1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The 1950s Studebaker coupes, which bowed as the Starlight and Starliner models in 1953, and evolved into the Hawk series in 1956, were among the prettiest American cars ever built. The graceful lines and low silhouettes, penned in stylist Raymond Loewy’s studio, gave them an elegance that inspired Road & Track magazine to label the line “The American Car with the European Look.”

They came almost too late, however. Most independent automakers had suffered badly or disappeared during the Depression. The onslaught of the Big Three after World War II was in the process of finishing the job. To survive, Studebaker merged with Packard in 1954 to form the Studebaker-Packard Corp.

By 1959, the Hawk, which in its heyday had come in four series – Flight Hawk, Power Hawk, Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk – was down to just the Silver Hawk. Sales slid from a high of 19,674 in 1957, to 4,507 in 1960, and a dismal 3,929 in 1961.

Since the Hawk was not financially worth keeping in the model lineup, Studebaker-Packard faced a decision; either drop it or somehow rejuvenate it. They decided to try for another run, and engaged the services of Brooks Stevens, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, industrial designer, to work his magic on the Hawk.

An architect by training, Stevens had styled everything from radios to outboard motors. His portfolio included motorcycles, trains, tractors, and even the Willys Jeepster. He is probably best known for producing the Excalibur, a sort of replicar of a 1928 Mercedes-Benz.

There wasn’t much for Stevens to work with. Studebaker could only afford $7 million to restyle both the Lark and Hawk models. That’s petty cash in the car business, and in addition to the penny-ante budget, Stevens was also on a short deadline; the spruced-up cars were expected to be ready in a few months instead of the usual two to three years.

Stevens accepted the challenge. Recognizing that the coupe’s basic lines would have to remain unchanged, he concentrated on the areas of least cost. Sheet metal alterations were limited to new exterior door skins, without the coupe’s sculpturing. A new top was fitted with squared-up roof quarter panels reminiscent of the ’58 to ’61 Ford Thunderbird. The rest was done mostly with stripes, accents, lights and vents.

The new grille surround bore a Mercedes-Benz influence (Studebaker-Packard was North American distributor of M-Bs at that time), and a simple but tasteful mesh pattern was specified for the grille. Mouldings extended atop the full length of the fender lines, ending in new tail-lamps that echoed those of the ’61 Lincoln Continental.

Fender cutouts were accentuated by chrome mouldings that connected with wide stainless steel rocker panel stripes, providing a tidy side appearance. The inset rear window, formal roofline, and a rear grille with a pattern matching the front one, gave the car a distinctive following view. With a new badge placement here, a chrome stripe there, the job was completed.

The new Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, named to accentuate the European flavour Stevens hoped it would project, made its debut for 1962. It was immediately evident that he had wrought a minor miracle. With little time or money Stevens had created a crisp, refreshingly appealing design that nicely concealed its ancestry.

The Gran Turismo Hawk was well received by auto critics, lauded as a European-type, four-place Grand Touring car. Its performance was more than adequate, thanks to the use of the corporate overhead valve V-8 with 4.7 litres (289 cu in.) displacement. Its 210 horsepower (225 with the optional 4-barrel carburetor) went to the rear wheels through the standard three-speed manual transmission, an optional three-speed automatic, or a four-speed, floor-shift manual.

Despite its good reception, only a somewhat disappointing 9,335 1962 Gran Turismos were sold. The fact that Studebaker’s viability was in question no doubt cast a long shadow over GT sales.

The Gran Turismo Hawk was built until late in 1963, i.e., into the 1964 model year, at which point Studebaker ceased production in its South Bend, Indiana, plant and consolidated car building in Hamilton, Ontario. The GT Hawk would not be built in Hamilton.

The GT’s styling had changed little over its three model years, although it did claim one industry first: an optional half-vinyl roof for the 1964 model.

Under the hood the GT Hawk did benefit from increased power over its short life, a spinoff from the Studebaker Avanti which arrived for 1963. This included a version with a belt-driven McCullough supercharger with up to 290 horsepower. McCullough was a division of Studebaker (the Packard name had been dropped in 1962).

In its three model years, only 15,736 Gran Turismo Hawks were sold, a small number compared with such competitive cars as the Ford Thunderbird and Buick Riviera. It was, however, an excellent example of what a talented stylist can do despite limited time and money, and is fondly remembered by many former owners.

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