Curbside Classic: 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk – It’s a Sign

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As CC Independents Week commenced, I realized I needed to do something with a ’56 Golden Hawk I shot over a year ago. Yes, folks, here indeed was a sign to show this Stude–which, incidentally, is also a sign.

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I am quite sure most of you are familiar with the Loewy coupes, which debuted in ’53; in spite of their remarkable beauty, they promptly fell face-down due to teething, production and quality issues. The chrome catfish mouth added in ’55 did nothing to help either looks or sales, although the ’55 Speedster was a cool version.

1956 Studebaker-02

Yet another attempt came in 1956, when the fish mouth gave way to a triple grille treatment in which a somewhat classic-style center grille sat front and center, flanked by outboard grilles that recalled the 1953-54 Starliner and Starlight.

1956 Studebaker Ad-01

An extensive line of Hawks replaced the outgoing Champion/Commander/President coupes. On the bottom rung perched the $1,986 six-cylinder Flight Hawk pillared coupe.

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While a hardtop Flight Hawk was also available, only 560 were built and no pricing is listed in my Standard Catalog. I suspect that the six-cylinder hardtop might have been an export-only model–can anyone confirm? Next up was the V8 Power Hawk, also pillared, which started at $2,101.

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The pillarless $2,477 Sky Hawk was quite a nice, plush vehicle, but there was still one final step up the Studebaker coupe ladder: The Golden Hawk.

1956 Studebaker Ad-02

The Golden Hawk was to Studebaker in 1956 as the Avanti was a half-dozen years later: a top-of-the-line sport coupe whose mission was to restore a little luster to Studebaker’s steadily tarnishing image. It also happened to be quite an attractive vehicle. True, the ’53 Commander Starliner was cleaner, but in the mid-1950s, flash was in order if you wanted to sell some cars.

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Power was also a big plus during the horsepower race of the ’50s, and for the Golden Hawk Studebaker pulled out all the stops. In lieu of the Sky Hawk’s 289 CID, 190-hp V8, the Golden Hawk received the Packard 352 CID V8, which made a healthy 275 hp at 4,600 rpm.

As you might expect, the 352 gave the Golden Hawk a healthy dollop of speed, most of which was good only for 0-60 straight-line runs, since the heavy Packard mill–designed for use in Patricians and Four Hundreds–made the Stude’s steering a bit clumsy. Still, it was quite a fast car compared with the supercharged Thunderbird, 300B, and a few other American-made “bombs” of the day.

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At $3,061, only 4,071 Golden Hawk hardtops were bought in 1956, which was the only year the GH got the Packard mill. In 1957, the somewhat complicated ’56 Hawk line would be pruned to Silver Hawk and Golden Hawk models, and the GH would get a supercharged 289 in place of the Packard engine.

1957 Studebaker Hawks-02 (800x579)

All in all, the ’57 was probably a better car; the much lighter Studebaker V8 made it much less nose-heavy, and with a supercharger compensating for fewer cubic inches, the horsepower stayed at 275–but this time at 4,800 rpm, 200 higher than with the ’56. As you can see, new steel fins had replaced the fiberglass fins of the previous year.

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Now, I would have gotten the classic CC “through the glass” shot of the interior, but this car was about 15 feet off the ground. Here instead is a shot of the seating, as well as that most excellent, engine-turned instrument panel. Could this have been the best instrument panel of the ’50s? It even had a tachometer, which was quite rare for an American car back then. And look at all the upholstery choices!

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I am probably as big of a Studebaker nut as JP Cavanaugh, so you can understand the double-take I did when I saw this rare car being used as a sign at a local junkyard. Until last year, a 1949-52 Chevrolet had been the yard’s “sign,” but now they had a much more interesting one. I had to stop.

I went in to ask the guys behind the counter if it was OK to take some pictures (it was) and ask if they knew what a rare car they had (they do). It is not getting parted out, and will likely remain a sign of Studebaker’s past glory for some time to come. Apparently, some guy came in wanting to offload it. The yard realized what a cool car it was, and decided to display it out front to replace the old Chevy.

They did give the impression the car was for sale, and it’s still there as of this writing–needing only a little love, if you’re so inclined!