The Once and Future Coupe: The Studebaker Hawk

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.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk badge


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.

1948 Studebaker Commander rear 3q
The 1947–1951 Studebakers’ dramatic backlight earned them the nickname “Coming or Going Studebakers,” and made them the butt of countless jokes. Early in its development, Studebaker considered making this a rear-engined car, part of the reason for its elongated tail.

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.


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.

1951 Studebaker Commander front 3q
The 1950–1951 “Next Look” Studebaker kept the ’47 car’s wraparound rear window and added a jutting spinner nose. The 1951 Studebaker’s snout was somewhat shorter than that of the 1950. Bob Bourke, who oversaw the styling of these cars, didn’t like either version. The 1951 Commander introduced Studebaker’s new V8. It initially displaced 233 cu. in. (3,812 cc), was rated at only 120 hp (90 kW), and suffered serious reliability problems.

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.

1953 Studebaker Champion Regal Starliner front 3q © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
The front end treatment of the original Studebaker “Loewy coupe” is arguably the most dramatic departure from the prevailing styles of the period, which emphasized an upright (and often bulbous) hood with a prominent grille. Ironically, Studebaker would later try to graft grilles onto this body shell with varying degrees of aesthetic success. (Photo: “53 Studebaker Commander” © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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.

1953 Studebaker Champion Regal Starliner side © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
The original 1953 Studebaker “Loewy coupe” was only 56.3 inches (1,430 mm) high, making it one of the lowest cars in America. Most 1953 Studebaker sedans rode a 116.5-inch (2,959 mm) wheelbase, but the coupes shared the 120.5-inch (3,061mm) wheelbase of the Commander Land Cruiser, giving the coupes better proportions. Although the original photographer identified this as a Commander, the lazy-S emblems on the rear fender make us think it’s actually a six-cylinder Champion; Commanders had a “V-8” emblem in this area. (Photo: “53 Studebaker Commander” © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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.

1953 Studebaker Champion Regal Starliner rear 3q © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY 2.0 Generic - modified 2015 by Aaron Severson)
A six-cylinder Champion Regal Starliner hardtop is 201.9 inches (5,128 mm) long and weighs around 2,900 lb (1,320 kg) with a full tank of gas; the V8 Commander is 360 lb (163 kg) heavier. Suspension is typical for the period: double wishbones and coils in front, a live axle on leaf springs in back. (Photo: “53 Studebaker Commander” © 2012 Greg Gjerdingen; resized and modified 2015 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)

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.


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.

1955 Studebaker President front 3q
This 1955 Studebaker President State shows off the facelifted styling of the 1955 coupe. The President was a senior Packard model from the twenties until 1942. (Amusingly, until 1937, Studebaker also offered a Dictator model, although the President always outranked it.) The President name was briefly revived from 1955 to 1958, replacing the previous Land Cruiser nameplate. The final Studebaker President rode the same long-wheelbase chassis as the Land Cruiser, but was offered in three body styles — four-door sedan, pillared coupe, and hardtop — and three trim levels: Deluxe, State, and the top-of-the-line Speedster.


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.

1956 Studebaker Power Hawk front
The biggest difference between the Loewy coupes and the Hawk line was the latter’s upright grille and nonfunctional hood scoop. This is a 1956 Studebaker Power Hawk, which was the low-line pillared coupe, powered by Studebaker’s 259 cu. in. (4,247 cc) V8. It had either 170 or 185 gross horsepower (127 or 138 kW).

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.

1956 Studebaker Power Hawk rear 3q
From the rear, the low-line Hawks differed little from the 1955 coupes save for the reshaped decklid and some changes to the side trim. Despite the higher deck, 80% of the inner stampings were the same, so the Hawk had no more trunk space than the earlier coupe.

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.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk side
The 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk traded its Packard engine for a supercharged version of Studebaker’s 289 cu. in. (4,737 cc) V8 and exchanged the Packard Twin Ultramatic for the three-speed Borg-Warner Flight-o-Matic. The vertical chrome bars in the grille openings (and the mesh insert, not visible here) were new for 1957, as were the colored insert in the newly enlarged tail fins. Slightly better weight distribution, rear suspension changes, and the option of a Twin Traction limited-slip differential made the ’57 Golden Hawk somewhat more wieldy than the ’56.

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.


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.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk rear 3q
The 1957 Golden Hawk’s fins were steel rather than plastic and noticeably bigger than the stubby fins of the ’56 model. Like Studebaker sedans, the Hawk had Hotchkiss drive rear suspension and drum brakes, although its ratio of curb weight to brake area wasn’t bad for the time. Golden Hawks had finned drums for better cooling.

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.

1958 Packard Hawk front 3q
The Packard Hawk’s fiberglass nose makes it slightly longer than the regular Hawk, but its overall dimensions were otherwise similar — not surprising, given that it shared the same body. The Packard was 205.2 inches (5,212 mm) long on a 120.5-inch (3,061mm) wheelbase, weighing a bit under 3,700 lb (1,675 kg) all up. With its supercharged engine, it was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around nine seconds and a top speed of nearly 120 mph (193 km/h).

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.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk dash
Golden Hawks had a well-trimmed dashboard with engine-turned metal trim (attractive, but distracting on sunny days), full instrumentation, and a tachometer, which were rather rare at the time. Contemporary critics were not fond of the pedal placement, which caused drivers to bump their knees on the steering column when moving from accelerator to brake. Note that the ignition key is to the left of the steering wheel, as in older Fords.


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.)

1962 Studebaker GT Hawk front
Any resemblance between the 1962–1964 Studebaker GT Hawk’s grille and that of contemporary Mercedes-Benz models was intentional. (Interestingly, Studebaker handled Mercedes’ U.S. distribution from 1957 to 1965.) Brooks Stevens’ original design proposal called for small rectangular grilles on either side of the main grille, below the headlamps, but that feature was deleted for cost reasons.

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.

1962 Studebaker GT Hawk front 3q
The 1962 Studebaker GT Hawk still used the regular 289 cu. in. (4,737 cc) “Thunderbolt” V8 with either 210 or 225 horsepower (157 or 168 kW); the Jet Thrust R1 and R2 engines didn’t become available until 1963. Most cars had the three-speed Borg-Warner automatic, but a Borg-Warner four-speed became optional in 1961.

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.

1962 Studebaker GT Hawk rear 3q
One of Brooks Stevens’ design changes for the GT Hawk was to remove the previous Hawk’s bolt-on fins, which saved money and made the Hawk look considerably more modern than its 1957–1961 predecessors.

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.

1962 Studebaker GT Hawk rear 3q roof
The GT Hawk’s hardtop roof was directly inspired by that of the Ford Galaxie and Thunderbird, but Stevens adopted it at least partly a cost-saving measure; the new recessed backlight was less expensive to produce than the previous wraparound glass. We think the roof also looks a lot like the retractable hardtop of another Stevens design: the abortive 1959 Scimitar, which survives in the collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.


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.

1962 Studebaker GT Hawk dash
Like the Avanti, the Studebaker GT Hawk had a well-equipped dashboard with full instrumentation, including a tachometer and a vacuum gauge. The 1962 model had woodgrain trim only on the instrument panel, but in 1963, it was added to the passenger side of the dash as well. The ’63s also had revised seat trim with sturdier vinyl upholstery.

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.


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.

1964 Studebaker GT Hawk rear 3q © 2005 one-zero-niner/Benutzer PD
For the 1964 Studebaker GT Hawk, Sherwood Egbert authorized the tooling of a new decklid that finally eliminated the rear “grille.” From some angles, the revised car looks a lot like the 1963–1964 Plymouth Valiant Signet. There was also an optional de Ville-style vinyl roof covering, which this car doesn’t have. (Photo: “Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk 4” © 2005 One-zero-niner at German Wikipedia; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)

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.



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,”, 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 (; 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 (, 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.



Add a Comment
  1. Thanks for the great story on the Hawk. The 64 is still one of my favorite cars. It’s a shame these cars had the rust out and rattling problems as you noted. I remember my uncle saying to never open the door on a Hawk when it was being jacked up as it wouldn’t shut from the weak frame taking a slight bend. They may have been willowy but they are still beautiful.

  2. A nice overview on some really sharp cars. The 1953-54 Studebakers were really far ahead of their time in style.

    The 1953 line was a fiasco on many levels. Studebaker essentially built two distinct car lines, but never received credit before it, because they shared so many design cues. The sedans were not very attractive compared to the coupes, and they looked rather small and unsubstantial compared to their Big Three competition (or even a contemporary Nash Statesman/Ambassador).

    Someone wrote that, in retrospect, Studebaker should have continued with a heavily facelifted version of the 1952 model four-door sedans and Land Cruisers for 1953, with the Starliners and Starlights introduced as a speciality model.

    The coupes were delayed because of the flexible frame. Studebaker didn’t account for the weight of the V-8 engine when it developed these cars. When the bodies were developed, the front clip mounted fine with the remainder of the body. When the V-8 engine was mounted on the frame, it caused such flex that that the front clip no longer mounted properly to the body! The company scrambled to find a fix, but the delays kept the coupes out of the showrooms during a critical time.

    Even so, the coupes still sold well for 1953. I remember reading the sales of the Starliner/Starlight actually were very high, and constituted a much higher percentage of Studebaker’s production than was normal for those two body styles in the early 1950s. The problem was that the sedans were such flops.

    Another Studebaker problem that presaged Detroit’s 21st century woes was union trouble. During the lush postwar years, the company essentially gave in to union demands, instead of taking a strike (as GM had endured for months in 1946). Both Vance and Hoffman insisted that Studebaker avoid antagonizing the UAW, as they wanted to run “America’s Friendliest Factory.” Certainly an admirable view, especially since the bitter GM sitdown strikes and the brutal “Battle of the Overpass” at Ford were still fresh on everyone’s memory.

    But, as someone once noted, a company that doesn’t turn a profit doesn’t do the working man or woman any good, and Studebaker workers would soon learn that the hard way.

    By 1953, Studebaker not only had far more workers than necessary to do most jobs, but they received a HIGHER rate of pay than the union members at the Big Three, and still managed to have a poorer productivity rate. Nance was willing to risk a strike to bring wage and productivity rates back into line, but by then it was too late.

    My father had a 1953 Champion Starlight (light blue with a white roof). He still speaks fondly of that car. He bought it when it was a year old, and he was able to get over 100,000 miles out of it before he sold it. It didn’t even have serious rust on it, which was quite an accomplishment here in southcentral Pennsylvania. But, looking back, I can see why many more people would have bought a better built, more thoroughly developed Chevrolet, Ford, Buick or Oldsmobile, even if the Studebaker was much better looking.

    As late as 2000, large portions of the old Studebaker complex were still standing in central South Bend, although largely in derelict condition. Let’s hope that the rest of the American car industry meets a better fate.

    1. I tend to regard the anti-union stance of historians like Tom Bonsall and Rich Taylor with a great deal of skepticism. Studebaker’s productivity levels had as much to do with the antiquated layout of the South Bend factory as with their UAW deal; their assembly lines were cumbersome, requiring more labor operations per car than any of the Big Three. That remained true even after Nance forced the UAW to accept sharp concessions in wages and hours.

      Furthermore, given the number of strikes that the Big Three suffered during that period, I’m not convinced that S-P’s efforts to make nice with the UAW was bad strategy at all. Unlike GM or Ford, Studebaker simply could not afford work stoppages — even strikes at their suppliers were absolutely crippling. Paying a slightly higher hourly rate as insurance against debilitating strikes was a fairly reasonable decision.

      The experience of BMC/BMH/British Leyland in the sixties and seventies demonstrates what can happen when an under-capitalized automaker with inefficient facilities and limited cash reserves tries to take a hard-line attitude with its workers. There were certainly points in the history of BLMC where the union’s demands were unreasonable (and a lot of problems that took place at the level of individual foremen, not union management), but BMC/British Leyland’s undisguised antagonism toward the union made it a lot worse.

      1. Thank you for a well considered view on the unions. It’s very popular to blame them for all problems -as they are among few workers who earn a living wage in America. This seems to madden management types and inspire mistrust in others.

        There are no angels in the decline of the US auto industry, but, the unions are certainly not responsible for decades of poor decisions, hubris, and lack of foresight. This was purely management.

  3. I’ve been in love with the lines of the ’53 Stude since I was a kid and this article only serves to remind me how a once great car lost it’s way due to budget-constrained remodels that left a once great car looking half-assed, with disparate elements from other marques incorporated in an attempt to lure buyers to the brand.

    I realize that Studebaker was in financial dire straits for many of their last years, but I’m sure that their designs (engines notwithstanding) would have flourished had they possessed the capital to hang on until the late ’60s when everyone wanted a racy looking car. History is one of those things that we only see in 20/20 vision, but I’ve always felt like Studebaker would have done alright had they been capitolized like the Big Three.

    All that aside, I’d like to provide some praise for Aaron Severson, the fellow that provides us car junkies with a weekly dose of well thought out history and thoroughly researched history to read up on and marvel at. Thanks, Aaron-you are completely awesome and wiser than I can ever hope to be.

    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      I don’t think Studebaker could have survived much longer than they did. They just never had the capital they would have needed to stay competitive in engineering, and that was before federal safety and emissions standards. They didn’t lack for talent, but their resources were just too limited. It went beyond the engine — for instance, the final Studebakers still had kingpins, a decade after other automakers had switched to ball joints. Probably the only way they would have had a shot would have been if they’d joined Hudson and Nash in AMC in 1953, which didn’t happen because of the mutual animosity between Jim Nance and George Romney.

      Certainly, a lot of the people involved were capable of better, and many of them went on to bigger and better things. Duncan McRae, for instance, became the chief designer of Ford of England in the mid-sixties, with great success. It was just that Studebaker never had the resources to make it.

  4. Part of the reason Studebaker’s plant was outdated was that management paid out high wages to employees and lavish dividends to shareholders instead of updating the plant.

    It’s also worth noting that Studebaker wasn’t just handicapped by lower productivity. Studebaker paid higher wages to its workers than those earned by Big Three workers.

    By the time Nance brought wages more into line with industry standards, it was too late. There was no money to invest in either new vehicles or the plant. Studebaker could not afford to update the plant. The company was too far gone at that point.

    I agree that deliberately antagonizing the UAW was not a good idea, but rolling over and playing dead, as Studebaker management regularly did when faced with a UAW demand or possible strike, was not a good strategy, either. There should have been a middle ground – explaining the hard economic facts of life to the union would have been a good start.

    Studebaker’s factory was notorious for overstaffing. It was not uncommon for several workers to sleep on the job (with cots in full view of foreman!), or read books while other workers took up the slack. That has nothing to do with the plant being outdated.

    The strategy of Vance and Hoffman was a ticking time bomb. Companies with smaller production bases need to keep a very close eye on labor costs – more so than larger companies – because they can’t spread the cost over a larger number of vehicles.

  5. As a kid my favorite toy car was a 1955 President State Studebaker. It was cream white and blue. To protect from chipping the paint of the bumpers when hitting a wall I wrapped a rubber band around it. I immediately preferred the original 1953 design when I saw it. I never saw one in France.
    It’s in my top ten most beautiful cars of all times along with the Jaguar XK120 and MKII, some Ferraris and Maseratis, a couple of vintage Packards. I have mixed feelings about the Avanti but it’s quite deserving too.
    The story of Studebaker and Packerd is too sad.


  6. Looking at the 70’s Firebirds, it’s obvious they borrowed heavily on the almost twenty year old Stude styling.

  7. Aaron,
    Do you know if this car had any influence on the original Mustang? To me, the stying cues are just about unmistakeable. Long hood, short rear deck and the “scoop” line on the side.
    Your thoughts?

    1. I don’t know that the Hawk was a direct influence on the Mustang; I think it was probably more a case of both having common antecedents. The long-hood/short-deck proportions were a prewar thing, of course. I think both the Mustang and the GT Hawk owed something to the Thunderbird, as well, both the ’55 and the ’58 Square Bird.

      As for the Mustang side scoop, it looks to me like an offshoot of the ’62 Mustang I show car, and the 1963 Mustang II, which is kind of the missing link between the Mustang I sports car and the production model. I don’t have any photos of it, but if you do an image search on “1963 Mustang II,” you’ll see what I mean.

  8. My first car at age 16, was a 55 President Hard Top. It was customized with Frenched headlights, leaded in, 56 Packard tail lights, and candy apple burgundy paint. It had a floor stick from a jeep that bolted right into the Borg Warnner three speed. Orginally an automatic, it had high gears, but that did not slow it down with it’s four barrel carb and cam. It was very quick for the times and surprised many a pre muscle car such as the 270 hp Chevs. Like many 50’s cars with more power, it constantly blew tranys. It would look very slick to this day. Yes, it did have windows that would suddenly fall into the door and break. The doors could not be opened if it were on the lift and of course those rattles. Who cares at 16?

  9. There was also another designer who tried some ideas for Studebaker. Bob Marks did some nice renderings of proposed Studebaker for 1967 and beyond. Brook Stevens also suggested some ideas.

    1. Yup — Bob Marcks actually did the facelift that turned the Lark into the 1965-1966 Studebakers (mentioned in the article on the Lark), and Egbert had commissioned Brooks Stevens to develop concepts for both future Hawks and future sedans.

  10. Thank you, Aaron, for putting together the best pieces on the Studebaker Hawk,Lark and the legendary Avantu that I’ve ever come across; well researched and with enough interesting anecdotes to make them required reading by anyone, anywhere, interested in good writing.

    When I was just getting into my teen years, I wrote a hand-written letter that I addressed simply to the "PR department, Studebaker Corporation" using an address off the back of a sales brochure. My intent was to get more information on the Granatelli’s efforts at Bonneville.

    Someone at the Studebaker facility in South Bend was kind enough to photocopy a company newsletter with a report in it on those efforts (no name, no cover letter). It meant a lot to me and secured me as a Studebaker fan. So there were people, even in those last dark days, who were believers in what they did. Long may the marque survive, because of them.

  11. Just watching Barrett- Jackson with a 57 Golden Hawk going for $135k.
    Comparing this car to it’s 57 contemporaries is no contest design wise, the later versions with Modernizations mods were too far from Loewey’ original Starliner Coupes but the grille treatment lends it a surprisingly contemporary relevance, and makes the Chev/Fords contemporaries look bloated and trite.
    Too bad they didn’t get the chassis right, if they had had the later day Avanti chassis/suspensions the car would have earned the undisputed bragging rights for the best looking car from the 50’s to the end of the century and arguably up to the present..

  12. It would appear that George Romney had much of the same ego, pride and personality that his son displayed in last year’s Presidential election?

    What a pity that George Romney could not had swallowed his pride and worked out a merger when it was still possible!

    1. Well, in the case of Romney the senior, if you wanted to assign blame you’d really have to split it between him and Jim Nance. I don’t think there was an easy solution to that one: Both Nance and Romney were ambitious and the fact that they were roughly the same age meant that they were going to be rivals. For either of them to have a shot at running the merged company after Mason’s death or retirement, the other would have had to step aside; Nance had already taken one titular demotion prior to going to Packard, while Romney had been groomed as George Mason’s successor.

      Also, it’s important to remember keep in mind that the Packard board was resistant to a merger with Nash, having become convinced that Studebaker was a better bet. Hudson was widely perceived as a terminal case and it was quite a while before the merged AMC was no longer hemorrhaging.

      Honestly, I’m not sanguine about the prospects of a four-way merger. I’m very doubtful that a merged Studebaker-Packard-Hudson-Nash entity would have had the capital to create a viable Sloan-style brand hierarchy — the only way I think that might have worked was if it had happened right after the war, but at that point no one except Mason saw the need. I think if they had merged in ’54, it’s unlikely that all four brands would have survived into the ’60s.

      1. I agree about the merger. If the independents had merged in the immediate post war years, when profits were good, the merged companies had a chance. By 1954 they were all broke and headed for oblivion.

  13. These 53’s are still so stunning, it is hard to imagine everyone was not clammering to have it. It was the low, long look long before the Chrysler’s adverts ‘Suddenly its 1960’ in 1957! The chassis would have to be beefed up for a convertible, but that should have been a priority. Look at the competition, the T-Bird, the Corvette, the Darrin, all two seaters, but the Starliner could seat four. A terrible, missed opportunity, which Ford soon rectified in 1958 with the T-Bird. Studebaker’s top brass made a mistake on the sedan versions, another missed opportunity. America did not want something this advanced apparently and went right on buying their extremely boring Fords, Chevys, Plymouths and Dodges, and you can still buy a new Dodge today, which given the choices back then seems almost unthinkable now.

    1. People did clamor to have the ’53 coupes; not so the sedans. Studebaker hadn’t anticipated that, so they couldn’t keep up with demand for the coupes and had unsold sedans mouldering on dealer lots. Admittedly, the sedans were undoubtedly hurt by the Ford-Chevrolet price war, which meant that it was often considerably cheaper to buy a ’53 Ford or a Chevy.

  14. Great article, thanks!! I own a beautiful and very original, white with red interior, 1964 GT Hawk. It still stops traffic and turns heads after 50 years. The old bird gets surrounded with people at the car shows wondering what it is and admiring it’s clean lines and sporty interior and dash.

  15. For MY 1957 and 1958, there was also the Studebaker Scotsman, a severely decontented sedan. Most parts that would be chromed on most cars (such as hub caps) were painted. No doubt the name was meant to evoke the stereotype of Scottish tightfistedness.

  16. It doesn’t strike me that Packard would have lasted any longer than Studebaker, if they had taken the reins of the Studebaker/Packard merger and caused production to be directed towards revitalizing and keeping Packard a going concern. It’s an interesting path to try to peer at though.

    1. Well, Packard WAS in the driver’s seat of the merger: Jim Nance was president of Studebaker-Packard from the merger until the latter part of 1956. It wasn’t that they decided to favor Studebaker over Packard, but that they reached a point where they had to dispose of the Packard engine plant and the only assembly plants that could accommodate the existing tooling. (S-P did intend to set up a shared-body plan for Studebaker, Clipper, and Packard — all-new, not a rehash of the existing stuff — but they never got that far because they couldn’t raise the money.)

      I do think Packard would have been the more salvageable of the two brands, but Packard was already having trouble making ends meet (which is why they went looking for a merger with another company offering greater volume), so I agree that their future probably wouldn’t have been that rosy. Best case, they might have limped along into the early ’60s and then either folded or gone back to the table with AMC, perhaps after both Romney and Nance were gone. Packard might have survived as a brand in that scenario, but more likely as a restyled, fancier Ambassador than a really separate entity.

      1. I agree that a merger in the late 1940’s would have made a difference. All four companies had cash and were selling well. Cash is what was needed and none of the independents had any by 1954. It was pure luck that AMC lasted as long as they did.

  17. The blame for shutdown has to be mainly accepted by management. When the union is allowed to be unproductive then the company is going to suffer. Management allowed poor productivity to be the norm and accepted. when this happens there is no return from past practices. The union then relies on past practicies to protect the unproductive people and management usually caves in and tries to live with the situation.
    This happened at a Carrier plant I worked at that was closed for similar reasons. Poor productivity was allowed and the union protected it.
    I love my Studebakers and their forward design and wish a new restyled Hawk had been built. I also appreciate the super hawks. I hope to hear the supercharger whine on my 64 super Hawk some day. I also now loathe the Corvette because of what they (the ashtuaba body plant) did to the Avanti assembly. They purposely delivered late and poor parts and spelled the demise of the Avanti while filling all Corvette orders on time.
    Sorry to rant but that all I have to say about that. Like a box of chocolates????

  18. Another great article, thank you!.
    I think the Hawk is one of the best looking cars ever produced. I wonder if the stylists had any connection with the British Rootes Group?. Certainly their late ’50s Sunbeam Rapier has an uncanny resemblance, as does the Sunbeam Alpine Sports car.
    The woes of the BMC/BMH/BLMC/BL corporation is much more complicated than a simple union vs management conflict, Harold Wilson’s left leaning government was much involved in the vagaries of one of the nations most important exporters, its progress from the biggest vehicle exporter in the world to extinction within 50 years would make for interesting (if depressing) reading. It has a striking similarity to GM’s post war fortunes.

  19. Funny how Mercedes has contracted with AM General in South Bend for the R series SUV in the past few weeks…..AM General was Studebaker’s military vehicle arm sold to Kaiser, to AMC and finally Renco.

  20. Also, I did sit in a 1962 Hawk at my neighbors, along with a 1956 Packard Clipper.

  21. Looking at hundreds of SCCA pit pix there seems to be a
    Starliner in every one. The right folks wanted them, but
    the concept of roll stiffness, braking and until the 352 V8
    output, straight line performance were hardly addressed.
    What dimwit thought the wheezy flathead six could power
    the Starlight to any degree of prestige when the 232 V8
    Itself had barely the grunt of a Chevy Stovebolt six?

    1. stumbled across this old stude article and your comments today and
      would like to e-mail you with a few stude questions. I am a long time
      Hawk enthusiast having owned over a dozen of them and also an
      Alfa Romeo owneer – mostly 116 cars – Studebakers would have
      really benefited from the dedion rear suspension.

      my e mail is

  22. While cash and facilities of Studebaker were doleful
    there had been enough scraped up before Packard
    to let Porsche develop a wide angle V6 and semi unit
    bodied sedan for 1955. There were quite a few Indy
    race drivers in their employ to have assisted in their
    remaining development as well. The short lived V8
    from Packard prevented a proper enlargement of the
    Stude which itself had the expansion potential to 4 in.
    bore and 390 inch displacement at reasonable stroke.
    Packard could have spared themselves their not too
    clever 374 entirely. The physically longer Packard
    V8 was actually lighter than the Stude 289 with the
    60 lbs of supercharger for the 1957 Hawk figured in.

  23. There were three Gage’s of frame rails for the 120 in.
    wheelbase car: .072 then .090 and eventually around
    1957 a proper .120. Yet there was always the space
    to have welded a collar across the forward upkink of
    the rails where the cowl attached. Even the Avanti
    used a silly little stirrup stool about two inches tall
    and long at that still evident inflection point in the
    flexure response graph they published for their intro
    SAE paper. What feeble engineering savvy gave them
    instead a 175 lb. X-member of 3/8 inch plate for their
    eventual 108 inch Convertible or Avanti simply boggles
    the mind. Either Budd or A.O. Smith were complicit!

    1. Well, my experience and observation about contractors is that if the client makes demands you think are silly, unreasonable, or unworkable, you sometimes end up having to shrug and make the best of it. I think everyone who’s ever been an independent contractor or freelancer has run into times (maybe multiple times per job) where the client draws a weird line in the sand — it can’t cost more than this, it can’t weigh more than that, it must not be that color.

      If there was provision to bolster it properly, I’d say that doesn’t evidence a poor engineer so much as a competent one who’s fought a losing battle with a bean counter or someone with odd priorities. Leaving provision for it implies somebody thinking, “Okay, I think this is silly/frustrating/incomprehensible, but the best I can do is leave room for somebody to fix it later if they come to their senses.”

  24. Aaron, (and others) since you are following this and
    want an image of the Mustang II — which I guess was
    the name applied to a tiny mid engined roadster —
    may I direct you to my Facebook blog “Looking Back
    Racing.” There you will indeed find a recent post
    which shows the side radiator intakes. As I noted,
    my late, beloved boss at Ford is the chubby fellow
    standing alongside. Ford Photographic took it.

  25. Frame integrity, straight line stability and overdrive
    cruising at 90 mph was demonstrated to me in a trio
    of Starlight coupes owned by the late Hugh Studebaker
    Of Elmhurst, IL. I judged those well fettled cars to be
    equal or superior to the year old 1967 Cougar I was
    driving at the time. Yes, he reassembled them from
    different later cars to each have the 53 snout, no fins
    and repowered them as 289 4v & 3 speed OD. But
    aside from Land Cruiser rear sway bars, additional
    spring leaves, Buick coil springs and HD shocks no
    magic was required. The six steering box was quite
    A bit more direct. The windows sealed fine and there
    were no creaks or rattles. The tan and white car,
    originally of ’61 vintage had the stoutest frame. The
    Terra cotta color car I think was the one Ron Hall
    later autocrossed, and much later managed to lap
    with my Miata 1800 at Grattan Raceway in Grand
    Rapids, meaning a pretty respectable 1:51 or so.


  27. One of my first cars of lust, Hawk GT. Didn’t care for the Hawks with Fins. Now looking at the ’53 a little closer/longer I think that body styling would sell today, much nicer that the GT.

    Found this place via Chase Moresey’s book “The Man Who Saved the V-8”

  28. Fabulous Studs March 1, 2016 4:33PM
    I was a proud owner of a 1960 Stud Lark wagon, today this would be a collectors dream. Its sad in reading the trials and tribulations this company went through. I grew up in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and later in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The Studs set a bench mark no matter what year or model one had. One often comes across a Champion, Hawk,Lark or a Daytona, each owner shows his pride and joy as a proud new father.
    If you look up on Google, Cars of Rhodesia should interest you.

  29. can any body help me with this? 1958 silverhawk. did it have a silverhawk nameplate on trunk? if so, was it located on the right side of trunk? thank you

    1. Yes, that sounds right.

  30. Aaron,

    I understand contemporaries thought the ’57 Golden Hawk was the stronger performer than the ’56 though I have struggled to understand why. Maybe the answer lies in the automatic transmissions the two engines were attached to…….and I know you have interest / expertise in that topic?

    A supercharged Studebaker V8 engine was ~700 pounds, as was the Packard V8, so weight of the engine can’t explain things. While both engines claimed the same hp, the Packard had better torque. The limited advancement in hp / torque claimed by the R2 of 1963 with more compression and a 4-bbl carb tells me the ’57-58 supercharged engine claims were probably inflated.

    An interesting question is if the 310 hp 400 lb-ft Caribbean tune Packard V8 had been prototyped, or optional in the Hawk. The Hawk was almost 1000 lbs lighter than the Caribbean, so the power-to-weight would have made such a Hawk a legitimate Chrysler 300B competitor.

    1. There’s a detailed article by Frank Ambrogio in the June 2005 issue of Turning Wheels (which I hadn’t seen when this article was originally written) that talks about the weight issues at length and finds that while the ’57 did have slightly better weight distribution, the difference was fractional (less than one percentage point). The ideal way to compare performance would be to look at comparative quarter mile times conducted by the same people (comparing quarter mile times from different publications isn’t always illustrative), which I unfortunately don’t have. However, the figures I’ve found strongly point to the transmission being the main difference.

      The 1956 Golden Hawk had Twin Ultramatic, which was a two-speed automatic with a low gear of 1.82:1 plus the torque converter stall ratio. The 1957 typically had the three-speed Flight-o-Matic, which had a low gear of about 2.31:1 and a second gear of 1.44:1, again plus converter stall. (I don’t have stall ratios handy, but I think the ’56 was something like 2.9:1 — a lot for a street car — and the Flight-o-Matic probably about 2.2:1.) Hot Rod‘s March 1957 test found that for optimal performance, you needed to do some jiggery-pokety with the transmission (starting in Low, shifting to Drive, and then shifting back to Low, an old trick with these early Borg-Warner automatics, including the three-speed Fordomatic) to hold second as long as possible. Doing that trimmed quarter mile ETs by almost 0.3 seconds, which was a lot. If you did that, the ’57 was quicker than the ’56; if you didn’t, they came up about the same through the quarter and the ’57 was slower up to about 60 mph.

      What this strongly implies is that having the extra gear — provided you were willing to shift manually to get best use of it — helped to keep the supercharged engine in its optimum rev range (which Hot Rod found was between 2,500 and 5,000 rpm) for longer. If not, the transmission’s deeper first gear wasn’t enough to entirely mask the engine’s lazy low-end response and reduced torque compared to the bigger displacement Packard engine. In other words, in ’56, the engine’s torque was making up for the transmission, whereas in ’57, the transmission was at least partially making up for weaker low-end punch.

      The other consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the ’57s had the option of Twin-Traction (limited-slip differential), and I would bet most of the press cars were so equipped. The limited-slip would let you punch it off the line in a way that on the ’56 car would have sent the wheels up in smoke, something that would almost certainly contribute to the impression of the ’56 as being much more nose-heavy.

      There’s a site on the McCulloch supercharger,, that includes a recap of road test impressions. The general consensus of contemporary reviewers is that the power claims were reasonably accurate, but peak power is not the end-all, be-all of engine performance. Hot Rod‘s remarks on the relatively narrow power band are revealing in that respect and help to explain what otherwise look like anomalous performance figures.

  31. The Starlight coupe was a styling breakthrough in the industry. The other manufacturers were not doing anything like it. If more money had been available to solve the quality problems they might have survived. Since my Dad was a Chevy, Olds, Cadillac dealer he didn’t want to hear that I thought the Studebaker was a great design & wouldn’t let me have one which had been traded for a new Chevy. “It would look bad to be driving a competitors car”. Never did get one, but still admire them.

  32. Many years ago. My Uncle had one of the rare.1958 Red with leather interior.588 Studebaker Packard Hank 289 Super Charger Car. And what I found great.About one of its small options. Was the outside upper doors.Had leather padding on them.So your arm would not get.Burned on the metal.

    1. It was a neat idea from that respect, but the obvious problem was that the padding was exposed to the elements. I always wondered what you were supposed to do to keep it from getting soaked in the rain or rotting in the sun!

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