Some cars are seemingly immortal, but the Studebaker Hawk had more reincarnations than the Dalai Lama. Originally developed by the design firm of Raymond Loewy as a show car, it became a highly acclaimed production model in 1953, and survived for another 11 years in a bewildering number of variations. This week, we take a look at the history of the “Loewy coupe” and its many reinventions, including the Studebaker Hawk, GT Hawk, and Super Hawk.
RAYMOND LOEWY AT STUDEBAKER
The late Raymond Loewy remains one of the most famous industrial designers of the 20th century. During his long career, the Paris-born Loewy lent his talents to everything from refrigerators to locomotives. Starting in the early thirties, he also became involved with the auto industry, first as a consultant for Hupmobile, then for South Bend, Indiana’s Studebaker Corporation. Loewy first approached Studebaker president Paul Hoffman in 1936 and the first production cars to show Loewy’s influence appeared for the 1938 model year. Studebaker would remain a major client of Raymond Loewy Associates (RLA) for almost 20 years and RLA would design nearly all of the company’s most famous and memorable cars.
Although Loewy is commonly credited as the designer of the cars styled by his firm, his role was primarily managerial. He was a fine editor and an excellent promoter, but he left much of the firm’s actual design work to his employees. Even so, his clients tended to promote Loewy as the sole designer, capitalizing on the value of his name. Some of Loewy’s staff (particularly Virgil Exner, Sr., who worked for him in the forties) chafed at that, feeling Loewy was too eager to accept credit for designs with which he’d had little direct involvement.
Loewy also aroused the resentment of some Studebaker executives. While he got along well with Paul Hoffman and other board members, Hoffman’s successor, Harold Vance, was wary of Loewy while chief engineer Roy Cole was actively hostile.
Despite that occasional animosity, the Loewy team continued to do most of Studebaker’s styling until the mid-fifties. RLA’s Studebaker group was neither very large nor particularly well paid and their facilities were often poor. For many years, they were consigned to a tiny office on the second floor of a South Bend dealership located several blocks from the Studebaker factory. The group eventually graduated to an office in the engineering building on Sample Street, a half mile (0.8 km) from Studebaker’s administrative headquarters.
By the late forties, the head of the Studebaker team was Robert Bourke, who had come to RLA from Sears, Roebuck in late 1940. The first design Bourke directed was Studebaker’s 1950 “Next Look” line, which added a wild-looking airplane-inspired nose to Virgil Exner’s “coming or going” 1947 design. They were distinctive but very gimmicky and Bourke was never overly fond of them.
THE LOEWY COUPE
Around the beginning of 1951, Bourke decided that the best way to develop new styling themes to replace the Next Look was to create a show car, giving the design team the opportunity to explore different ideas without the constraints of designing for production. GM had recently launched its traveling Motorama show and Ford and Chrysler were beginning to roll out dramatic-looking concept cars of their own. Bourke suggested Loewy ask Studebaker for permission to do the same.
Loewy was not sure what the Studebaker board would say. The company had been in reasonably good financial shape in the late 1940s, but by early 1951, the future was no longer looking so bright. As had been the company’s wont since the 1920s, much of its profits were paid out in dividends, which was popular with stockholders, but did little to improve Studebaker’s aging facilities. The South Bend factory was antiquated compared to the latest Big Three plants, which had adverse effects on both productivity and production costs.
The outbreak of the Korean War made things worse, bringing with it new production restrictions and shortages of steel and other materials. Although Studebaker’s production volume rose dramatically in 1950 and 1951, its profit margins were already slipping. Studebaker was also struggling to correct the flaws of its brand-new V8 engine, launched for the 1951 model year, which had suffered serious valvegear problems and a rash of warranty repairs and running design changes. The latter episode had cost Studebaker more than $4 million, reducing their 1951 profits by almost 25% and taking a serious toll on public confidence.
To Loewy and Bourke’s surprise, the board agreed to authorize the show car, perhaps seeing it as a promotional opportunity for the company’s forthcoming centennial or just a way to generate some positive publicity.
After receiving the green light, Bourke and his team, which at that time included Ted Brennan, Don Bruce, John Cuccio, Holden (Bob) Koto, Ed Herman, Vince Gardner, and a little later Bob Andrews, set out to develop a sleek, low-slung coupe influenced by various recent European styling trends. With RLA still busy with their ongoing commitments to Studebaker’s production vehicles, the show car project took place mostly after hours and on weekends.
Although the production car is still often called “the Loewy coupe,” Loewy was actually in Europe during much of its development. His main contributions were to select which of the various competing designs he preferred. Each of Bourke’s team developed their own concept, but the final design was primarily Bourke’s.
RLA originally assumed the coupe would be only a concept car, but a visit from Harold Vance one night while Loewy was out of town suggested to Bourke that it would be prudent to keep the design within the realm of what Studebaker could conceivably produce. He later mentioned that visit to Loewy, who began a lobbying campaign to get Studebaker to consider the coupe as a production model.
A few weeks later, Loewy and Bourke showed off the finished model to Vance, Paul Hoffman, and the Studebaker board along with the models for the other 1953 cars, which borrowed various cues from the coupe. The following morning, Vance called Bourke personally to say the board had decided to build the coupe as a regular 1953 model.
The coupe was an expensive investment for Studebaker. Although it rode the long-wheelbase chassis of the big Land Cruiser sedan, the body was unique, sharing some styling cues with the 1953 sedans, but no common stampings. The coupes also required chassis modifications to ensure adequate headroom beneath the low-slung roof, which was fully 5.5 inches (140 mm) lower than the sedan’s.
There were technically six versions of the coupe. Pillared models, called Starlight, were offered in both six-cylinder Champion and V8-powered Commander forms in either DeLuxe or Regal trim. The pillarless hardtops, offered only in Regal trim, were called Starliner, again available in both the Champion and Commander series. The wide selection meant that the coupe covered a rather broad price spread, ranging from $1,868 for the Champion DeLuxe Starlight (about $140 more than a Chevrolet 210 club coupe) to $2,374 for a Commander Regal Starliner, within $25 of a two-door Oldsmobile Super Eighty-Eight.
The public was quite taken with what Studebaker advertising called the coupe’s “European look.” In fact, many buyers preferred it to the comparatively dumpy-looking sedans, which debuted several weeks before the coupe. Studebaker had not anticipated that — at the time, coupes seldom accounted for more than 15-20% of total sales — and had not allotted enough production capacity to meet the demand. Worse, the stylish coupes dampened any appetite the public might have had for rest of the Studebaker line. Some customers who couldn’t get a coupe simply walked away rather than settle for a sedan.
Buyers who did get their hands on the new coupe were not necessarily impressed. The big Land Cruiser frame was not very rigid, which resulted in a disconcerting amount of chassis flex over large bumps. (Studebaker reinforced the frame for 1954, but its rigidity was still marginal; Bourke ended up beefing up the frame of his own car considerably before it was satisfactory.) Assembly quality was not the best either, so squeaks and rattles were common. Both the body and the frame also proved to be very vulnerable to rust.
The coupes eventually accounted for nearly half of all 1953 Studebaker passenger car sales. However, that total was only 166,364, down more than 100,000 units from 1951. The main reason was a fierce price war between Ford and Chevrolet (and, to a lesser extent, competition between Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) that forced Big Three dealers to cut prices to the bone. Studebaker, with its higher production costs, simply could not afford to respond; each sedan cost hundreds of dollars more to build than GM would have spent on an identical car and the coupes were even costlier. Although the “Loewy coupe” was an aesthetic triumph, it was not a financial success.
THE STUDEBAKER-PACKARD MERGER
By early 1954, Studebaker was in very bad shape. Production for the 1954 model year was barely 50% of the already-depressed 1953 total: fewer than 80,000 units. The board started looking for partners.
James Nance, who had become president of Packard in 1952, was in a comparable position. Packard was healthier than Studebaker was, but its profits and market position were slipping in a similar way for similar reasons. Even before becoming head of Packard, Nance had talked extensively with Nash’s George Mason about forming a conglomerate of the leading independent automakers — something that was beginning to look like the independents’ only hope of survival.
In early 1954, Nash merged with ailing Hudson to form American Motors. Although Nance had had discussions with Mason about joining Packard with AMC, Packard’s board instead set its sights on Studebaker, which it judged to have stronger prospects. Even before opening negotiations for a merger, Packard was exploring the possibility of a shared-body program that would allow Studebaker and Packard to share common stampings the way GM’s divisions did. By February 1954, the Packard board had snubbed Mason and the Lehman Brothers investment firm was acting as matchmaker in a union of Packard and Studebaker.
Packard and Studebaker stockholders approved the merger in September, so effective October 1, the two companies became the Studebaker-Packard Corporation, with Jim Nance as president. Talks with AMC continued, but the death that fall of George Mason ended any remaining possibility of Studebaker-Packard joining AMC; with Mason gone, neither Nance nor Romney was amenable to any merger that would leave the other in charge.
That winter, Nance and Packard finance VP Walter Grant took a hard look at Studebaker’s operations and found that the company was in far worse financial shape than the optimistic figures presented during the merger negotiations had suggested. By Grant’s estimates, Studebaker had actually been operating below its break-even point even in its last good years and was now losing money at a frightening rate.
Nance immediately looked for ways to economize. One of those moves was the termination of Studebaker’s consulting agreement with Raymond Loewy. Nance did not care for Loewy’s work, even the Starliner coupe, but the more significant point was that Studebaker was paying RLA about $1 million a year at that point, which Nance thought was excessive. It wasn’t really, considering the number of people Loewy had working on the Studebaker account (about 40) and the volume of work they were doing, but it was money Studebaker-Packard could ill afford. Nance told Loewy to wrap up their work, which included a facelift for the 1955 Studebakers, and turn over design duties to a new in-house department led by Bill Schmidt.
BIRTH OF THE STUDEBAKER HAWK
Jim Nance knew that both Studebaker and Packard desperately needed all-new bodies to have any chance of competing in the marketplace, but paying for them was another matter. Studebaker-Packard posted an after-tax loss of $26.2 million for 1954 and its creditors were wary. Nance paid Vince Gardner (who had left RLA to start his own firm) $7,500 to facelift the 1956 Studebaker sedans while Nance tried to raise enough money to finance new 1957 models.
The coupes were a greater challenge. Nance was eager to get rid of the Loewy coupe, whose body was expensive to build, but the Starliner was Studebaker’s only hardtop and the sales organization was reluctant to relinquish it. There was no affordable way to make hardtops of the facelifted sedans, which hadn’t been designed for that, and since Studebaker no longer offered a convertible, they couldn’t simply add a fixed roof to a ragtop body. It would have to be the Starliner or nothing.
Meanwhile, Studebaker-Packard had been busy rolling out Packard’s first V8 engine, along with a re-engineered Ultramatic transmission. Nance had previously made a deal with American Motors for AMC to underwrite part of the development costs of the new engine and then buy Packard V8s and automatic transmissions for the big Nash and Hudson lines. However, that deal collapsed by mid-1955, apparently due to the ongoing rancor between Nance and Romney. To make up for that loss, Nance decided to use the Packard engine and Ultramatic in a new flagship Studebaker, which was envisioned as a rival for the new Chrysler 300, Plymouth Fury, and Ford Thunderbird. (If Studebaker had been able to launch its all-new sedans for 1956, as originally planned, those would have used the Packard engine as well.)
This flagship became RLA’s final Studebaker project. Seeing no affordable alternative, Nance asked Loewy and Bourke if they could update the Starliner one more time. It was a difficult assignment both because of the very limited budget and because of demands from sales VP Ken Elliott, who wanted yet more chrome (on top of the slathering already added for 1955), side trim that would facilitate trendy two-tone paint jobs, and — to Bourke’s great exasperation — tail fins.
Bourke and his team gritted their teeth and complied, adding a new hood with a stand-up grille, squaring off the rear deck, and giving the new top-of-the-line model small bolt-on plastic fins. There was also a revamped interior along the lines of the previous year’s Presidential Speedster, which had featured full instrumentation on an engine-turned metal panel.
To support the pretense that the restyled coupes were all new, they were renamed Hawk. There were now four models: the six-cylinder pillared Flight Hawk; the base V8 Power Hawk; the upper-series Sky Hawk; and the top-of-the-line hardtop, the Golden Hawk. Except for the Golden Hawk, the new coupes were little changed mechanically. The Golden Hawk, however, had Packard’s Twin Ultramatic transmission and 352 cu. in. (5,766 cc) V8 with 275 gross horsepower (206 kW). Combined with its tail fins, plastic side spear, and higher standard of trim, it came closest to being a new car, although it was still the same 1953 Starliner body underneath. The big engine gave it strong performance — 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 9 seconds and a top speed of 117 mph (189 km/h) — although the car’s nose-heaviness and strong low-end torque made it easy to overload the rear tires in hard acceleration.
Studebaker sold almost 20,000 Hawks in 1956, accounting for about a quarter of the company’s dismal total volume. The company’s fortunes were still deteriorating and rumors were flying that Studebaker-Packard was not long for the world. Studebaker’s sedans had not been startlingly competitive back in 1953 and the mildly facelifted ’56s looked and felt very dated next to newer rivals. Even the coupes looked awfully familiar and their prices were none too enticing. The Golden Hawk, for instance, was within $100 of a Chrysler Windsor hardtop and about $100 more than a Buick Century Riviera; both rivals had a far more upscale image than did the Studebaker.
THE PACKARD HAWK
In January 1956, Studebaker-Packard’s principal financiers flatly refused Jim Nance’s request for a $50 million long-term loan to fund future tooling and operating expenses. That refusal meant Studebaker-Packard was living on borrowed time. Unless the company could find another partner, it was doomed.
The Studebaker-Packard board spent the spring frantically courting potential buyers. Talks with Chrysler and Ford came to nothing and George Romney refused a merger with AMC. The board finally negotiated a management agreement with Roy Hurley, president of the aviation company Curtiss-Wright, giving Hurley operational control over the company in exchange for S-P’s remaining defense business (which was spun off into a separate company called Utica Bend) and promises from the Defense Department of more government contracts. It was not a great deal for Studebaker-Packard, but it provided enough cash to keep the doors open.
Nance resigned after the deal was signed in early August and Studebaker chief engineer Harold Churchill took over as Studebaker-Packard’s president. The board had already decided to consolidate all production at Studebaker in South Bend; production at Studebaker’s facilities in Detroit had ceased in late June. Ironically, Packard had originally been the stronger partner, but Studebaker’s losses became a black hole it could not escape.
The Studebaker Hawk continued into the 1957 model year, but the model line was greatly simplified, leaving the Golden Hawk and a new pillared Silver Hawk. Since Studebaker-Packard gave up its Utica factory as part of the Curtiss-Wright deal, the 352 cu. in. (5,766 cc) Packard engine and Ultramatic were gone, so the Golden Hawk was now powered by Studebaker’s 289 cu. in. (4,737 cc) engine, fortified with a McCulloch supercharger. It claimed the same 275 gross horsepower (206 kW) as the departed Packard engine, but it was more expensive, which raised the price of the 1957 Golden Hawk by $121.
Despite Studebaker-Packard’s financial crisis, Hawk sales were little changed in 1957, still hovering under 20,000 units. The Silver Hawk and Golden Hawk soldiered on into 1958, now joined by a new Packard version, called simply Packard Hawk.
The Packard marque had only barely survived the end of production in Detroit. There were initially no solid plans to continue it until Harold Churchill discovered that it would only cost about $1 million to create a Packard-like sedan using a Studebaker body and chassis. In 1957, the “Packard-baker” had only been available as a four-door sedan and wagon; the Packard Hawk coupe was not launched until 1958.
The Packard Hawk was originally created as a one-off for Roy Hurley. With the management agreement between Studebaker-Packard and Curtiss-Wright, Hurley had become a frequent visitor to the South Bend offices. On one visit to the styling studio, Hurley asked Studebaker chief stylist Duncan McRae, who had replaced Bill Schmidt a year earlier, to build him a car that looked like an Allemano-styled Maserati 3500 GT he had seen on a recent trip to Europe. It was a pointless indulgence for a company on the brink of collapse, but the board could not afford to antagonize Hurley, so they raised no objection.
The car McRae created for Hurley was basically a Golden Hawk that had been heavily customized in an effort to emulate the Maserati’s styling cues on the existing body shell. McRae and his team added a bolt-on fiberglass nose with a fish-mouthed grille and Cadillac-like bumper overriders along with a fake spare tire bulge in the rear deck like that of the contemporary Imperial. Hurley’s car also had a lavishly trimmed interior with real leather upholstery.
Like its 1953 ancestor, the Packard Hawk was never intended as a production car, but someone — perhaps Hurley, perhaps the board — decided it would be a logical way to fill out the now Studebaker-based Packard line. It went on sale for the 1958 model year with a wince-inducing price tag of $3,995, $364 more than either a Corvette or a Thunderbird hardtop.
If the Hawk was supposed to add luster to the dying Packard brand, it failed miserably. Sales totaled only 588 cars and Studebaker-Packard almost certainly lost whatever modest sum they’d spent to produce and market it. Even if it hadn’t looked like a mutant catfish, the Hawk was too expensive to sell in meaningful numbers and the Packard-bakers had robbed the Packard marque of whatever credibility it had left. The coupe died with the Packard nameplate at the end of the model year.
The Golden Hawk did little better. Sales fell from around 4,300 in 1957 to fewer than 900 for 1958. Silver Hawk sales, meanwhile, fell to around 7,300, half of the 1957 tally. The recession that began just before the ’58 cars went on sale didn’t help, but the bigger problem was again price. A fully equipped Golden Hawk ran to around $3,500 and buyers with that kind of money were not inclined to spend it on a Studebaker, especially with the company’s future in such doubt.
Even before the demise of the Packard Hawk, Harold Churchill was working on transforming Studebaker’s 1953-vintage sedans into the compact Lark, which went on sale for the 1959 model year. Like Jim Nance in 1955, Churchill initially wanted to kill the Studebaker Hawk, betting everything on the new Lark. Since the Lark lineup would finally include a hardtop model, the Hawk had served its original purpose and it was still too expensive to sell well.
Churchill’s arguments were logical, but the sales force balked. By American standards, the new Lark was a very small car and the sales organization feared that having no full-sized models in the showroom would be a disaster. The tenacity with which they clung to such a moribund model speaks volumes about Studebaker’s desperation at that point. The sales force was reluctant to give up anything that was selling, however poorly.
Churchill eventually relented, granting the coupe a second reprieve. The slow-selling Golden Hawk was canceled, leaving only the pillared Silver Hawk in six-cylinder and V8 forms. Sales fell to 7,888 units. In 1960, the Silver Hawk was renamed “Hawk” and the six-cylinder version was dropped, leaving a single model with tidied-up styling and the 289 cu. in. (4,737 cc) V8. Sales continued to decline each year, falling to 4,507 in 1960 and 3,929 for 1961. The Lark had been quite successful, so the salespeople no longer needed the big coupe as a fallback plan. It appeared that the Hawk had outlived its usefulness.
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