Vintage HRM Performance Test: 1958 Packard Hawk – “Truly A Tough Competitor”

Exactly 588 1958 Packard Hawks were ever built, and one of them ended up in the capable hands of Ray Brock, Hot Rod magazine’s Technical Editor. Back in the fifties, HR wasn’t just all hot rods, as we think of them now. They were also into road racing, building a “hot rod” racer with Ak Miller for the grueling Panamerican road race.

The Packard Hawk was of course just a Studebaker Hawk with a fiberglass catfish mouth, an upgraded interior and a few other unique details. That makes it something of a sad ending for the storied brand, but nevertheless, it acquitted itself quite well. Thanks to the 275 hp supercharged Studebaker 289 V8 and a fairly well sorted chassis, the Hawk was clearly one of the better road/GT cars from an American manufacturer.

color photos from CC’s post on the Packard Hawk


Brock points out that the Hawk “is not a sports car but a car with a certain amount of sports car styling and handling qualities“.

The seating position as well as the feel and smell on the all leather upholstery was deemed pleasurable. But the location and angle of the steering column presented issues that were present on all of these Loewy coupes. The whole column has an angle to it, so the wheel is offset to the right, and not centered on one’s navel (or belt buckle). Not only that, but the angle results in the steering wheel not being perpendicular to the centerline of the car, meaning the right side of the steering wheel is several inches forward than the left side. It all feels rather odd to the driver.

Not surprisingly, the instrument panel came in for high praise, with its no-nonsense white on black gauges including a 160 mph speedometer and a 6000 rpm tach well located on the panel. As it turned out, the tach was rather useless, given the engine’s unwillingness to rev.

The independent front suspension used tapered wire for the coil springs, resulting in a variable rate. Like Chrysler, the Hawk’s rear axle is mounted forward of the rear leaf springs’ middle line.  This tends to reduce axle windup on fast acceleration, but the trade off is a greater tendency for the rear axle to hop on hard braking.

The Ross steering box and the linkage had an overall rate of 23.5:1; reasonably quick, but not too much so. The optional Saginaw power steering was even a bit quicker, 21.5:1 overall. It took a bit of getting used to, and once so done “corner control was excellent“. The standard power drum brakes were deemed “the best of any ’58 model we have tested“. Which wasn’t saying a whole lot, given the state of brakes at the time.

The engine is of course the Studebaker 289 V8 with a McCulloch belt-driven supercharger blowing through a Stromberg two-barrel carb. This was the chosen remedy to offset the rather poorly-breathing Studebaker V8 heads in order to make some serious power. It’s the same approach taken briefly by Ford with their Y-block V8, with similar issues. Unfortunately, not all those advertised horses seemed to show up when called for; the engine simply wouldn’t rev high enough, with valve float making itself present at a fairly low 4500 rpm. And that’s with mechanical lifters. A few attempts to exceed that brought on unpleasant clattering noises from the valve gear.

And there was a price to be paid for the Band-Aid supercharger: the compression ratio was a low 7.5;1, necessary to minimize detonation. The result was sluggish initial acceleration until the boost came on. “The engine only starts to feel strong when the revs hit 3000 rpm“. Brock suggest that a higher compression ratio with a restriction on the blower pressure would be a better compromise. Well, superchargers (and turbochargers when they arrived in 1962) back in the day were compromised, which is precisely why they weren’t widely used. Zora Arkus Duntov considered a supercharger for the Chevy V8 for 1957, but decided there were too many tradeoffs, especially in reliability, and went with fuel injection instead.

The reliability of these McCulloch and later Paxton units did not have a good record, with common issues in their complex variable speed belt drive clutch and its lubrication system. It’s very common to see survivors today without a drive belt on.

As a point of comparison, the Chevy 283 V8 was making 290 hp with fuel injection and 270 with carbs in 1958. No lag, instant response, and the ability to rev to 7000 rpm. And a ’57 Chevy with either of them would have spanked the Hawk.

As another point of comparison closer to home, the 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk came with the Packard 352 V8, also rated at 275 hp. Comparing with some other vintage reviews, it appears that the acceleration of both was roughly equal, with a 0-60 time in the 9+ second range (with automatic transmission). It is commonly said that the Packard V8 made the ’56 Golden Hawk excessively front heavy. It took a bit of digging to get to the bottom of that, as weight difference of these two engines is actually quite small, between 15 and 45 lbs, depending on the source. But the supercharger added a not insignificant additional amount of weight, with the result being probably equal. Yet the ’56 Golden Hawk is shown with a front weight ratio of 59% in one source, and HR shows this Packard Hawk with 55.7% on the front wheels. From what I’ve been able to find, it appears the Packard engine had to sit a bit more forward than the Studebaker, due to its greater width.

In any case, it would be fun to speculate how this Packard Hawk would have performed with the 310 hp 374 CID V8 from 1956. The Packard engine was also capable of further displacement increases thanks to its large 4.5” bore centers.

The Flightomatic (Borg Warner) automatic started in 2nd gear unless full throttle is used or Low gear is selected.


The Hawk’s ride and handling were praised, and even with the low factory air pressure of 24 F/20R, it didn’t “flounder like the normal automobile with soft tires“. HR increased pressures to 30F/30R, resulting in a firmer but still decent ride and “cornering ability was better than we thought possible“. The mild initial understeer and resulted in a well balanced car at higher cornering speeds.

The Twin Traction limited slip differential caused some “skating” on washboard roads that presumably wouldn’t happen if not so equipped.  Fuel economy was a mediocre 11.4 average.

Brock points out that the Hawk was “not the fastest car on the road”. Top speed was an indicated 115 mph, but calculated to be an actual 108 mph.

The supercharger exhibited evidence of cavitation at higher speeds. Brock made several suggestions as to how this engine could conceivably be improved. And the cramped engine compartment also came in for some criticism.  Good luck changing the spark plugs.

Related CC reading:

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

eBay Classic: 1958 Packard Hawk – “The Most Original Car on the American Road”

Vintage Speed Age Track Test: 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk, Chrysler 300-B, Corvette and Thunderbird – Comparing “America’s ’56 Sports Cars”

CC Capsule: 1958 Packard Hawk – Last Flight of a Once-Proud Bird

Vintage SCI Review: 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk – As Fast As The Chrysler 300C, And A Lot Cheaper