A gem of a classic car turned up in the forums a few days ago, picking up on a Jalopnik news item about designer Raymond Loewy's drool-worthy personal Studebaker Avanti hitting the market at the Los Angeles Modern Auctions' "Important Modern Art & Design" auction on December 11. Uninspired though the auction title may be, Loewy's ride most certainly fits the bill; according to the catalog:In 1961 in a small modernist house in Palm Springs, California, industrial designer Raymond Loewy assembled a four-man design team to construct a clay model of what would become the Studebaker Avanti sports car. In March, Sherwood Egbert, the president of Studebaker, phoned Loewy from South Bend, Indiana and asked him to design a car. Loewy insisted on working in Palm Springs with his own team, far from the prying eyes of Detroit stylists. With a short window of time to complete the mock-up, Loewy's team was managed by Johnny Ebstein, "an excellent designer and organizer," according to Loewy. They conserved every minute, and fifteen days later, Loewy flew to South Bend to begin work on the full-scale mock-up.
Remembering this whirlwind process, Loewy writes, "It was developed so efficiently; a lightning-like shoe-string operation compared to the hundreds of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars Detroit expends on an average new body design to achieve a 'committee' look." When the car was unveiled at the New York Automobile Show, it became an instant classic, so popular that South Bend couldn't manufacture fiberglass quickly enough to keep up with the orders.
The Avanti's advanced luxury styling was unlike anything seen on American streets. New design details included the asymmetrical power bulge on the front hood, a fin-less sculptured body with virtually no chrome trim and no visible front grill, and a long hood and short trunk, which set the tone for the next wave of sports coupes. Constructed of 183 separate panels of molded fiberglass, the Avanti also featured advanced interior designs such as a concealed vanity tray and a fully padded safety dash. The unusual "coke bottle" body styling was purportedly inspired by the four designers' interest in the bikini-clad girls seen at nearby Palm Springs resorts.
At the time the fastest American car, the Avanti set twenty-four speed and endurance records for a stock American production car with the help of its V-8 Jet-Thrust engine, a super-fast four-barrel carburetor, and high-speed cam.
The Avanti at hand is a "unique 1963 model, personally ordered by Loewy and handmade with custom detailing," not to mention the R2 supercharged engine. Its provenance is the 1986 McCormick's Exotic Car Auction in Palm Springs, where the car was sold upon Loewy's death.
The current auction estimate comes in at $60,000–$80,000.