1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk
1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk
Photo: Bill Vance

by Bill Vance

Although Studebaker stopped building cars in 1966 (they were last produced in Hamilton, Ontario), the enterprise that grew from a wagon-building company formed in 1852 by Henry and Clement Studebaker in South Bend, Indiana, has turned out some exciting models over the years.

Among these were the 1956 – 1964 Studebaker Hawks. The Hawks owed their origin to the lovely Starlight and Starliner coupes introduced as 1953 models. Road & Track magazine called the 1953 Studebaker Commander coupe “The American car with the European look.” In 1955 Studebaker revived an old name, and the Starlight coupe evolved into the President Speedster.

The Speedster lasted only one year, and in 1956 was the basis for the Hawk series of coupes which came in four series: Flight Hawk, Power Hawk, Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk.

All Hawks had the longer 3,048 mm (120.5 in.) President wheelbase rather than the 2,959 mm (116.6 in.) of other models. The Golden Hawk was loaded with both equipment and power.

Studebaker Corp. and Packard Motor Car Co. had merged in 1954 to form Studebaker-Packard Corp. Along with its cars and a grand old name, Packard brought its big 5.8 litre (352 cu in.) overhead valve 275 horsepower V-8. It was used in the Golden Hawk.

In spite of its strong forward weight bias, the Golden Hawk would accelerate smartly in a straight line; Studebaker-Packard advertising claimed a quite quick zero to 60 mph (96 km/h) time of 8.7 seconds.

Many felt, however, that the Power Hawk with the Studebaker 4.2 litre (259 cu in.) V-8, or the Sky Hawk with the 4.7 litre (289 cu in.) V-8, although lacking the Golden Hawk’s brute power, were better all-round choices.

The lesser coupes had another advantage too; they didn’t have the Golden Hawk’s bolt-on glass fibre tailfins, at least not for 1956, and thus had much cleaner rear-end styling. It wouldn’t last long, however, as the fin fad of the ’50s soon swept all before it.

For 1957 the Hawk line was reduced to two. The Golden Hawk stayed, the Silver Hawk was added, and the Sky, Power and Flight Hawks disappeared. There was still a good choice, however, because the Silver Hawk could be had with the 2.8 litre (170 cu in.) side-valve six, which had powered the Flight Hawk in 1956, or either of the two Studebaker V-8s.

The biggest engine change came in the Golden Hawk, which lost the heavy Packard V-8 in favour of Studebaker’s own 4.7 litre V-8. But to keep the 275 horsepower rating in those horsepower hungry days, Studebaker-Packard added a belt-driven, centrifugal supercharger.

The line continued largely unchanged for 1958 except for the addition of the Packard Hawk. It was virtually identical to the Golden Hawk mechanically, but had rather bizarre styling with a low wide mouth, slopping nose, fake spare tire moulded into the trunk lid, and padded “arm rests” on the outside of the doors. A candidate for one of the ugliest cars of all time, it lasted just one model year with a mere 588 being produced.

By 1959 the series was down to the Silver Hawk only, available with the 4.2 litre V-8 or the six. For 1960 and 1961 it continued largely unchanged, although the name, starting in 1960, was simply the Hawk.

Hawk sales had been sliding since 1957, its best year, when over 19,000 were produced. By 1959 it was down to only 7,888, and for 1960, an even worse 4,507. When 1961 sales were just 3,929, it was clear that the Hawk had to be rejuvenated or dropped altogether.

Studebaker chose to try wringing a few more years out of it, and engaged the services of a well known Milwaukee designer by the name of Brooks Stevens. Stevens produced a very nice restyling job, which required little in the way of new tooling, something the cash-strapped company couldn’t afford.

By giving it a formal squared-up roof line, knocking off those 1957-61 fins, and adding a few styling tricks here and there, Stevens produced an attractive and fresh looking design. Named the Gran Turismo Hawk, it did the trick on the sales floor. Production jumped to 9,335 for 1962.

By 1963 it was clear that Studebaker was in financial trouble, in spite of the introduction of the radically styled, fibreglass- bodied Avanti coupe model. The Hawk suffered along with the rest of the line.

The GT Hawk remained basically the same until it was discontinued with the closing of Studebaker-Packard’s American South Bend car-building operation in 1964, and the production of remaining Studebaker models moved to Canada.

The Hawk is fondly remembered by the surprisingly large number of Studebaker fans still around. It ranks as one of the most beautiful American automobiles ever produced.

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