It was back to the good, old Shenango River Valley region of northeastern Ohio / northwestern Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with my other half’s extended family, just a few weeks ago. It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t the one driving, as I would’ve made us take a bunch of detours and stops so I could photograph things. If my slight inability to focus with 100% clarity comes through in some of my posts, you should take a road trip with me some time. For all the classic cars and trucks I saw on the road and peeking out of country garages, I might have thought I was back in Michigan.
We passed this storage facility in the small CDP of Masury, Ohio, and I was able to snap this picture. I knew there was something I needed to do with this shot, given the rarity of both the Stude and the eighth-generation Ford Thunderbird in frame. Please pardon me for not being able to positively identify the Stude outside of being a 1956 – ’58 model (grille badges were missing or obscured), but I wasn’t about to trespass given the “Beware Of Dog” sign on the fence post. Similarly, the ‘Bird could be an ’81 or an ’82. But the common thread here was that both personal coupes were intended to provide somewhat distinctive transportation in their day.
To take this comparison further, I was curious to see how the base prices of both vehicles stacked up, adjusted for inflation in 2015. A base ’56 Studebaker Flight Hawk (a submodel that was a one year wonder) started at $1,986, with a 101-hp 185 CID six – about $17,400 in 2015. The newly-downsized ’80 Ford Thunderbird, with its (dog of a) 255 V8 with 115 hp, started at $6,816 – roughly $21,000 today. Both cars in base form had about 27.5 lbs. of curb weight to lug around per one horsepower. The Thunderbird would do 0-60 mph in about fifteen seconds, so I imagine the Flight Hawk’s performance would be similar (though I was unable to confirm the Stude’s 0-60 figure in my research).
The eight-generation T-bird isn’t my favorite, but I honestly don’t understand all the vitriol leveled at the styling of this mini-brougham. It seems to get the Shelley Hack- (of “Charlie’s Angels“) treatment simply for having replaced a well-loved character, the Torino-bird. I actually like the idea of a more personal, four-passenger Thunderbird. Yes, the proportions were a little off, but I liked the front and rear fascias, and I thought the body color bumpers looked modern and well-integrated. The only obvious details I really don’t care for are the unevenly-sized wheel arches, and the opera windows on those with the vinyl roof look a bit small. This ‘Bird paled in comparison to its larger, more expressively-styled predecessor, and the t-top option had gone away, but I do not find it ugly at all.
As for the Hawk, the clean look of the ’53 Loewy coupes had been somewhat compromised by ’56, but I do like the radiator-style grille and low, sleek stance. The fin-less rear of the ’56 still looks smooth and clean, and I’ve always liked the side character line, the shape of which echoed that of the rear quarter windows. Its styling does also strike me as more delicate and birdlike than that of the ’80 Thunderbird in this storage lot.
My love for the Hawk (and for Studebaker, in general) goes back to my teenage years. The ’59 Silver Hawk in the frame below was one of only a handful of cars next to which I had asked to have my picture taken at the Sloan Museum Auto Fair in Flint, Michigan in the summer of 1989. At that time, the Silver Hawk was roughly as old as that 1980 – ’82 Thunderbird in the Ohio storage lot is today. Cars seem to have changed more in the stretch of time between 1959 and 1989 than they did between 1980 and present day, but I realize this is debatable.
If I was offered the choice of either car in solid “2” or “3” condition, I might be tempted to go with the Hawk’s dramatic style over the Thunderbird’s safety features, comforts and conveniences. But then again, I might be moved by the right eight-generation T-Bird in great shape, in the right color, with the right options, and for the right price. I’d likely also have fewer fears of it getting stolen, versus the Stude. To be clear, neither is my absolute dream car, but it’s a fun question to ponder. I wonder if either “bird” in that Ohio lot is due for some love and attention in the near future. One can only hope.
The subject cars were as photographed by the author in Masury, Ohio, Saturday, November 28, 2015.