The Studebaker Corporation has been long defunct, but it was indeed a major force in American automaking for a long time. The company started making electric cars in 1902, and by 1904 they were producing gasoline powered models. From those early days of the automotive industry in the United States through the advent of the Great Depression, Studebaker was one of the major manufacturers of quality motor vehicles in the country.
Like most American companies, both in the automotive business and throughout other sectors of the economy, Studebaker struggled to maintain its financial footing during this downturn. In 1933, the company faced receivership, and its president, Albert Erskine, took his own life. However, the company recovered under the guidance of new leadership equipped with an infusion of capital provided by Lehman Brothers.
By 1940 Studebaker sales were in the six figures again, and they held eighth place among American automakers in terms of total units sold. But the following year, the United States entered World War II, and during that time American automobile manufacturing facilities were dedicated to providing vehicles to support the war effort.
After the war, Studebaker had a rough go of it and never regained traction. There was a price war going on between the Big Three and Studebaker found it hard to compete. As the 1950s began the company was on a downward spiral, and they entered the red in 1954. Packard, another troubled but iconic automaker, merged with Studebaker, but the result, the Packard-Studebaker Corporation, continued to take on water.
The Packard name dropped away in 1962, and Studebaker had one last moment of achievement before ceasing production in America in December of 1963: the Studebaker Avanti. The Avanti was designed by a team that included John Ebstein, Bob Andrews and Tom Kellogg that was led by Studebaker returnee Raymond Loewy. It is considered to be an early personal luxury car, and it was a fine motor vehicle, combining high performance with a truly unique stylistic concept.
The Avanti was produced for the 1963 and 1964 model years, but Studebaker did not delineate the succession in the standard manner. They stated that updates to the Avanti would take place as needed without regard to a model year, so collectors and historians look for telltale signs to identify when the remaining Avantis were actually built.
The body of the Studebaker Avanti was aerodynamic without ever having been wind tested, and it looked as though it was built to slice through any resistance. The front featured razor-sharp edges, and there was no grille. It was made of fiberglass, lightening the load that was powered by the best engine that Studebaker made, the 289 cubic inch V8 with the standard R1 tune that was rated at 240 horsepower.
But the famed Andy Granatelli souped up a few with engines in R2, R3, R4 and R5 tuning. All but the R4 were supercharged, and the R4 and R5 were strictly experimental. Just nine of the R3 supercharged versions of the Studebaker Avanti were produced. 29 land speed records were broken with a Studebaker Avanti R3 in the latter portion of 1962.
In all, there were 4,643 specimens of the Studebaker Avanti produced, making them rare, historic, and collectible vehicles of high original quality. There have been a number of enterprises engaged in the production of replicas of the Avanti since Studebaker shut its doors.
The Studebaker Avanti was a fitting farewell for this seminal, pioneering American automobile manufacturer, reminding the world of just how they were able to remain relevant for more than half a century.
Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer