Studebaker’s Last Dance: The Avanti

Sales were slow at Studebaker in early 1961. This was not an unfamiliar position as Studebaker had lost money each of the previous eight years except for one (1959). In an effort to right the ship, Studebaker’s board of directors brought in a new president on February 1, 1961, and was considering leaving the automobile business altogether if business did not improve.

Studebaker’s new president was 43 year-old Sherwood Harry Egbert, formerly of the McCulloch Corporation, Unlike his predecessors, Egbert was new to Studebaker and to the automobile industry. Once in office, he wasted little time familiarizing himself with his new surroundings. Despite Studebaker’s sales woes, he was impressed with its products and saw potential despite the company’s tattered image. Among Egbert’s first words at his initial Studebaker press conference was the statement, “we’re in this business to stay.”

Egbert felt the Studebaker needed a radical new product and needed it fast. In March of 1961, Egbert commissioned Raymond Loewy, the architect behind Studebaker’s most dynamic automobiles, to design a new Studebaker sports car. Loewy accepted the assignment and agreed to deliver an eighth-scale model to Studebaker in six weeks. The car was slated to debut the following spring.

By industry standards, it was an impossible task. New cars take 3 to 5 years and cost many millions of dollars. Studebaker had 14 months and a miniscule budget. Yet, as it had many times over its 100-year history, Studebaker overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, and the Avanti debuted April 25, 1962. This is the story behind Studebaker’s Last Dance: The Avanti.

About this Series

Studebaker’s Last Dance: The Avanti was on display at the Museum in 2012.  This series of articles comes for the displays from that exhibition.