Studebaker came into existence in the very early 1800's where they specialized in making wagons for the Union Army during the Civil War. The company later switched over to producing automobiles and by the 1920's had built a reputation for making a fairly good car at a reasonable price. As the 1920's came to a close, the Great Depression coupled with stiff competition made business difficult for the struggling Studebaker Company. An acquisition in 1928 of the Pierce-Arrow Company nearly sent them to bankruptcy. Though the Pierce-Arrow vehicles were some of the best in the industry, they had not done enough to stay competitive. They were supports of the six-cylinder engine while the rest of the competition had outfitted their vehicles with larger eight- and twelve-cylinder vehicles. By the time Pierce-Arrow began using the larger engines, their competition again changed their marketing plans and moved 'down-market', producing lines of inexpensive cars in order to stimulate sales.
During the late 1930s, the Studebaker was again able to turn a profit and their business began to prosper. After World War II they were the first American company to introduced new and dramatic designs while their competition continued to create outdated vehicles. By the close of the 1950s, the Studebaker Company was once again faced with staggering sales. In an attempt to redirect their misfortune, Raymond Loewy, a renowned industrial designer, was hired to create a performance car. With the help of three other designers, Loewy began creating a new vehicle that would surely resurrect the troubled company. Locked in a private cottage for two weeks, the team was able to create a clay model accompanied by detailed drawings which they presented to Studebaker.
Studebaker quickly began creating the car but since money was scarce, the company performed many cost-cutting measures such as modifying a Studebaker Lark convertible chassis and using that as the basis for the vehicle. By 1962 the car was ready and dubbed the Avanti, Italian for 'forward'. It was an instant love-or-hate design. Since this was to be a performance car, Studebaker employed the services of Andy and Joe Granatelli to modify the engine. In forty-days, the task was completed and the result was a power-plant that could propel the Avanti to a top speed of 171.10 miles per hour, which it achieved on a clocked-run at the Nevada desert. Further fine-tuning of the engine, chassis, and body gave the engine the name 'R3'.
Though it had captured the title of 'fastest production car in America' it failed to generate sales. The styling of the vehicle was too much for buyers to bear. In total, only nine examples of the Avant R3 were ever ordered. The company was forced to close its doors on December 9th, 1963 and production ceased. Production of the Studebaker Lark continued for two more years in Canada.
By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2012