In April 1962, Studebaker introduced the radically styled Avanti as an early 1963 Grand Touring model. The fiberglass body hid a built-in roll bar and the distinctive front of the car seemingly had no grille.
The engine breathed air drawn through a hidden scoop below the front bumper. Four versions of the Studebaker Avanti were offered: R1, R2, R3 and R4. The R1 had a base price of $4,445.
Sue and Bill Johnson have long admired the style of the Avanti, but since Studebaker produced less than 5,000 during the 1963-1964 model years very few are on the market for sale. In 1995, the Johnsons were at a car show in Yorktown, Va., where they saw a white 1964 Studebaker Avanti R1 for sale.
Sue Johnson was particularly enamored of the car. Negotiations began and continued - even after the seller and the Johnsons returned to their respective homes at the conclusion of the show. Eventually, a deal was struck and the 1964 Studebaker was driven to its new home. At that time, the odometer had recorded 207,000 miles.
Papers that came with the Avanti R1 show the first owner was an aeronautical engineer at Langley Air Field in Virginia who evidently took very good care of his Avanti. After 100,000 miles the 289-cubic-inch V-8 engine was overhauled so that it could continue producing 240 horsepower.
Then the Avanti was sold to the second owner, who continued carefully caring for it until he sold the car to Sue Johnson and her husband. She says the car is built on a modified Studebaker Lark convertible chassis for added stiffness. A set of 14-inch radial tires has replaced the original bias-ply tires on a 109-inch wheelbase supporting the 3,000-pound car. Front disc brakes and drum brakes in the rear are power-assisted to handle braking.
The Borg Warner "Flight-O-Matic" three-speed automatic transmission can also be shifted manually, just like some modern cars almost a half-century newer. The Avanti R1 also has power windows and tinted glass but no air conditioner. A cowl ventilator offers meager air flow into the cabin. Power steering was an optional extra not ordered by the original owner; however, the Studebaker now is easy to steer because a power steering unit has been installed.
Extra cost options on this Studebaker Avanti R1 include the automatic transmission, AM radio, power steering, power windows, tinted glass, white sidewall tires and twin traction differential.
Standard features include the roll bar and vanity case in the glove compartment with a pop-up mirror. There is a pass-through opening from the trunk to the rear package shelf. A tug on a handle near the floor by the left rear seat remotely opens the trunk lid. Beneath the floor in the trunk is the spare tire.
The dashboard holds virtually every instrument a driver could need or want in order to monitor the time, engine revolutions per minute, oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel level, vacuum pressure, electrical output and speed of the car up to 140 mph. Just as airplane cockpits make use of all available space, the Avanti has switches above the windshield to operate the heater fan, dashboard lights as well as the headlights.
Since acquiring the handsome Avanti 17 years ago, the Johnsons have continued the gentle care of the Studebaker. The black carpet has been replaced, but the remainder of the black vinyl upholstery is in good condition and is still original. Both bumpers, however, have been replated with chrome.
Under the hood a Carter four-barrel carburetor drinks fuel from the 21-gallon fuel tank. The owners say their Studebaker Avanti delivers about 18 mpg on premium fuel. "It likes the best stuff," Bill Johnson says.
The Johnsons have driven their 1964 Avanti an average of about 3,500 miles a year. "The rear end breaks loose easily," Sue Johnson says. "There is lots of wheel spin if I'm not careful."
When Studebaker closed its operation in South Bend, Ind., the Avanti was discontinued. A group of private investors resurrected the Avanti in 1966. A succession of owners would not let Avanti die and production was continued in several different locations during several different decades. However, only the first two years of the Avanti models were manufactured by Studebaker.
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