1958 Packard Hawk
1958 Packard Hawk. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

The 1950s would see the number of American automobile nameplates continue to shrink, a process that had accelerated in the 1930s under the weight of the Depression. Kaiser-Fraser abandoned automobiles in North America; Crosley and Willys gave up on cars; Nash and Hudson joined in 1954 to form American Motors Corporation; and Packard and Studebaker merged to become Studebaker-Packard, after which the Packard name soon died.

Of all these casualties, one of the saddest was Packard. From its inception in 1899, Packard had developed a reputation for sound engineering and coddling luxury. Its history included the great V12 engines that fathered the famous World War I Liberty aircraft engine. The most powerful of its time, it would go on to distinguish itself in rum-running boats after the war.

Unfortunately, when Packard faded away, it did so with some of the least attractive cars of the decade, and they weren’t even “real” Packards. Arguably the most unattractive of them all was the Packard Hawk.

When two companies join, the products of the stronger one usually prevail. Thus, when Hudson and Nash formed AMC in 1954, their new products were Nashes, although some carried Hudson
nameplates for a few years. For Studebaker-Packard, it was the Studebaker side; the ruse began in 1957 after the real Packards disappeared. The Packard Clipper became nothing more than a thinly-disguised Studebaker President.

Finned rear fenders, Packard script and a Clipper ship’s wheel in the grille were the main distinguishing features. Power came from Studebaker’s 275-horsepower 4.7-litre (289 cubic inch) overhead-valve V8, fitted with a McCulloch belt-driven centrifugal supercharger.

The Clipper designation was dropped for 1958, when there were four Packard models: two-and four-door sedans, a wagon, and the Packard Hawk coupe. The stylists piled fins upon fins for the ’58 non-Hawk models, and also grafted on the obligatory quad headlamps to all models except the Hawk.

The Packard Hawk was perhaps the most lamentable case of all. It was among the homeliest of cars, in spite of being based on the Studebaker Starlight/Starliner coupes, one of the finest American automobile designs of all time. It was like the old Hans Christian Andersen tale in reverse: the swan had become an ugly duckling.

When the Studebaker Starlight and Starliner were introduced in 1953, the low, svelte coupes were hailed as beautiful cars. Stylist Raymond Loewy had scored a triumph even greater than he had with his trend-setting “coming-or-going” 1947 Studebakers.

The Starlight/Starliner evolved into the Studebaker Hawk series in 1956, which came in four models: Flight Hawk, Power Hawk, Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk. By 1958, they were down to just the Silver Hawk and the Golden Hawk, although they could be had with a variety of engines and power ratings, including the 2.8-litre (170 cubic inch) side-valve six and two V8s.

The 1958 Studebaker Hawks, in spite of having surrendered to the fin craze, were still quite stylish cars. Their pert noses and egg crate grilles gave them certain panache. The Packard Hawk, however, was an entirely different story.

It was basically a Studebaker Golden Hawk with some Packard appearance cues. In an attempt to differentiate the Packard Hawk from the Studebaker Hawk, the stylists stretched the Packard’s
grille out to the full width of the car. The wide “fish mouth” and low “shovel nose” hood treatment were decidedly unattractive.

Not finished yet, the stylists moulded a fake “continental” spare tire into the trunk lid. They then added vinyl “armrests” to the outside of the window sills on each door, presumably so the driver and passenger could rest their arms there while driving. Inside, the Hawk was luxuriously trimmed with leather upholstery and had a complete set of instruments.

It was powered by Studebaker’s 4.7-litre (289 cubic inch) overhead valve, supercharged, 275-horsepower V8. This gave the Packard Hawk good straight line performance.

But the public was not to be fooled, and 1958 would be the last year for the Packard nameplate. In a recession year, a total of just over 2,600 Packards were sold; only 588 of these were Hawks. The sad styling and a price some $700 more than the Studebaker Golden Hawk couldn’t be overcome.

It was an ignominious end for the once mighty Packard name to spend its last couple of years as a badge-engineered Studebaker, and not a very handsome one at that. Packard’s motto had always been “Ask the man who owns one.” One wonders what the man who had owned “real” Packards over the years would have thought of the “Packabaker” Hawk.

If Packard Hawks have any collector value, it must surely be for their rarity. It could hardly be for their beauty, and certainly not for any Packard DNA.

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