Seeking Avanti

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Avanti owner Richard Vaux helps with the car load-in before the opening of California Design.
Walter Silver/PEM

I first spoke with Richard Vaux about nine months ago. In preparation for PEM’s presentation of the Los Angeles Museum of Art‘s California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,  I was asked to seek out a rather special object to enhance the exhibition; a 1964 Avanti. Now I don’t know about you, but at the time I had absolutely no idea what a 1964 Avanti was. It turned out to be a car, and a somewhat usual one at that.

Avanti license plate

Walter Silver/PEM

The Avanti sports car was made by Studebaker for just two years in the early sixties as a last ditch effort to save the floundering company from bankruptcy. It was designed by renowned industrial designer, Raymond Loewy  — who, among other American icons, dreamed up the curvy Coke bottle we all know and love  — and was considered a ground breaking and innovative product. Because the Avanti was made for such a short period of time, there are only a few hundred of them left and, after following a number of strange, car-enthusiast paths, I was lucky enough to find one relatively close to the museum. Or rather, it found me.

One day, as if by magic, there was Mr. Vaux on my voice mail, telling me he thought he had the car I was looking for. And it turned out he was right. For not only did Mr. V own a 1964 Avanti, he owned a mint-condition, award-winning, meticulously re-built-with-his-own-hands 1964 Avanti. This truly charming man had acquired the turquoise inside-and-out car in the early 2000′s via incredible circumstances and was delighted to loan the vehicle to the museum for the run of the show.

In preparation for the exhibition, I had the pleasure of accompanying our photography and film crews to Mr. Vaux’s house to document this remarkable car and its remarkable owner (an air force veteran, former Studebaker employee, a gear head and a retired TWA pilot) for what is proving a fantastic, local connection for New England’s introduction to California Design.

See California Design through July 6, 2014. For an interactive experience, download the great new app LACMA has created to accompany the exhibition.

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