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John Ebstein, 92, Designer; Helped Streamline Sports Car
Published: February 26, 2005
John Ebstein, an industrial designer employed by Raymond Loewy, the ''father of streamlining,'' who led the team that created the Studebaker Avanti sports car and influenced the look of products including Lucky Strike cigarettes and Greyhound buses, died on Feb. 18 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 92.
The cause was a heart attack, his son, Peter, said.
Mr. Ebstein contributed to the design of space capsules, Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives and Air Force One, but his most notable achievement was supervising the team of young designers that in two weeks in 1961 created the Avanti for the Studebaker-Packard Corporation.
The radically styled, powerful sports coupe did not fulfill its intended purpose of saving its maker from financial collapse, but it became revered among automobile enthusiasts and design devotees as one of the world's most consummate sports cars. It was built in the 1963 and 1964 model years.
The Avanti, which means ''forward'' in Italian, had a Coke-bottle shape, with a narrowing in the middle that inspired European racing cars for a generation. It could hold four passengers and had two doors, a long hood, a host trunk, an asymmetrical power bulge on the hood, virtually no chrome trim and no fins. The interior was inspired by aircraft flight decks, with numerous toggle switches on the console.
The car's genesis happened in a two-room bungalow in Palm Springs, Calif., that Mr. Loewy had rented as a design studio 10 days after Studebaker-Packard hired him to come up with a sports car to challenge Ford's Thunderbird. After doing preliminary sketches himself, Mr. Loewy put Mr. Ebstein, his chief of staff, in charge of the project, and hired Thomas W. Kellogg, a young design whiz, to do most of the drawing and Robert Andrews to build scale models and work on the interior. Mr. Loewy often dropped by the house.
In just two weeks, they had completed an initial design, which included air-brushed paintings by Mr. Ebstein, to present to Studebaker. Mr. Ebstein was the last survivor of the group.
John Wilhelm Ebstein was born in Stettin, Germany, on May 14, 1912. He began his architectural studies in Stuttgart, then fled the country by motorcycle with his possessions strapped to his back when Hitler assumed power in 1933.
He continued his studies in Paris and Prague, where he earned an architectural degree. He immigrated to the United States in 1938 and joined Loewy Associates the same year.
He and Mr. Loewy, who was long the most influential designer in the United States, always spoke French to each another.
''John was the quintessential Renaissance man,'' said Laurence Loewy in an interview with Avanti magazine, whose audience is Avanti owners. ''This bonded him with my father, Raymond Loewy, making it possible for them to understand each other instinctively. Dad considered John his best friend and they remained close long after John left Dad's employ.''
In 1979 remarks included in The New York Times obituary of Mr. Loewy in 1986, Mr. Loewy spoke of his relationship with his early colleagues, including Mr. Ebstein, whose strong graphics and air-brushing he particularly valued.
''My early colleagues and myself helped create the lifestyles of Americans and, by osmosis, of the rest of the world,'' Mr. Loewy said, extolling the group's ''total exhilaration and the ecstasy of creativity.''
Shortly after Mr. Ebstein accompanied Mr. Loewy to the White House to discuss the Air Force One design with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, he resigned from Mr. Loewy's group so he could spend more of his time on designing and less on administration.
He joined Gabriel Industries as chief designer and patented many toys and sporting goods. He retired in 1977 when he reached 65, then continued designing for eight years as a consultant.
In late 1994 or early 1995 he designed the logo used by the Florida chapter of the Avanti Owners Association International; the chapter is named in his honor.
Mr. Ebstein's wife of 32 years, the former Doris Nethe, died in 1976; he later married Lenore Summers, who died in 1996.
In addition to his son Peter, of Stamford, Conn., Mr. Ebstein is survived by his sons Robert, of Clinton, Mass., and Lewis, of Cincinnati; his stepsons Andrew, of Annapolis, Md., and Richard, of Philadelphia; 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.