By 1960, the Studebaker-Packard board saw the automotive business as a losing proposition and was eager to diversify into less-volatile industries. Churchill thought there was still hope for Studebaker, but after a showdown with the board in September, he was stripped of most of his actual authority, finally accepting early retirement and a nominal consulting role in early 1961. In February, the board replaced him with Sherwood Egbert, a charismatic, 39-year-old former Marine who had previously been the executive vice president of the McCulloch Corporation.
Although McCulloch’s Paxton division (sold to the Granatelli brothers in 1958) had built automotive superchargers, Egbert had no experience with cars and the board expected he would see the wisdom of their diversification strategy. Egbert, however, quickly demonstrated a wholly unexpected enthusiasm for making cars. It was largely based on naivete — he knew next to nothing about the realities of the business and he generally ignored anyone who tried to explain them to him. He was less approachable than Churchill had been and some Studebaker executives distrusted him, but Egbert’s never-say-die attitude gave the company renewed energy.
As part of Studebaker’s new economy-oriented image, Churchill had called for a freeze on styling changes, which led chief stylist Duncan McRae to depart in 1959, leaving Randy Faurot in charge. Hoping to breathe some new life into the Studebaker line, Egbert once again turned to outside styling consultants. First, he rehired Raymond Loewy, whom he’d met on vacation in Palm Springs, and asked him to develop the Avanti sports car. Next, Egbert commissioned Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based designer Brooks Stevens, previously a McCulloch contractor, to do a mild facelift of the Lark. (Stevens also developed the novel Lark Wagonaire station wagon, with its unusual rolling-top roof.)
As with Loewy, Stevens’ automotive work was only one facet of an extensive portfolio that also included home appliances, lawnmowers, and boats. Stevens had designed Willys’ first postwar Jeeps, including the original Jeepster, and in the mid-1950s had developed a number of short-lived, limited-production cars like the Gaylord, Valkyrie, and Scimitar. He had a great sense of humor and was a master of clever improvisations, producing amazing results from unpromising pieces. The latter quality greatly endeared him to Egbert, whom Stevens had first met while working on an experimental steam car for Paxton back in 1952.
In May 1961, Egbert asked Stevens if he could restyle the aging Studebaker Hawk. Egbert made it clear that Studebaker didn’t have much money to spend — no surprise to anyone who had followed Studebaker-Packard’s travails in the business press — but he wanted the car to look new and he wanted it as quickly as possible.
This was the sort of challenge to which Stevens was accustomed, so he accepted and spent the next month or so devising a thorough but economical facelift that deleted the fins and added a squared-off hardtop roof (the Hawk’s first since 1958), a new grille and taillights, and a new dash. The actual changes were surprisingly limited — Stevens removed more than he added — but they made the Hawk look much more modern. The Studebaker-Packard board approved the prototype in June.
While Stevens grasped Studebaker’s financial constraints, he had underestimated how little Egbert understood (or cared) about normal automotive production schedules. A week or so after the design was approved, Stevens learned that Egbert expected the revised Hawk to be in production by September and had resisted all of engineering VP Eugene Hardig’s efforts to convince him that wasn’t feasible. The new tooling the redesign required had been deliberately held to a minimum — mainly the roof, sail panels, and the new moldings and trim — but it wasn’t negligible and most automotive tool-and-die suppliers were accustomed to longer lead times than Egbert’s absurd deadline would allow.
Nonetheless, through a combination of resourcefulness and considerable fortitude, Stevens and Hardig managed to get the updated car, now dubbed Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk (or just GT Hawk), into pilot production in time for Studebaker’s 1962 dealer introduction in September. It was very well-received.
By Stevens’ own admission, the GT Hawk was a loose amalgamation of various contemporary styling cues: a Mercedes-inspired grille, a Thunderbird-style formal roof, and a grille and trim that recalled the 1961 Lincoln Continental. However, it managed the difficult feat of looking much newer than it was; the most obvious remaining echoes of the 1953 Starliner were the taillights, which there’d been no money to restyle beyond removing the fins.
The Gran Turismo Hawk got good reviews and was heartening news for Studebaker stockholders; its debut brought a welcome boost in Studebaker-Packard share prices. Even so, the new Hawk was still not a big seller, in part because of its price: $3,095 to start, over $400 more than the 1961 Hawk. Sales doubled, but that still meant only 9,335 units, less than 10% of Studebaker’s total 1962 production.
Egbert was predictably undeterred — he knew the GT Hawk was a stopgap. As soon as it entered production, he commissioned Stevens to develop three all-new models, originally slated for release between 1964 and 1966. Designed to be built on a limited tooling budget, they included an updated Wagonaire, now called Skyview; a Lark Cruiser sedan with interchangeable doors; and a two-door hardtop called Sceptre, intended to replace the GT Hawk. Prototypes of all three were built by the Turinese firm of Sibona & Basano, but they would never see production.
To keep Studebaker alive until the arrival of the all-new models, Egbert decided to cultivate a sporting, high-performance image. First, he asked Gene Hardig to refine Studebaker’s 1951-vintage V8 into a new series of “Jet Thrust” engines. Then, in March 1962, Egbert arranged for Studebaker-Packard to acquire Paxton Products and with it the services of hot rodding gurus Andy, Joe, and Vincent Granatelli, whose principal assignment would be to promote Studebaker’s newfound speed.
The Jet Thrust engines, which included the 240 hp (179 kW) R1 and the Paxton-supercharged, 289 hp (216 kW) R2, were primarily intended for the Avanti, but became optional in the Hawk during the 1963 model year. As with the Lark, the supercharged R2 could be ordered either as a standalone option or as part of a new “Super Hawk” package that included front disc brakes, heavy-duty suspension, and a limited-slip differential. The package gave the GT Hawk performance to match its sporty looks; it was even faster than the old supercharged Golden Hawk.
To show off that performance, in the fall of 1963, Andy Granatelli took a number of 1964 GT Hawks — one of them powered by the very rare supercharged R3 engine with a nominal 335 hp (250 kW) — to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The R3 Hawk ran the flying kilometer (0.63 mile) at speeds of up to 157 mph (253 km/h), putting it among the world’s fastest cars. The Bonneville cars were hardly showroom stock and the standard R2 Hawk wasn’t quite that fast, but the production models were capable of 135 mph (217 km/h) with the right gearing, with 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than 8 seconds.
One of the Bonneville R2 cars was later sold to stock car driver Dick Passwater, who, with some financial help from Studebaker, entered the car in USAC stock car competition in 1964. The GT Hawk was fast, but with its elderly chassis, its handling left much to be desired. Passwater ran the car again in 1965, but substituted a Pontiac V8 for the Studebaker engine.
LAST FLIGHT OUT
With its crisp styling, the Jet Thrust engines, and the publicity of the Bonneville speed runs, the GT Hawk was arguably the most desirable incarnation of the Studebaker Hawk, but interested buyers were scarce. Production of the little-changed 1963 model fell to a dismal 4,634. Only a handful had the Super Jet Thrust engine or Super Hawk package.
By the time the 1964 models went on sale, Studebaker had passed the point of no return. Sherwood Egbert, who had seemed determined to keep the company alive through sheer force of will, was forced to step down in November for health reasons. (He died in 1969, not yet 50 years old.) The formerly successful Lark had been thoroughly overwhelmed by the new Big Three compacts and the Avanti had flopped. There was no money and no time for the new models Egbert had planned.
In December 1963, Studebaker shut down production in South Bend. Production of the Lark continued in Ontario until the spring of 1966, but the Hawk and Avanti were discontinued. Had Studebaker hung on for just a little bit longer, the Hawk might have earned yet another revamp, but it had finally run out of steam. Total production for the final, abbreviated 1964 model year amounted to fewer than 1,800 cars.
Total Hawk production from 1956 to 1964 was 79,291, not much more than the 75,000-odd Starlight and Starliner coupes Studebaker sold in 1953. We have no figures for the facelifted 1954-1955 coupes, but our guess would be something between 40,000 and 50,000 combined, bringing the grand total of all versions to about 200,000. For all that, we’re not sure Studebaker ever recouped the original tooling costs, although if not, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Given the coupe’s many reincarnations, that shortfall probably didn’t represent a ruinous loss, but it didn’t help the bottom line either.
Bearing in mind what Thomas Edison (and before that lecturer Kate Sanborn) once said of the ingredients of genius, we would describe the Studebaker Hawk as the product of equal parts inspiration, desperation, and irony. The original 1953 Starlight and Starliner were lovely cars, hamstrung by Studebaker’s financial and production woes. However, those same problems kept the coupes alive for many years after Studebaker management had wanted to throw in the towel. If Studebaker had been healthier, the Loewy coupes would have died in 1956 and the Golden Hawk, Silver Hawk, and GT Hawk would never have been born. (In the case of the Packard Hawk, we’re not convinced that wouldn’t have been preferable; the venerable Packard name deserved a better send-off.)
As a result, we regard the Hawk with a combination of admiration and dismay. It’s hard not to be impressed with the ingenuity with which Bob Bourke, Duncan McRae, and Brooks Stevens dressed up the familiar shape, but it’s also hard not to deplore the circumstances that made it necessary. Indeed, that sentiment could easily be the epitaph of Studebaker itself.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources for this article included David Traver Adolphus, “1958: Altered to Fit: The 1958 Hawk, a Packard that Packard fans love to hate,” Hemmings Classic Car #16 (January 2006), pp. 28–35; Frank Ambrogio, “Studebaker’s 1956 Golden Hawk,” Turning Wheels June 2005: 6–11; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981); Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); and “1962-1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk,” HowStuffWorks.com, 30 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1962-1964-studebaker-gran-turismo-hawk.htm, accessed 16 March 2010; Thomas Bonsall, More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story (Chicago, IL: Stanford University Press, 2000); Arch Brown, “Why Studebaker-Packard Never Merged With AMC and other revelations by Governor George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #66 (December 1981), pp. 50-55; Arch Brown, Richard Langworth, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Great Cars of the 20th Century (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998); Bob Bourke, “How I made a few improvements to the Starliner and created the Studebaker Hawk,” Special Interest Autos #25 (November-December 1974); Arch Brown, “1940 Studebaker Commander: Middle Class Value,” Special Interest Autos #157 (January-February 1997), and “Stunning Studebaker: 1953 Champion Starliner,” Special Interest Autos #126 (November-December 1991); Patrick Foster, “Brooks Stevens: Sometimes Mild, Sometimes Wild,” Hemmings Classic Car #28 (January 2007), pp. 64–71, and “Independent Muscle,” Hemmings Classic Car #35 (August 2007), p. 39; Fred K. Fox, “Studebaker’s First V-8: 1951 Commander Starlight,” Special Interest Autos #116 (March-April 1990); Ken Gross, “How Studebaker beat the Big Three to the compact punch…1960 Lark Convertible,” Special Interest Autos #42 (November-December 1977); John Katz, “South Bend Ferrari: 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk,” Special Interest Autos #165 (May-June 1998); Duncan McRae, “How I made a few improvements to the Starliner and created the Packard Hawk,” Special Interest Autos #25 (November-December 1974); “1947 Champ: Coming or Going?” Special Interest Autos #19 (November-December 1973); Moreford Pidgeon, “How Hawks Came to Be,” Special Interest Autos #25 (November-December 1974); Brooks Stevens, “How I made a few improvements to the Starliner and created the Gran Turismo Hawk,” Special Interest Autos #25 (November-December 1974); and Rich Taylor, “Variations on a Soaring Theme: Comparison DriveReport on the 1956 Studebaker Sky Hawk, 1958 Packard Hawk, 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk,” Special Interest Autos #25 (November-December 1974), all of which are reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Studebakers: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000); Arch Brown, Richard Langworth, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Great Cars of the 20th Century (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998); Dave Crippen’s interviews with Bob Bourke (“The Reminiscences of Robert E. Bourke,” 23 October 1986, Automotive Design Oral History Project, Accession 1673, Benson Ford Research Center, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/Design/ Bourke_interview.htm (transcript), accessed 16 March 2010) and Bob Andrews (“The Reminiscences of Robert F. Andrews, 2 August 1985, Automotive Design Oral History Project, Accession 1673, Benson Ford Research Center, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/ Design/Andrews_interview.htm (transcript), accessed 16 March 2010); Patrick Foster, The Story of Jeep (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998); John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975 Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Nick Georgano and Nicky Wright, Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work (New York: SMITHMARK Publishers, 1995); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 205-216; “Genius Is One Percent Inspiration, Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration,” Quote Investigator, 14 December 2012, quoteinvestigator. com/2012/ 12/14/ genius-ratio/, accessed 21 August 2015; Bob Johnstone, Bob’s Studebaker Resource and Information Portal, www.studebaker-info. org/, accessed 16 March 2010; Richard M. Langworth, “Brooks Stevens: The Seer Who Made Milwaukee Famous,” originally published in Special Interest Autos #71 (October 1982), pp. 18–23, updated in 2003 and reprinted in Langworth’s blog entry “Purple Prose: Brooks Stevens” (18 June 2010, richardlangworth. com/ purple-prose-brooks-stevens, accessed 19 June 2011); the Old Car Brochures website (oldcarbrochures.org); David H. Ross, “Avanti: the 40-day design,” Car Life Vol. 14, No. 7 (August 1967), pp. 50–53; Studebaker Corporation, “The New 1953 Studebaker” [brochure D-180], January 1953; James Arthur Ward, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); and the Gran Turismo Hawk Wikipedia® page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studebaker_Hawk_GT, accessed 16 March 2010).
Details on Studebaker’s performance engines came from Craig Fitzgerald, “South Bend Stealth,” Hemmings Muscle Machines August 2004; Fred Fox, “Six Week Wonder: 1963 Studebaker Avanti,” Special Interest Autos #32 (January-February 1976), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); Andy Granatelli, They Call Me Mister 500 (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1969); Denny LeRoy, “The Story of Bonneville Car #5,” Jet Thrust News #16 (October 2001), reprinted at www.studebaker-info. org, accessed 18 March 2010; and Daniel Strohl, “Flying Tomato,” Hemmings Muscle Machines August 2007.
- Lark and Super Lark: The Last Days of Studebaker
- The Unlikely Studebaker: The Birth (and Rebirth) of the Avanti