In their Sports Car Directory, SCI included a few select “American Gran Turismos”. It would a couple more years before Studebaker’s Hawk Gran Turismo appeared, but the 1957 Golden Hawk certainly made the cut. And it acquitted itself very well indeed, with acceleration numbers almost identical to those of the mighty 300C, although with a manual transmission and a very steep rear axle ratio. Given that the 300C cost 65% more ($4929 vs $2925), that made the Golden Hawk quite the bargain too. Of course there’s still one more highly qualified competitor yet to come…
The Golden Hawk appeared in 1956 (above) packing a big (and heavy) 352 CID Packard V8 rated at 275 hp under its long hood and new upright grille. Studebaker was making a clear move into the booming sports car market, with family-friendly seating for five. But its dynamics were compromised by its front-heavy bias and it just didn’t quite impress serious drivers unless they were straight line oriented. There was still work to do in making the most of the 1953 coupe chassis.
For 1957, Studebaker ditched the now-discontinued Packard V8 and went the tried-and-proven method for making a smaller engine perform like a bigger one: forced induction. Supercharging is the easy way to “add displacement” when the block won’t accept any more, or to compensate for intrinsic breathing limitations in the head..
Sure enough: the McCulloch supercharger’s boost allows the 289 Studebaker V8 to make the same 275 hp that the Packard V8 made. The magic of forced induction. It’s a single-stage centrifugal variable-ratio belt-driven unit. McCulloch offered kits to adapt them to most American V8s, and Ford also used them on a limited number of 312 Y Block V8s, in order to overcome that engine’s inherent breathing limitations for NASCAR, where it was quickly banned.
The Studebaker V8 also had inherent breathing limitations due to its head design, and supercharging is the handy solution to overcome that. As a point of contrast, Chevy’s deep-breathing 1957 283 V8 made 270 hp with carbs and 283 hp with FI.
SCI was impressed with the improved build quality, which was noticeable in the interior fitments as well as the solid feel of the car overall. As well as its performance, although handling was initially atrocious due to underinflated tires. SCI inflated them above the recommended levels, and it made a significant difference in handling and high speed stability albeit at the cost of a harsher ride.
In case there was any doubt, “it’s no sports car”, and it under-steered heavily, but overall for an American car, SCI was fairly impressed. It was stable at high speed, but the manual steering required lots of effort.
The limited slip “Twin Traction” differential was praised. The GH came with a three-speed manual with overdrive, a popular combination with Studebaker drivers. This allowed a very steep 4.27:1 rear axle ratio, which explains the brisk acceleration (0-60 in 9.3; 0-100 in 23.3; 1/4 mile in 17.3 @86 mph) The 300C’s comparable numbers were: (9.2 sec, 24.7 sec, and 16.9 @84mph). Almost identical, but then the 300C had an automatic and weighed 4775 lbs compared to the GH’s lithe 3550 lbs.
This combination of a high numerical rear end and overdrive three-speed made the best combination until 5 speeds came along, as it essentially had 5 gear ratios to put to work. This was the hot set-up with Tri-Five Chevys too, with even steeper 4.56 gears or so. Wicked acceleration yet quite leisurely highway cruising.
The GH’s complete instrument panel was attractive, but positioned too low, especially at speed. This was a fundamental problem with the Loewy coupes.