First, let me be clear I’m a big fan of Raymond Loewy. The man was an outstanding designer, and helped to define the whole genre of industrial design. Plus, he went dune buggy-ing in an ascot and suede loafers. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make some pretty big missteps, and let’s be honest: Raymond loved Raymond. That’s what led to I think a bit of a narcissistic over reach regarding a Soviet home-built car. I should probably explain.
This all started when, the other day, I saw this image on the wonderful Instagram feed for TheLoveAndHatredOfTheCar:
I knew that car, and that picture very well, though this was the first time I’d seen it in color.
You see, in Raymond Loewy’s wonderful 1979 book, Industrial Design, there’s a little picture of a fascinating home-built car seen in Moscow in 1974. The car is built from a pair of motorcycles, side-by-side, and some fairly elaborate handmade bodywork. Loewy’s caption of the snapshot reads:
Loewy says the car was “very likely inspired by the Avanti,” referring to the lovely Studebaker sports car Loewy and his team designed. Even when I first saw this picture decades ago, I kind of thought that Loewy was full of shit.
I mean, yeah, it kinda resembles an Avanti, but that’s mostly because of the smooth front, grille-less face and big round lights, which can more likely be explained by the fact that mechanically, the thing doesn’t need a grille, and big round lights were by far the most readily available to someone home-building a car in the Soviet Union at that time.
For reference, here’s an Avanti:
I think Avantis are a striking and lovely design, and certainly a worthy template if you were cobbling together a car from a pair of Soviet motorcycles, but I’m just not buying that the unknown and skilled tinkerer who built that thing was even aware of Avantis.
These things weren’t even super common in America—what are the odds that someone would have encountered one in the Soviet Union in the 1970s? Pretty minimal.
Still, there are some similarities—the curves of the fenders and beltline, the general shape of the roof, and, yes, the grille-less front end, but I think these are chance coincidences more than a deliberate attempt to make a samizdat Avanti.
Maybe I’m wrong? What do you think? Was this the work of some dedicated Loewy fan, or was Ray-Ray’s ego just filling in the blanks with a story he liked?
It’s important, now more than ever, to decide this. I’ll be sure the Loewy estate is informed of our consensus.