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The Studebaker Hawk


The Hawk line was produced from 1956 to 1964 and were some of the most striking and iconic cars ever produced by Studebaker before their collapse in the mid-1960s. In the early 1950s the small independent car manufacturers were struggling to keep from losing sales to the GM, Ford and Chrysler behemoths with their multiple nameplates under one roof. Packard had spoken with Nash, Hudson and Studebaker about creating an independent conglomerate to take on the Big Three. This didn’t go quite as Jim Nance, president of Packard had hoped and in early 1954 Nash and Hudson merged to form American Motors Corporation and Packard merged with Studebaker to form Studebaker-Packard. The death of George Mason in the fall of 1954, former president of Nash and instrumental in the formation of AMC, whom Nance was trying to form the conglomerate with ended any hopes of the fledgling Studebaker-Packard joining AMC.

Studebaker was bleeding more money than the not exactly rosy but not dismal financial figures that were presented at the merger talks suggested. They needed new cars but money was tight. The sales department did not want to give up the only Studebaker coupe, the Starliner, for fear of not having one in the lineup with no money for new car development. Raymond Lowey Associates had designed the Starliner, which was expensive to build. Studebaker-Packard did not want to continue to foot the $1 million per year for RLA’s design work, but asked them to re-design the Starliner one more time and make the grill more upright than the Starliner to better suit the design trends of the time. RLA did so, with a new hood to match. They also squared off the rear end and gave the new design bolt-on plastic fins, something they were loathe to do on their other designs but were appearing on most other cars by 1956 and were requested by Studebaker-Packard. They also re-vamped the interior along the lines of the previous year’s Presidential Speedster with its full instrumentation on a turned-metal panel. The result was a car with a completely different face and rear end than the Starliner, so much so that it was re-christened the Hawk. This also served the pretense that it was an all-new model and not merely a re-designed Starliner. The new Hawk line would use either a Studebaker or a Packard V-8 (except Flight Hawk, which used an inline six-cylinder) and Ultramatic transmission. Four models were offered for 1956, the six-cylinder Flight Hawk, the base V-8 Power Hawk, the upper-series Sky Hawk and the top-of-the-line Golden Hawk.

Flight Hawk 1956

Studebaker Hawks were “personal luxury vehicles” a decade before the term was coined for cars such as the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toranado. The Flight Hawk was the base model pillared coupe, powered by a Packard 185 cu. in. 101 HP inline six-cylinder engine. A three-speed manual transmission with optional overdrive or a three-speed Flight-O-Matic automatic transferred power to the rear wheels. A minimum of chrome adorned the car and things like backup lights, radio, clock`and even outside mirrors and a heater were either factory or dealer-installed options.

Power Hawk 1956

The Power Hawk pillared coupe was based off of the Commander series and featured the Commander’s 259 cu. in. V-8 in either 170 or 185 HP form (with a 4-barrel carb) and was the base V-8 for the Hawk line.

Sky Hawk 1956

The Sky Hawk was a true hardtop powered by a Studebaker 289 cu. in. engine, either in 210 or 225 HP form. A lack of fins and less chrome trim differentiated it from the top-of-the-line Golden Hawk and they had slightly less luxurious interiors. It was lighter and better handling than the nose-heavy Golden Hawk and was dropped after the 1956 model year.

Silver Hawk 1957-59

Hawk 1960-61

In 1957 a Silver Hawk version appeared in showrooms. It was a pillared coupe like the Power Hawk and Flight Hawk it replaced, whereas the Golden Hawk was a true hardtop coupe. It was plainer than the Golden Hawk, with less chrome and no supercharger bulge in the hood due to the 185 cu. in. inline-six engine from the Studebaker Champion being the only US offering. Some export models got the 259 Commander V-8. The two-tone paint scheme was also simpler.

For 1959 the Silver Hawk was the only Hawk model offered, the Golden Hawk was dropped after 1958. The Silver Hawk might have been dropped as well except Studebaker needed a flagship model as a dealership draw and the Golden Hawk was too expensive to produce. They were hoping to lure buyers into showrooms and have them leave with the new Lark compact, Studebaker’s last-ditch effort at a new model. There were new tail fins with script “Silver Hawk” emblems, relocated from the trunk lid which now sported a block “STUDEBAKER” badge. It had chrome molding around the windows similar to the Golden Hawk and the interior was somewhere between the two as far as luxury.

In 1960 the Silver Hawk name was dropped and it became simply the Hawk, which had the same exterior as the 1959 Silver Hawk but with the normally-aspirated 289 V-8 from the old Sky Hawk. 1961 models were the same except that a beige second color could be added and the 289 could now be paired with a new optional 4-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission.

Golden Hawk 1956-58

The Golden Hawk was top-of-the-line and featured Packard’s 275 HP 352 cu. in. V-8 and Twin UltraMatic transmission. It had the most luxurious trim level of the line, but was still essentially a 1953 Starliner underneath. With the big engine it could go from 0-60 in 9 seconds and reach 117 MPH, but the car’s nose-heaviness and gobs of torque could spin the tires under hard acceleration. Speed Age Magazine tested the Golden Hawk against the Chrysler 300B, Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette in 1956, and the Studebaker out-performed those three in 0-60 and 1/4 mile times. Various paint schemes could be ordered, and in order to keep costs down for the base model the standard equipment list was very small; nearly everything was optional, including turn signals. A padded dashboard was one of the few standard features.

In late 1956 Packard’s engine plant was leased to Curtiss-Wright and eventually sold to them, marking the end of Packard production. Re-badged Studebakers would fill the Packard line for two more years, including the Packard Hawk, which was merely a Golden Hawk with a Packard name. Since Packard V-8s were no longer in production, the 1957 Golden Hawk got a supercharged version of the Studebaker 289 V-8 that gave it the same 275 HP output as the Packard 352 from the previous year. A fiberglass overlay on the hood was added to cover the hole where the supercharger was. New, higher tail fins were added, it was 1957 after all, that were trimmed in chrome and normally painted a contrasting color. The suspension and driveshaft were re-designed resulting in Studebaker being able to install a three-passenger rear seat. The ’56 model’s transmission hump was so high that a rear seat in the middle was impossible.

Halfway through 1957 a new luxury 400 trim level was introduced with a fully upholstered trunk, leather interior and special trim. Only 41 were produced and only a handful still exist today. The one pictured above is in the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

1958 models received 14 inch wheels instead of 15 inchers, making for a lower ride.

Even the standard Golden Hawk was a rare bird. Studebaker, like all car manufacturers, was hit by the late ’50s recession. Only 878 ’58 Golden Hawks were produced and the model was discontinued after that. 3471 ’56 models and 4353 ’57 models preceded it.

Gran Turismo Hawk 1962-64

By 1960 Studebaker-Packard began to see the automobile business as a losing proposition. By 1962 they were on their last legs. In 1961 Studebaker hired Wisconsin-based Brooks Stevens to first do a re-design of the Lark, then the aging Hawk for the 1962 model year. By then Studebaker had even less money for design work than they had for the 1956 models. Stevens took it as a challenge and actually removed more than he added (like the tail fins), giving the Hawk a fresh, modern look. By Stevens’ own admission the new GT Hawk was an amalgamation of others’ design ideas; a Mercedes-Benz-like grille, a formal roof like the Thunderbird, and trim that echoed the ’61 Lincoln Continental. The engine was the old non-supercharged Studebaker 289 producing either 210 or 225 HP with power routed through either a Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic or the optional Borg-Warner 4-speed auto. At $400 more than the 1961 Hawk it only sold 9,335 units.

Super Hawk 1963-64

In a last-ditch effort to keep the Hawk alive until a new model could be built Studebaker tried to give it a sporting, high-performance image for 1963. To that end they offered optional “Jet Thrust” 289 engines, an R1 240 HP normally aspirated or an R2 289 HP supercharged mill with the “Super Hawk” package that included front disc brakes, a heavy-duty suspension and a limited-slip differential. It gave the GT Hawk performance to match its new looks, it was even faster than the old supercharged Golden Hawk. In 1964 an even more powerful engine, the 335 HP R3 “Jet Thrust” model, was introduced and that model (modified, of course) was run on the Bonneville Salt Flats by Andy Granatelli and achieved 157 MPH in the flying kilometer. Production models were not quite that fast but still would reach 135 MPH with the right gearing and do 0-60 in eight seconds, making it one of the fastest production cars of its time. All this was to no avail, however…the new model, the Sceptre, never materialized and the Hawk was gone after 1964. After 1966, so was Studebaker.

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It’s President Jeff D. Boofer