How many sports movies have we seen? In about every one of them, there is a place where things look really bleak. This is where the hero of the story is pummeled and battered, and all looks lost. This is what I think of when I see a 1960 Studebaker Hawk.
The story of Raymond Loewy’s beautiful 1953 Studebaker Starliner has been told often, including here at CC. The Studebaker with the European personality proved to be a hard act to follow after its original 1953-54 run.
Studebaker leadership first reached back to the glory days of the 1930s for inspiration and came up with the 1955 President Speedster (here). The Speedster was an interesting concept – a hybrid luxury/sporting car – that wasn’t all that successful. However, it seems to have paved the way for the next phase of the car’s life – the iconic Studebaker Hawk.
Tom Klockau recently covered the inaugural 1956 Studebaker Hawk here. There were four Hawks, actually. From the basic six cylinder low-buck Flight Hawk , all the way to the firebreathing, Packard-powered Golden Hawk, these cars finally hit a niche that was Studebaker’s alone. For the first three years of Hawks (through 1958), the flagship Golden Hawk was always the beautiful hardtop coupe. And whether it was the Packard-powered ’56 or the supercharged Stude mill for ’57-58, the Golden Hawk had power to match its looks.
There was even a Packard version made for 1958. Whatever can be said of the 1956-58 Hawks, there was no denying that at least the top models were interesting cars that had their own unique kind of appeal, and were unlike anything being built in Detroit.
But the Hawks had another, less desirable side. Can someone tell us why Studebaker chose to offer its supposed image leader as a stripped pillared coupe? The 1957-58 Silver Hawk was just that – a really, really big step down from the glamourous Golden Hawk. Clearly, back in 1953, not every Studebaker Champion coupe could be a hardtop, so there was a reason to offer a pillared version. Being 1953, it is understandable that the car would suffer from very thick and unsightly door-uppers. But when your competition is a ’53 Pontiac or Nash or Hudson, the pillared Champion coupe was still a looker. However, by 1957, just how many pillared two-door models were offered in anything even remotely upscale? Any that were out there were price leaders for the terminally cheap.
The 1958 model year had been a disaster at Studebaker-Packard. But 1959 would be a lot better because of Harold Churchill’s “Hail Mary” pass that was the 1959 Lark. The compact Lark was to be Studebaker’s savior – and for a couple of years, it was. The Lark attained an almost religious significance within Studebaker at that time, because this was it – the company’s last, best chance for a (sort of) new car. Management was betting everything on the Lark, and made plans to sweep everything else into the trash can, including the Hawk. This should have been no surprise, as the entire 1958 Hawk line had sold all of 8,230 units. But then came the calls from the dealers.
“How can we look like a going concern with only Larks in the showrooms?” Whether the Hawk was a big seller or not, it would at least provide some sportiness in a showroom otherwise devoted to economy and practicality. And so, the Silver Hawk remained the last Hawk standing as the line entered the 1959 year. Oddly, the engine offerings were down to the ancient flathead 6 and the small 259 cid V8, making these cars drive more like Lead chickens than Silver Hawks. The larger 289 V8 seemed headed for the historical files, along with the hardtops. Those dealers may have been disappointed, as they managed to move 5,371 V8 Hawks and 2,417 6s in 1959.
1960? Rock and roll was here to stay, but the fate of the Hawk was in doubt. The no-longer-Silver Hawk was now just the Studebaker Hawk, and was back for another drubbing in the market. The good news was that both the 6 and the overmatched 259 were shown the door, and the 289 was back under the hood where it belonged, putting out either 210 or 225 horsepower, depending on whether a 2 bbl or 4 bbl carb was chosen. However, sales were down to an abysmal 4,280 units (with an additional handful of six cylinder cars for export). This shouldn’t be a surprise. While the Lark got a variety of full color ads in popular magazines, the Hawk got a black and white piece telling America about what a sports car it was. A cheap sports car, even. Yes, an American sports car, complete with the same bench seat and column gearshift from the days when the car was still a Studebaker Champion. America knew what a sports car looked like in 1960, and this was not it.
Wait, you may say – what about the 1961 Hawk? Wasn’t it just like this one, but sold an even more pathetic 3,663 cars? Well, you would be correct, but for one thing. Sherwood Egbert was the new sheriff in town at Studebaker, and he had plans for the Hawk (here and here). The 1961 may be the most fascinating of the Hawk pillared coupes because of the bucket seats and the four speed stick shift that was offered, finally putting a little “sports car” into the old bird (and beating about everyone in Detroit into this hot new market, in the process.) But the ’61 is a story for another day, and was the year that the Hawk started to show some stirrings of new life.
Here we have one of those 4,280 1960 Hawks. I stumbled across this one at the annual Father’s Day car show in Noblesville, Indiana earlier this year. I have always had a thing for an underdog, and this very, very nice 1960 Hawk spoke to me that day. Just how out of style and out of date was this car in 1960? In a world full of Oldsmobile Super 88s, Chrysler 300Fs and Ford Thunderbirds, the 1960 Hawk was hopelessly outgunned. But there is a simple charm that this car exudes, not unlike the smallest, most sickly puppy of the litter. I really wanted to drive this Hawk home. Actually, there may been some more evidence of the Hawk’s rebirth than met the eye in 1960. In addition to the new powerplant was a heavier duty transmission and differential, and finned brake drums. Also, a tachometer was made optional.
Which brings us back to our title – was the 1960 the rock-bottom Hawk? In sales, it would be the ’61. In its mechanical attributes, probably the underpowered ’59. I guess it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the occasional Hawk still shows up to show us its stuff. Even at rock bottom, the Hawk had some stuff worth showing.