09 June 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #26

Most of the cars I encounter for this feature are either in traffic or parked somewhere; this one was in a museum. Back in late March the Mrs. and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem (where a friend we've known for a long time runs the gift shop) to see an exhibit on California design, and this beautiful car was parked in the lobby. It's a 1964 Studebaker Avanti, and you may remember the Avanti II that I spotted at a car show last summer; this one is the real thing.
The California connection comes from the car's genesis: in 1961 Sherwood Egbert, the man running the company at the time, asked Raymond Loewy, a noted designer who had done other car designs for Studebaker, to come up with a design for a "halo car" that would attract attention to the brand. He was told to assemble a team of other designers he wanted to work with and they were set up in a rented house in Palm Springs, and given six weeks to produce a design.
And it's a wonderful design, unlike anything else being offered by American car companies at the time. It was extremely unusual for a car of this period to have no grille; even the dramatically styled 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, with its sharply edged, hidden-headlight front end, had a pair of small decorative grilles down below its twin "bumperettes." (The Avanti does have an air intake below its front bumper.) The asymmetrical "power bulge" in the Avanti's hood was also uncommon, and it's made all the more interesting when you notice that its general shape carries through to the inside of the car to the instrument panel housing.
As conceived, the Avanti was intended to split the difference between a two-seat sports car like the Corvette and a personal-luxury model like a Thunderbird. Its appointments were luxurious for the time, but it had much more of a sporting character thanks to its engine, which could be had with a supercharger, and like the Corvette its body panels are made of fiberglass. I think it looks especially attractive in this particular light turquoise shade.
The original 1963 cars had round headlight bezels, which I've always thought looked better with the lights than the rectangular surrounds seen on this '64. I wish I'd been able to get close enough to get a good shot of the interior, but you can read more about the Avanti and see more photos in this feature on Curbside Classic.

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