Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk – Does It Live Up To Its Name?

gran turismo: a high-performance luxury sports car with a hard fixed roof, designed for covering long distances

The Gran Turismo Hawk could only have come from Studebaker. Obviously, doh! Who else could—or would—take a ten year-old coupe and freshen it up for a song and manage to make it (somewhat) relevant, in that rapidly changing time? The plucky little South Bend company had no choice but to focus its very limited resources ever since its 1953 line stumbled badly off the line. The 1953 coupe had some compelling features, and morphed into the Hawk, an outsider’s road car in a niche of its own, even if it looked perpetually out of date.

Thanks to a very effective budget make-over by Brooks Stevens, the GT Hawk suddenly looked a lot less…odd, and from some angles, thanks to its new Thunderbird roof, it might be seen as a genuine Thunderbird competitor—just don’t look too closely, as its 1953 body with its long and narrow proportions and out of date cowl and windshield were still all-too obvious.

So much for my preamble: Car Life tested the new GT Hawk and noted many of its positive features as well as one big negative: ineffective brakes.

Car Life pointed out the biggest issue with the GT right up front: In a brake test from 80 mph, fade was so bad that all braking force ended at about 20 mph; they had to coast to a stop (this was on the first attempt; normally CL did two back-to-back stops from 80) . CL assumed that the test car might have been a bit worse than average, but “Still, we can’t justify any car losing its brakes so thoroughly during a single fast stop.”And the brakes on the GT had finned drums, unlike the Lark’s. No wonder Studebaker offered optional disc front brakes across the line in 1963 (they were standard on the Avanti).

But other than that CL states “it’s very much the kind of car we’d be happy to own”.

CL points out that the restyle of the ’53 coupe body “drew compliments”. The new squared off roof “looks pure Thunderbird to us”. Obviously, the front end can’t fully hide its origins, but then retro styling with classic grilles was just starting to come back into vogue. There’s a healthy mixture of both here.

“The interior is just as handsome as the exterior…for the man who enjoys driving, the Hawk has one of the most attractive and functional cockpits of any automobile built in this country”. This included the legible full set of instruments as well as the ideal placement of the steering wheel and even the “careful arrangement of the brake and accelerator pedals to permit heel and toeing.”

The bucket seats had a wide range of adjustment and both short and tall driver could feel well accommodated. There’s genuine beauty in details like this, unlike the more cosmetic stuff offered by the Big Three. This is precisely what made Studebakers compelling to those relatively few—and decreasing numbers—who could appreciated these features.

Of course there were limitations to this approach; a look at the GT’s inside door trim, for example: it’s really showing its 1953 origins. Not exactly “pure Thunderbird”.

And where did those wheel covers come from? Not exactly very “gran turismo”.

The tested GT Hawk came with the most powerful engine available that year, the four barrel 225 hp version of the 289 V8. In 1963, the “R” higher output versions would be available, but for 1962, 225 hp was pretty modest for a car with gran turismo ambitions. In 1963, the 240 hp R1 and the supercharged 280 hp R2 were also available.

I hate to be a downer, but in reading a lot of these old Car Lifes, apparently the Paxton supercharger tended to have a rather short life, as in some 30,000 miles before the expensive bearings tended to go out. And if it wasn’t maintained meticulously, it could well be sooner. There was a very good reason the manufacturers stayed away from these, except when they essentially had no choice, like the ’57 Ford 312 (to stay competitive with the Chevy 283) and of course Studebaker, to compensate for the intrinsic power limitations in the Studebaker V8. Everyone else found it cheaper and more effective to just increase displacement and/or improve the breathing of their V8s.


The 289 was backed by the Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed transmission that was originally developed for the ’57 Corvette and was now becoming available on other brands too. CL noted that “because the Hawk is something of an enthusiast’s car, the optional 4-speed gearbox would seem an appropriate choice. Actually, this particular installation is more for fun than function, The Studebaker engine is flexible enough that it doesn’t need 4 closely-grouped gears. In traffic, we sometimes found ourselves shifting from 1st to 4th, skipping the intermediate ranges”.  Once again, this confirms what I’ve been thinking and saying more and more: a 4-speed behind such a low-rev torquey V8, is pure overkill.

And once again, CL suggests that the 3-speed with overdrive “strikes us the most practical of all for the Hawk..It provides the broadest range of gearing, allowing the use of a strong rear axle ratio without sacrificing highway economy.

As to how the GT Hawk performed in acceleration tests, it was somewhat modest: 0-60 in 11.4 seconds; the 1/4 mile in 17.2 seconds @75 mph. As a frame of comparison, the ’56 Chevy with a 205 hp 265 V8 and 3-speed transmission CL tested did the 0-60 in 2.5 seconds quicker, in 9.0 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 16.6 @ 81 mph. Its tested weight (3725 lbs) was very close to that of the Hawk (3835 lbs). In more than one article, CL expresses its strong feelings that the Chevy V8 put out more real and usable horsepower than it was advertising.

I’ll say it, despite the inevitable blowback: this car would have really shined with a 300 or 340 hp 327 Chevy under the hood. And some decent brakes, of course.

Given its performance, it’s not like the GT Hawk was likely to end up at the drag strip or be engaged in red-light drags. Its forte was the open road, and its handling was more commensurate to that than its all-out performance. But even there, CL notes that “Beyond 70 mph, the floating tendencies become a little discomfiting”. But “Cornering ability is surprisingly good, considering the car’s front-end weight bias and 120.5″ wheelbase…the nose plows somewhat in tight turns but body sway is moderate.”

CL ends by saying that the GT Hawk isn’t as exciting as many of the new high-performance muscle cars then available, but that “it’s a companionable sort of car that doesn’t require much effort in traffic yet responds to considerable driving verve on the open road”. In other words, it doesn’t quite live up to its name, but it had its charms for those 8,388 buyers that found it compelling enough to buy one in 1962, its best year by far.

(Note: color images from the web)


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk – Irrational Exuberance  by JP Cavanaugh

Curbside Classic: 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk – A Beautiful Death   by PN

Automotive History: The Studebaker V8 Engine – Punching Below Its Weight