At the end of the nineteen-fifties, scrappy independents like Studebaker fought for their lives as the Big Three Detroit manufacturers’ price war mowed them down, left and right. South Bend, Indiana carmaker Studebaker seemed to wage the most creative efforts, doing what it could with limited funds. The personal luxury coupe segment that developed from Ford’s four-seater Thunderbird and grew to include the Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado, and Chrysler Cordoba, started with Studebaker’s innovative 1956 Hawk line up of what the company termed “family sports cars.”
Since 1953, Studebaker's prestige models were the slinky Starlight/Starliner Coupes, sleek, low-slung dreamboats designed by Raymond Loewy’s crew for the 1953 model year. The striking Starlight's debut caused a sensation, but it was aging quickly in the super-hot mid-century auto scene.
Desperate to extend the Loewy coupe's life, Studebaker repositioned it as a “family sports car,” altering it with drastic plastic surgery and renaming it the Hawk. A nose job incorporating a Mercedes-style grille and modest fin implants gave the coupe's swanky glamour a sexy new spin.
Intent on wringing every possible sale from this new gambit, Studebaker fielded an entire line of four Hawks for 1956: the pillared Flight Hawk and Power Hawk joined the more deluxe hardtop Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk. Sales were decent at just under 20,000 units.
Studebaker trimmed the Hawk line down to just two models for 1957, a pillared Silver Hawk and a hardtop Golden Hawk powered by a heavy Packard V-8.
Over their lifespan from 1956-61, Hawks were offered with everything from a flathead six, to a Packard V-8, to a supercharged 289 cubic inch V-8 with the latter being the most desired set up amongst today’s collectors.
Having merged with Packard, Studebaker spun off yet another derivative of the Loewy coupe by producing the Packard Hawk for 1958, a fancied up, supercharged Golden Hawk with a controversial “catfish mouth” grille that spanned its frontal aspect, a faux spare tire cover on its rear deck, and leather upholstery that wrapped onto its outer body. Sales were meager and the Packard brand was permanently retired the next year.
Studebaker kept things simple for the original Hawk’s 1961 model year with a single Hawk model that offered a four-speed floor shift for the first time. They announced that production would be limited to just 6,110 units, but even that proved optimistic as low demand meant that only 3,929 were built.
The Hawk wasn’t dead yet. A radical restyle by Brooks Stevens for the 1962 model year brought the aging beauty a glamorous new shot at life, if only for three years, more on that later.
Written by Jim Cherry