Gear Head Tuesday – Raymond Loewy & Raffi Minasian

Gear Head

We’ve covered Raymond Loewy’s lasting influence on many areas of design a number of times, including his famous association with Studebaker. Today we learn how Loewy helped shape the life work of a 10 year old Raffi Minasian.

Loewy to Raffi

Loewy’s inscription on a book to Raffi Minasian, who was 10 years old at the time.

Responding to my recent post about Loewy and the Avanti, Raffi wrote this:

“Very nicely done. I would say that this is a very fair and appropriate article on Loewy. Having met him as a young man interested in design, and highly influenced by him in my early years establishing both my career as a designer and as a manager running both corporate studios and my own studio (now going on 17 years). I can say that much of what I’ve learned in the process of design is both attributed to him and others like him.

However, the Avanti (having owned two of them for most of my driving life) coverage you give here is not a fair representation of the credit that should go to the designer Tom Kellogg. I spent two years working with Tom on various design projects including work for Rolls Royce and the AVX. Tom is THE designer of the Avanti as we know it. His sketches entirely prove it and his previous Art Center portfolio (the one Loewy saw when visiting campus before the Avanti was designed) reveals the intention of the car both in form and distinct detail.

Loewy had indeed done the Lancia Loraymo and the BMW 507, two cars that reveal conceptual aspects of Avanti-like ideation, but neither of those cars could ever have evolved into the Avanti as we know it without Kellogg and modeler John Ebstein. The two were friends and worked together happily in the Palm Springs studio refining the car design into the 5th scale clay that would go back to Studebaker for full sized evolution. Loewy never touched the clay with the exception of holding a tool up to it for promotional photos.

And here is the critical part, while Loewy did not design the car (his red sketch and others of similar iteration from the time were his hand copying the final direction) and he also did not design many of the other cars from his studio by Koto and Exner and others, what he did was nothing short of monumental for design and for the evolution of the craft. Loewy was one of the best big band leaders of the era. He could play his instrument quite well, but his real gift (like Nuccio Bertone) was his larger vision for the broader landscape – to make BIG sounds with great talent. And like so many big band leaders, the Loewy impact was that he was able to bring great designers up and out of his studio to further populate the future either with him, or on their own. Loewy wanted more than anything for designers to succeed.

When I met him, he kindly signed the inside of his book for me. It was entirely in French, a language I would later learn in order to read more of the book. This is his inscription “To Raffi, Best wishes for your success as an Industrial Designer” – I was 10 years old!! This was my motivation to do it. For me, the Avanti encompasses so much of my design life and means far more than what it was as a car, both to the world that loves it and to the history that it intersected. Please read this article I wrote some time ago. It has been reprinted many times in various publications but I think it still remains true no matter what year it is read.”

Here is the article Raffi wrote:

Avanti – An American Design Dream of the Future

In 1962 the world of fashion, design, and cultural norms were changing faster than we could keep track. Television was in more than 90% of all American homes. We welcomed the dashing and hatless John F. Kennedy, the European-influenced First Lady Jackie, and the commercial novelty of TV dinners. Lasers were being developed for warfare, the supersonic Concorde offered the dream of high speed commercial travel, John Glenn became the first man in outer space, Kennedy announced that we would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and the Beatles released their first hit single “Love Me Do”. 1962 also spawned the clever animated TV comedy “The Jetsons” featuring the life of an average family in 2062. And, in the middle of a damp Northwestern outpost, the 1962 World’s Fair featured the now iconic Space Needle – Seattle’s monumental triumph of politics and futurism.

Amidst the Camelot of the Kennedy presidency and the dawn of a technologically fueled decade, four men assembled in Palm Springs, California to do what no other car company had ever done before – design and build a production-ready car in ONE year. The result would be “the car that would save Studebaker”. Inspired by the highly motivated Sherwood Egbert, President of the financially troubled Studebaker Corporation, Egbert convinced Studebaker’s Board of Directors that an all-new car of radical design, featuring new technology would change Studebaker’s conservative image and favorably alter its destiny. The Studebaker Avanti would be on the road to production in less than a year.

Rayond Loewy, by far the most well known member of the Avanti team, had become recently acquainted with a young graduate of the Art Center School, Tom Kellogg. Approached by Loewy, after a short stint in Detroit with Ford, the young Kellogg jumped at the chance to work in Palm Springs on this secret project. Kellogg favored clean and simple bodylines from European coachbuilders and was not shy in voicing his aesthetic opinions using his brilliant pencil sketches. Flanked by John Ebstein (an industrial designer and key person in the Loewy Studios) and Bob Andrews (clay modeler), the Avanti team developed a 1:8 scale clay model in a matter of weeks. The concept was accepted instantly by Studebaker management and immediately developed for market release.

Complete with safety innovations including front disc brakes (a first for an American production car), an integrated roll bar, a safety padded dash, and tinted glass, the Avanti also featured performance upgrades including two supercharged engine options. Effective use of the existing Studebaker Lark convertible chassis assisted the speed and cost savings required for this ambitious project.

Much has been written about the Avanti, the team of people who designed it and the factors that contributed to the demise of Studebaker. Although Studebaker saw the Avanti as a vision for their future and spent millions of dollars chasing that dream, it was simply not to be. Production problems, cost overruns, delivery issues, and internal management challenges plagued the Avanti project. Ironically, the Avanti ended up contributing to the demise rather than diverting it. Studebaker would indeed go out of business, but the Avanti would live on under the direction of the Altman brothers with the Avanti II continuing production for decades through different ownership.

From a design perspective, the Avanti never received universal praise or recognition as one of the most significant cars of the post war era partly because it was tied to the demise of Studebaker. Conceptualized in a world where space exploration, elliptical orbital paths, parabolic arcs, and radical aviation were deeply influencing design, the Avanti was conceived without a single straight line. Although brilliantly conceptual and way ahead of the curve, the concept itself was nearly doomed as a visual statement of advanced technology by the time it was released. For all the glory of 1962, the astonishing national reach toward the future, the vision of plastics changing our world, and the goals and aspirations of our Jetsonian future, it was all changing too fast for even this Bonneville land speed record breaker to catch. The Avanti, built and produced in record time, was too slow to outpace the movement of culture, the speed of lasers, and the microprocessors that would eclipse the instantly “dated” Avanti. Yes it was new, advanced, and visually remarkable. But it was a vision brought to market for a public that perhaps was only ready to dream about it through cartoon characters and novel Space Needles void of office space.

What the Avanti did accomplish, however, was to capture one of the most important moments in the American Dream and build it in a vehicle for the future. The Avanti would come to symbolize our national hope and vision for a future with flying cars, telephonic video communication, high-speed air travel, and slick executive lifestyles. Radical changes would come overnight in November of 1963 when America would awaken abruptly from their dreams as they watched in horror the events unfold from a Texas book depository and nearby grassy knoll. While we often hope for our future, dream about the way it might be and visualize it in our daily appliances, the world of 1962 evaporated as we deployed troops to Vietnam, passionate civic leaders were murdered before our very eyes, as civil rights protests escalated, gas wars emerged, and recession enveloped our country.

The Avanti will always embody a perfect conceptual capture of a time we will never see again. Delivered without corporate rumination, untainted by focus-group homogenization, and brought to life with modern safety and performance technology, the Avanti did what few American production cars dare to do – it left a legacy of emotional aspirations for all of us who dream about a future that may never be, but still persevere in the search for something new.

1957 Loewy BMW

Above: 1957 BMW 507, below: 1960 Lancia “Loraymo”

Note the Avanti-like shape of the body of the BMW.

1960_Lancia_Loraymo_by_Loewy

For comparison, an Avanti:

63 Studebaker Avanti

Studebaker S logo

The old gas station photos series as posted at Curbside Classic continues: today we have a Shell station combines with a tourist court and a house fire!

Old gas station photos

10 Comments

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  1. Very thoughtful remarks about Loewy and the Avanti.

    I have never seen credit given to the man who designed the interior of the Avanti, which in many ways matched the ambitions of the exterior. This was Aristide Makris, my classmate in Industrial Design at Pratt Institute.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karl – Thank you very much for this. Like you, I have never seen credit given to Aristide Makris for his work on the interior. I absolutely agree with you that the interior matched the ambitions of the exterior. I’ve always though it was one of the best interior designs of the era – and it still looks great today. It’s not just a matter of looking good, though – the functionality of the interior is superb. It manages that rare feat of being both functional and beautiful. That it doesn’t look dated now all these years later is a tribute to the integrity of Makris’ design.

      Like

    • I have heard that many of the interior ideas were scrubbed due to lack of budget. It would be interesting to see what some of those ideas were.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. rulesoflogic 15/05/2018 — 05:02

    What an awesome post! I have loved the Avanti since the first time I saw a picture of one when my age was still in single digits. Thanks for the insight into the development.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thoughtful remarks👏

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I purchased the 25th one off the line (63R1025) nearly 50 years ago. It was the Hot Rod Magazine R3 road test car. Has a huge history. Currently parked out back in my hanger.

    Liked by 1 person

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