Currently reading: Buy them before we do: second-hand picks for 3 July
For vintage-looking cars on the cheap, look no further than this week's classifieds
Autocar
News
5 mins read
3 July 2020

It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if you were to say that you had never heard of the Studebaker Avanti. After all, it lasted for just a couple of years, managing a production run of only around 1600 units. So why celebrate a failure? Well, because the Avanti was years ahead of its time.

Studebaker was in a financially precarious position in the early 1960s, and its new boss, Sherwood Egbert, thought a luxury coupé would revive the brand and be a commercial success, much like the Ford Thunderbird. He enlisted the French-born US industrial designer Raymond Loewy – whose CV included Lucky Strike packaging, Coca-Cola vending machines and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus (Google it) – to pen Studebaker’s last hope.

Within six weeks, they had created a full-scale model that was promptly named Avanti – Italian for forward. It had numerous novelties, such as aircraft-style switches in the interior, an integrated roll-cage and front disc brakes – a first for an American production car. Also, its ‘face’ was devoid of a grille, with this being placed below the bumper in a bid to make the car look more streamlined.

To speed up production, the body was made from fibreglass and sat atop the chassis of the existing Lark compact car. However, early quality control problems delayed orders, with back windows popping out at high speeds and tolerances being a bit hit and miss. Impatient customers simply cancelled their orders and took their business elsewhere.

But if they had just held out, they would have found that the Avanti was an exceedingly good car, and faster than most in supercharged form. A souped-up one set 29 production-car speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, hitting 178.5mph on one run.

The example we found for sale in the UK may not be quite so fast, but it is a Paxton-supercharged car with a manual gearbox instead of the rather lethargic three-speed automatic. It has also had a few subtle upgrades to make it more usable in today’s traffic.

And it would be a shame to hide away something so pretty. Although the Avanti couldn’t save Studebaker, it was a remarkable achievement, given the circumstances, and deserving of greater recognition.

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Ford Thunderbird, £10,995: This Mk4 ‘personal luxury car’ comes in a fetching shade of white with a tidy, light-blue interior. It’s a 1964 example so predates the complex sequential rear indicators, but it still has the 6.4-litre V8, which was said to be good for 315bhp back in the day.

Buick Sport Wagon, £9995: Ever suffered the embarrassment of not being able to fit flat-pack furniture into a car? There’d be no such issues with this leviathan. Its cargo bay must be at least 6ft long, and its rear seats fold flat. It also has natty skylights that give passengers a great view out.

Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country, £15,000: If that Buick is a bit too big, how about this tasteful little LeBaron that was once owned by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself? Yup, Frank Sinatra bought this wood-panelled K-car to avoid attention, but he did order the more potent turbo motor so he could escape the paps.

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Chrysler Saratoga, £17,500: Another American oddity is this huge four-door sedan with jet-age tail fins. Closely related to a DeSoto Firedome, this Saratoga has a 6.3-litre V8, quad headlights and miles of chrome. Lots of mechanical and body restoration is said to have made it a usable classic.

Auction watch

Aston Martin DB7: Aston Martins are beautiful, sound brutish and go like the clappers, so they can never really be regarded as inexpensive – unless, of course, you’re looking at a DB7 Vantage. A very presentable DB7 can be found for around £30,000, making this one that sold at auction for £17,000 a bit of a bargain. Even after buyer’s fees and VAT, it still sat at the lower end of the DB7 pricing scale. It isn’t perfect, with only a partial service history, a high mileage and a number of previous owners. But it is a rather rare manual and is said to be in very good condition, making it an excellent buy for the lucky person holding the paddle when the hammer fell.

Future classic

Audi TT 1.8T 225 quattro, £5000: bemoaned that it didn’t drive like a sports car, yet the public were completely smitten with the way it looked. Even today it has a contemporary air to it and, with the end of the TT as we know it expected soon, interest in early examples will begin to pique. The ship has already sailed on Sport versions, but a tidy early 225 quattro should be a good bet for the future.

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Clash of the classifieds

Brief: Could you find me an economical SUV for £15,000, please?

Porsche Cayenne V6 S E-Hybrid, £14,995

Audi Q7 3.0 TDI, £14,000

Mark Pearson: Every reader of this august journal knows that if you’re going to be subjected to the serpentine charms of the SUV, you need some real compensations. In this case, take a look at my 2011 Porsche, ye mighty, and squeal with joy. If its wonderfully classy interior doesn’t win you over, its 0-60mph time of 6sec will. Or maybe the eager steering and surprisingly nimble handling will. Or, to answer James’s request, its mid-30mpg economy. What you got there, Felix? Is it a bread bin?

Felix Page: Ah, yes, the Porsche Cayenne – a real Toyota Prius-baiter in economy terms. If you want a big car that can skip the occasional fuel stop, diesel is really the only answer, and my sleek 2013 Q7’s 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 engine is one of the punchiest oil-burners out there. This skyscraping seven-seater can muster near enough 40mpg and won’t cost quite as much to maintain as your pimped-out Volkswagen Touareg.

MP: Isn’t that the generation of Q7 that weighed the same as the QE2 but had as much interior space as the Jaguar XJS? And who would want a particulate-laden and grumbly old diesel when you can have a blissful petrol V6 for the same money?

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FP: Yes, but you’d have to drive around mostly in electric mode to claim economy bragging rights – hardly making the most of Porsche ownership. Besides, there will be no grumbling from my passengers: the Q7 rides like a magic carpet.

MP: I doubt you’ll find anyone who wants to travel in it with you, to be honest. Time to call in Judge James Ruppert…

Verdict: The posh Porsche, please...

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Comments
3

3 July 2020

Perhaps it's because they're such a novelty, but American classics always interest me yet I'd never heard of the Avanti until now. Not sure I'd want to own one in the UK though. Fuel costs, parts availability and just the sheer size puts me off. Oh and left hand drive. I think the Buick has been for sale for a while.

MrJ

3 July 2020

For its looks, the Avanti is one of my all-time favourites, as is the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus, with its handsome deck-and-a half seating and shiny metal flanks.

In fact, everything Loewy had a hand in was desirable, especially for me his Art Deco streamliner steam locomotives. 

You haven't included a price on the Avanti you found, more's the pity. There's one currently for sale in Yorkshire at £36,750, which may be a bit of a stretch for my wallet! The Sharknose T-Bird is more affordable, though you really need a convertible for the full experience. 

 

 

3 July 2020

I ve been aware of the Avanti for years they carried on making them until 2006. What confused me was why the article was mostly about the Avanti yet there was no pictures of any and no examples for sale, bizzare.

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