In the 1960s, Studebaker sales were down, and the company was losing money. Something had to change. The board of directors discussed whether to continue in the automobile business but concluded that a new leader was needed.
It hired Sherwood Egbert, a successful executive with McCulloch Chain Saw, as president and chief operating officer. It has been said that the charismatic Egbert sketched out the general design of the Avanti on the back of an envelope while on an airplane.
From that, Egbert hired Raymond Loewy, the famous industrial designer, to actually design the fiberglass sports car, and he was fast. According to AvantiSource.com, Loewy made a full-sized clay model in only five weeks after receiving the approval from Egbert.
Early reviews were positive, and preproduction orders poured in. Speed records were established, and the car was a hit with the automotive community and with one particular 18-year-old Berkeley resident.
"It was January of 1963," Gary Tryhorn said. "The Oakland Tribune had a full-page, color advertisement for the Studebaker Avanti and the records it set at the Bonneville Salt Flats. That hooked me. I kept the ad in my wallet and went to the nearest Studebaker dealer, Lou Fox Motors on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley."
It was March before the dealer got his first load of Avantis, and Tryhorn was there. "A truck arrived with five Avantis, a white one, a gold, a turquoise, a black and a red. The salesman asked which one I wanted to test drive, and I said the turquoise. After the test drive, I wrote out a check for $100 to hold the car until I could come up with the rest of the down payment."
The dealer put the turquoise Avanti on the showroom floor for six months until Tryhorn could get a loan and come up with the rest of the down payment. "When I picked the car up," he said, "I had to have my mother with me to sign the papers because I was under age. That was very embarrassing.
"Since I was working the swing shift at the Oakland Tribune, I only had time to drive home, park the car and get the bus to go to work. That was the longest seven hours I have ever spent. I got home from work about 10:30 p.m."
Tryhorn read the owner's manual for break-in instructions. It said to drive the new car at 50 mph or less for the first 500 miles and at less than 60 mph the next 500 miles.
"I didn't know you weren't supposed to do that all at one time, so I got in the car, and when I turned it off again, I had about 1,100 miles on it."
The Avanti was available with four engine choices, the R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4. The standard R-1 engine, rated at 240 horsepower, used Studebaker's 289 c.i.d. V-8 engine. Tryhorn's Avanti has the R-2 engine, which is the same 289 V-8 engine but with a Paxton supercharger. The R-3 was a 304.5 V-8 engine, and the R-4 was that same engine with two superchargers.
Of the two transmissions offered, Tryhorn elected the four-speed manual over the automatic and, then, with some modifications, upgraded this with a Hurst shifter. The Avanti was the first American four-passenger car to offer front disc brakes as standard.
The interior of Tryhorn's turquoise Avanti has comfortable fawn-colored leather bucket seats, large round gauges under a hooded dashboard and a padded leather roll bar.
Now a Walnut Creek resident, Tryhorn has had the driver's seat reupholstered, and the car repainted. Mechanically inclined, he has done some suspension modifications, and upgraded the wheels and tires.
Otherwise, Tryhorn's Avanti is original and stock. He paid $4,619 ($33,954 in today's dollars) and estimates he has invested under $3,000 for the improvements. He estimates the value of his Avanti today to be $10,000 to $12,500.
Just because this Avanti is a low-mileage car, don't think of it as an old car just driven to church on Sundays. "After the break-in miles," Tryhorn said, "I have driven this car as hard as possible and have enjoyed every one of its 93,000 miles."
His top clocked speed was 147 mph.
Early production problem delays resulted in canceled orders, and the sales were disappointing. Sadly, Avanti had a lingering death. Studebaker quit building them in 1964 when it closed its U.S. operations in South Bend, Ind. Four successive wannabe auto manufacturers tried to keep Avanti alive, but, alas, the last Avanti was built in 1991.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.