Bill Haworth, Studebaker's live New York P.R.O., arranged for me to pick up a brand-new Avanti, and run it down to Sebring, Florida, a distance of over 1,300 miles. This was finished in gun-metal and was a normal production machine with the Paxton-supercharged, 4,720 c.c. V8 engine, four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox and limited-spin (or twin-traction) differential. On the trip down, I was accompanied by Dunlop's Dick Jeffrey, who was fascinated by the performance of this splendid car and said that he had never completed such a long trip before, with such complete absence of fatigue.
The Avanti is ideal for dealing with American traffic conditions. On speedlimited main roads, the accent is on sheer acceleration, rather than high maximum speed. The Studebaker has both, of course, but it is its ability to whistle up to over 100 m.p.h. from a gentle cruising gait that makes it the perfect turnpike cruiser. With the immense acceleration possible, one just overwhelms groups of automobiles, then settles down to the required rate of knots. Cop-spotting becomes almost a sixth sense, and I can fully understand the need for an interior mirror, and a couple of wing mirrors. Curiously enough, accomplishing the overtaking manoeuvre many times, I was never once the victim of horn-blowing, headlightflashing and all the things one becomes accustomed to in Great Britain.
Our route lay via the Jersey Turnpike, the Delaware Bridge, Washington, to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where we stayed at the famous General Washington Hotel. Believe it or not, it was St. Patrick's Night, and the draught beer in the bar was bright green! Through the lovely Virginian countryside we took Route 301 to avoid the heavier traffic, by-passing Richmond and Petersburg into the Carolinas, stopping to have a look at Pedro's South-of-the-Border setup, which is almost a small township in itself. We then went to Georgia, via Savannah and from there took the Coast Highway to Florida, by way of Daytona Beach and its famous Speedway. Dick Jeffrey was dumbfounded by the miles and miles of motels which line this sandy coast.
Anyway, on our trip we saw plenty of the Eastern States, and had every opportunity of proving the Avanti's mettle. I had heard that the gas consumption might be pretty staggering, but a careful check showed that during our journey the car averaged 17 miles per U.S. gallon. In 1,300 miles, only 11 pints of oil were added to the sump. Where we stopped, the Avanti attracted a great deal of attention. In fact, several people believed that it was an Italian machine, and were more than gratified to learn that it had been built in America.
It is perfectly orthodox in its chassis construction, the frame consisting of deep-section channel steel side members with cross-bracing. The independent front suspension is by large helical springs, unequally-spaced wishbones, controlled by telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. Long, semi-elliptic springs are used at the rear, in conjunction with anti-roll and torque bars. The suspension is soft by European standards, but there is no tendency to roll unduly. Tyre squeal was evident, but Jeffrey thought that a set of RS Dunlops would soon cure that. Candidly, I did not know that powered-steering was fitted, till I was told. The Avanti has a very live feeling to the steering, although a wheel tremor at speed suggested unbalanced front wheels. Behaviour is, on the whole, admirable, with just a suggestion of understeer.
I cannot praise the brakes high enough. The servo operation is both light and positive, and the equipment gave one a sense of security in keeping with the fine all-round performance of the car. At the front, Dunlop disc brakes made in U.S.A. by Bendix are fitted, used in conjunction will 11 ins. drums at the rear. The all-synchromesh gearbox is a first-rate example of a manual-change unit. Candidly, the ratios are a trifle peculiar, and with a 3.7 rear axle, the Avanti simply cries out for an overdrive. Clutch judder, experienced on certain earlier Studebakers, has been completely eliminated, and the latest Borg and Beck is free from any vices, including taking care of "whip-through" changes with the very minimum of slip. However, I feel that it would require rather less pedal pressure by the adoption of an hydraulic operation, rather than the mechanical layout.
Undoubtedly, the car tested was geared for acceleration, but 22.6 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear does produce rather unnecessary high revolutions at cruising speeds for such a big, torquepacked engine. Thus, at 90 m.p.h. the motor is turning over at 4,000 r.p.m. The red section on the rev-counter is marked from 5,000-6,000 r.p.m., but the needle only entered this whilst figures were being obtained.
Acceleration is remarkably good, and the ability to reach 100 m.p.h. from rest in under 18 secs. is a tribute to the free revving engine, ultra-quick change and the freedom from wheel-spin permitted by the limited-spin diff. Maximum speed was found to be 133 m.p.h., but with a higher axle ratio, this could be improved immeasurably. Returning to the subject of an overdrive; this would retain the accelerative properties of the Avanti, whilst permitting more effortless cruising at lower r.p.m. A liaison between Studebaker and Laycock-de Normanville is suggested! With the ratios fitted, maximum speeds in the gears were 42 m.p.h., 60 m.p.h. and 88 m.p.h. This gave quite a gap between third and top.
A notable feature was the silence of the Paxton supercharger, and the smoothness of the big V8 engine in general. The power-unit is, however, rather flexibly mounted, but this is only emphasized when making full use of the immense acceleration. There is a power-boom from the twin tail-pipes, but this is not offensive, and is somehow in keeping with the G.T. characteristics of the Avanti.
I thoroughly approve of the styling. To some eyes, it is somewhat exaggerated, but the Avanti definitely grows on one. It is surely the finest example of glassfibre craftsmanship' that has so far been marketed, and the finish is beyond criticism. Seats are extremely comfortable, and a great deal of thought has gone into the interior furnishing. Instrumentation is very good indeed, and the placing of light and heater switches on a panel above the windscreen is a good scheme. Generous use of anticrash padding is noticeable, and all Avanti models come complete with safety-belts.
Interior quietness should also be stressed. There was no sign of a rattle, wind noise was only apparent when the quarter-lights were opened, and it was possible to listen to the twin-speaker radio at the highest cruising speeds.
Luggage space is not exceptional for an American automobile, but far better than the usual G.T. car. The lid is operated from inside the car via a cable, and there is also an inspection-cover which can be removed to take out parcels and hand-baggage without getting out of the car. Visibility is excellent, but I felt that the headlamps were not up to the performance. I realize that there are rather stringent lighting regulations in various states, but the spread itself could be improved. Possibly the plate-glass covers are responsible, but it would be interesting to try European lamps to see whether or not there would be an improvement.
Taking it by and large, the Studebaker Avanti is a step in the right direction, and will assuredly give rival U.S. manufucturers seriously to think. The reputaition of the Lark for reliability, performance and wearability will undoubtedly make the marketing of the Avanti that much easier. It is a fact that the styling has now been accepted, and that the thought of a four-passenger closed car with such a sporting performance is reflected in the decision of Studebaker to turn out even more Avanti models. For use on the motor roads of Europe, this would be an ideal vehicle, and one can foresee that an overseas market awaits it.
Studebaker Avanti 1963 - designed by the man who designed the Coke bottle - Lowey