If you’re in Monte Carlo on May 12, you’ll have a chance to purchase a bit of of history when design legend Raymond Loewy’s 1972 Avanti II Coupé goes on sale as part of Bonhams auction house’s Les Grandes Marques à Monaco. Not only is this one of only a handful of Avanti IIs in France and one that was owned by a celebrated designer, but it’s also distinguished by the fact that its original owner was the man who created it.
Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) was one of the giants of 20th century design. Not only was he responsible for many of the iconic images from the "Age of Streamlining" into the "Space Age", but he was also personally famous for his successful design studios, his talent for self-promotion, his tremendous energy and his controversial reputation that was either that of a genius of a vulgarian depending on who you asked. Born in France and wounded in the First World War, he emigrated to the United States in 1919 and within five years was already well on his way to becoming a headliner in the world of industrial design.
One popular myth is that Loewy was responsible for the classic Coca Cola bottle’s distinctive contour shape. In fact, the bottle had been around since 1915 and Loewy’s contribution was to update it in 1957. He did, however, do many designs for Coca Cola for coolers, dispensers, cans and vending machines. But even without Coca Cola, Loewy’s list of achievements is striking. During his career he designed everything from pencil sharpeners to locomotives to space stations. In 1934, he designed the Hupmobile, which set new standards for automotive streamlining. He went on to design the aerodynamic shell for the Pennsylvania railroad’s S1 steam locomotive that looked more like an art deco rocketship than something that ran on rails. He also created the iconic Lucky Strikes cigarette packet and for the Chrysler exhibit at 1939 New York World’s Fair he designed a giant futuristic “rocketport”.
Loewy designed cars for Studebaker, the livery for Air Force One, the interior for Air France’s Concorde and NASA even commissioned him to develop the layout for Skylab, America’s first space station.
But for car enthusiasts, his Avanti II Coupé has a special place. Created for the Studebaker company in 1962, this two-door four seater took only seven weeks to complete from design briefing to full-scale model. It was intended to be built on a standard chassis and Loewy wanted to give it a “European feel” with a minimum of trim, an invisible radiator and a wedge shape accented by an off-centre blister on the bonnet. It was a blending of subtle curves that were so precise that Loewy would often finish them by touch because, he said, “subtle accents could not be explained any other way”.
Loewy was very particular about the cars he owned and would often redesign them to fit his specifications. He seemed pleased enough with the Avanti II, since he owned two - one in the United States and another in France.
The French Avanti II went through three owners since the death of Loewy and this is the first time it has been offered for public sale. Bonhams estimates that the car will fetch between EUR35,000 and 50,000.