffle
As the assets of the Studebaker Avanti were sold first to Newman and Altman, then to Blake, then Kelly and then Kelly/Cafaro, these prototypes were included in each sale. When the decision was made to move the Avanti Corp. to Youngstown, Ohio, these prototypes were moved with it, and wound up in the manufacturing facility there. Ultimately, Kelly was bought out and his attempt to remove the prototypes from Youngstown was stopped by Cafaro.

In 1991, the Avanti manufacturing facility in Youngstown was closed and production ceased. To the best knowledge of the author, the prototypes remained there. However, the story is not over, because these refused to go completely forgotten.

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The driver’s side of the prototypes are four-doors, which saved expense
from creating separate prototypes for two- and four-door prototypes.

On the passenger side, the Studebakers were fashioned as two-doors.
On the driver’s side, they were fashioned as four-doors.

Finding the long-long prototypes
Approximately nine months ago, an individual approached me about these prototypes. I told him I knew of them, but thought they had been lost forever with the demise of the New Avanti Corp. in Ohio. He thought he had found them, so I suggested that he take a few pictures and send them to me. Once he did, I almost cried as these were the missing prototypes.

As in many stories, there is a good ending, but to this story, there is a miraculous ending. The cars were purchased, saved and are now in the hands of the Studebaker National Museum, an appropriate place for a significant piece of the final years of the Studebaker Corp.’s Automobile Division.

At present, the Studebaker National Museum has undertaken a quiet fund raising effort to complete the purchase and restoration of these cars. Significant contributors to this effort are the Studebaker Drivers Club (SDC) through its Restoration Fund; the Avanti Owners Association International; and the Keystone Region, Inc. of the SDC, one of the largest chapters within the SDC. In addition to these organizations, individual members of the Keystone Region Inc. have joined in this effort, adding another significant amount to the overall total. Once the museum’s goal is reached, any additional funds contributed to this project will be earmarked for the preservation/conservation needs of the museum’s collection.

If you wish to contribute to this project, please make your check payable to the Studebaker National Museum, designate them to the Avanti Prototype project, and send them to the National Museum in South Bend, Ind. Contributions to the museum are tax-deductible.

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1. Studebaker: 1956-1966 Standard Statistics Download
2. Studebaker: 1946-1955 Standard Statistics Download
3. Standard Catalog of 1950s Chrysler


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