By 1961, the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, was in trouble.
Competition from the Big Three throughout the 1950s gave Studebaker a steadily shrinking share of the automotive market. In a valiant effort to save the company, Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert contacted Raymond Loewy, a world famous industrial designer, who had previously worked for Studebaker, to design a new car.
Loewy lived in Palms Springs, California, and rented a cottage where four designers worked for a month on what would eventually become the Studebaker Avanti. Within twelve months of the design approval, prototypes were built using fibreglass instead of steel and using as many parts of other Studebakers as possible. The new car was launched in 1963 and was an immediate styling sensation as a sports car with European design. It was built for only two years, 1963-64, with total production of around 4800.
Roland Vardon of Orangeville, Ontario, is the proud owner of a white 1963 Avanti with the words “Different By Design” on the back window, a slogan that Studebaker enthusiasts will recognize. A true European sports car should have leather seats and wire wheels, and Roland’s Avanti has both. And true to the era in which it was built, Roland’s Avanti runs on 1 inch whitewall tires.
Roland located his Avanti in Texas. It had been off the road for fourteen years and the engine had not run in four years. He wanted to get the car running in order to drive it back to Ontario, and even brought with him some disc brake repair kits. “Are you crazy?” said the owner. To which Roland replied: “Perhaps just a bit.” The engine came to life after some tinkering but the 20-year-old Vogue Tyres were not dependable for a long trip. They were replaced before the car left Dallas. The hoses were not leaking, and after considerable patience rebuilding the original disc brakes, the car was finally on the road. The frame was without rust and after Roland cleaned all the dirt, grease and grime from it, he painted it, making it now as nice as the rest of the car.
Studebaker Avanti #2696 (Roland’s car) was shipped to California from the factory in South Bend, Indiana, in January of 1963, a factory correct supercharged car with most options other than A/C (air conditioning was not available on supercharged cars). But who needs it? Roland says it best: “Driving with the windows open and listening to the sound of the engine is nearly as nice as listening to the Beach Boys.”
If the story of your car is published in this column, you will receive a copy of Bill Sherk’s latest book “Old Car Detective Favourite Stories, 1925 to 1965.” To share your stories, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write Bill Sherk, 25 John Street, P.O. Box 255, Leamington, ON N8H 3W2.
Written by Bill Sherk “The Old Car Detective”