In a recent post here with a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk, CC’s Jim Cavanaugh left a comment about a 1956 Speed Age comparison where the Golden Hawk was faster than the Corvette. That somewhat surprised me, although the GH did have 275 hp to the Corvette’s 225, and had almost 100 more cubic inches (352 vs. 265). The Corvette was pretty universally acknowledged to be the quickest American car that year, and in subsequent ones.
So I found one at eBay and bought it. Was there something that favored the Golden Hawk in this comparison? Why yes there was, not surprisingly.
Speed Age requested that all four cars be equipped with automatics, for a fair comparison. Guess which one didn’t? The Golden Hawk came with a three-speed manual, and given the apparent inefficiency of the Packard Ultramatic, that made a big difference. And although the there was no specs given, that means it likely had a considerably lower final drive ratio. So it’s not too surprising it bested the Powerglide-equipped Corvette in the acceleration runs.
Let’s jump to that right off, since that’s what precipitated this. There’s two ways of looking at this; if the Golden Hawk had come with an automatic, based on six reviews of the GH with Ultramatic, the average 0-60 time was 9.5 seconds. That would have made it last in this comparison.
On the other hand, the average of several ’56 Corvette reviews with the standard three-speed manual was 7.4 seconds for the 0-60.
So let’s get that apples-to-oranges part of the comparison out of the way and move on to the other aspects.
Stock car driver Jimmy Reece was tasked with wringing out what Speed Age called “America’s Sports Cars”. Jimmy starts out with acknowledging that except for the Corvette, these aren’t actually sports cars, but “sports-type cars”. The terminology of high performance cars other than genuine sports cars just hadn’t yet been fleshed out, and it never was, perfectly so. Reece did put the 300 in a special category, as he might well, as it was the only American car at the time to come equipped standard with what it took to be competitive on NASCAR’s high speed tracks (the lighter Chevrolet was the dominant car at the short tracks).
Reece found strengths and weaknesses in each of them; such as the Golden Hawk’s “blazing get-away from a standing start…and the T-Bird’s comfortable ride“. As noted, the GH was the fastest accelerating car of the four, but “it trailed the others in handling and cornering…was much too slow on steering and showed a tremendous amount of lean in even moderate corners. ” The 300’s handling was deemed excellent, and the Corvette’s “stable and firm“, whereas the Thunderbird had “a great tendency to ‘roll’ in tight turns.”
The Hawk was powered by the big 325 cubic inch Packard V8, a one year anomaly, as in 1957 it used a supercharged version of Studebaker’s 289 inch V8, also rated at 275 hp. We have a vintage review of a ’57, and it’s interesting to note that although were rated at 275 hp, the ’57 was a fair bit slower, taking 9.3 seconds to 60, and 17.3 seconds in the 1/4 mile. It too had the three speed manual. My guess is that the larger displacement and naturally aspirated Packard V8’s torque curve was lower and more useful than the supercharged Studebaker engine.
But the Hawk’s acceleration was “spoiled by the fact that the car’s suspension is too soft for good handling and cornering.” The column-mounter gear shift didn’t help matters, nor the awkward foot pedals. I keep reading about how the low steering column between the gas pedal and brake pedal (still old-fashioned floor-mounted) hampered their use, with the operators feet getting hung up on the column.
“On severe turns, there was a tremendous amount of body roll, causing the rear wheel to lift and break traction. On one severe curve, the roll-over was so severe that it placed a tell-tale black mark almost down to the white sidewall of the tires.” The overly-slow steering only compounded the Hawk’s handling issues.
But the instrument panel came in for praise; what’s not to like about an honest machine-turned steel panel with round S-W gauges in it?
The ’56 Corvette had received a number of suspension improvements. “In city driving, the Corvette rides firmly but stiff, but once on the highway the stiff suspension and shocking was a boon to proper handling and cornering at high speeds.”
The Corvette’s engine, with dual four-barrel carbs, was praised for its ability to rev cleanly to an indicated 7000 rpm “without noticeable valve float or vibration…It seems to be sturdy enough“. And of course “it had a healthy sound“.
The styling changes for 1956 were generally liked, but the instrument panel showed deficiencies, with a way-too much tachometer placed too far off to the side. The racing-style steering wheel found favor with Reece.
Steering is fast, but not fast enough for competition. Some brake fade was evident in hard, fast corners, but not as much as most other cars. Both these issues (and others) were of course addressed with HD parts and components available optionally, or at Chevy parts counters.
The suspension revisions enhanced the Corvette’s feel, especially at higher speeds. It did tend to drift some in fast corners, “but it was a comfortable and secure drift that left me with complete control of the automobile, and I was able to handle it as desired by opening or closing the throttle.” The Corvette was now highly competitive with the best European sports cars in handling, and superior in power.
The Powerglide came in for positive comments, and seemed quite up to the tasks required of it, even full-on out on the track. And of course it was a boon in city driving, with only a moderate penalty in performance.
Although the Thunderbird’s styling was very attractive, it clearly was more of a “family-type sports car“. The ride was much softer, resulting in excessive lean in corners. The power steering was difficult for this stock car racer to get used to.
The Thunderbird was third in the acceleration runs, thanks to its beefy and torquey 312 cubic inch V8. Its power characteristics were quite different than the Corvette’s high-winding engine: best times were achieved by letting the automatic shift at 4000 rpm; when held in Low to 4600 rpm, the time was not as good.
The Thunderbird, Corvette and Hawk all suffered from fuel starvation in fast corners, one of the specific things that the ’57 Corvette’s optional fuel injection was designed to address.
The Thunderbird’s soft suspension resulted in “considerable lean in the corners”, hampering its track times. Its interior came in for praise, and its brakes were quite good too.
Reece loved the 300; did he drive one in the races too? I’m guessing a sports car racer might have naturally leaned a bit more in the Corvette’s direction. But Reece did not like the power steering, which was too quick and light.
Although packing the most hp (340), the 300 was the slowest accelerating car of the four. That’s not too surprising, for such a large and heavy car; its forte was high speeds, the key to its domination of the long tracks at NASCAR that year. It was well known that a Chevy sedan was quicker than the 300 (or any other). A 205 hp version in a vintage review did the 0-60 in 9.0. That would have made it very competitive with the others in this test, and its handling was undoubtedly better than all except the Corvette, and on par with the 300.
Reece liked the push button controls for the two-speed Powerflite automatic. The big hemi sounded like a race car at idle, and rumbled at speed. “I was surprised with the way the car handled under severe cornering tests, even with power steering. I could feel very little body lean at all, if any. But the power steering “was ideal for parking“.
Reece concluded by saying that “America’s venture into the sports car, or sports-type car world has not been a lost cause.” That’s a relief. But in 1956, this was all still quite new stuff for mainstream cars. And of course it was just the beginning.
Related CC reading:
Vintage SCI Review: 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk – As Fast As The Chrysler 300C, And A Lot Cheaper
Vintage SCI Review: 1957 Thunderbird – Do We Detect a Wee Bit of Corvette Envy?
Vintage R&T Road Test: 1956 Chevrolet 210 205 HP – “The Hot One Is Even Hotter”
Curbside Classic: 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk–Twilight Pink
I take away from this report that even in only its fourth year the Studebaker chassis was an obsolete design. Remaining basically unchanged, it was hopelessly outdated and deficient by the mid 1960s. Nobody ever waxed rhapsodic about how Studebakers handled. What little cash Studebaker had left was put into sheet metal but under the Lark and the stylish 1964 Studebakers was the same old suspension. “Suddenly, it”s 1953.”
Is this missing a page? It goes from 21 to 23, and the text doesn’t flow between them.
Always preferring looks and comfort over speed, and never really being impressed by Corvette, I would choose the Chrysler, Studebaker (still trying to survive here in Indiana),and Thunderbird in that order. But happy to see Studebaker have one last gasp of glory. Actually kind. of liked the final Packardbaker Hawks. Certainly not up to Packard (especially 56 Caribbeans) but so much better than the Lark.
They were still making the big Packard in 1956. This car was one of the very few synergies the S-P merger ever produced – a Studebaker Hawk with the big-assed Packard V8 in it.
Thanks for making the effort to get behind the bare numbers I found earlier. As always, a dive into the source material helps to illuminate a lot of things. I think my prior comment was accurate – that when discussing the fastest cars of 1956, the Golden Hawk has to be part of the conversation.
I think everyone agrees that 0-60 and 1/4 mile times can vary pretty widely on a given model depending on conditions, the driver, and the quirks of any particular individual car. The Corvette numbers are interesting – compared with Road & Track’s test of a 56 PG Vette (https://www.curbsideclassic.com/vintage-reviews/vintage-rt-road-test-1956-corvette-powerglide-and-stick-shift-fast-and-faster/) that one was a bit slower in the 0-60 with 8.9 sec and a bit faster than this car in the 1/4 mile at 16.5 sec. – an overall picture I find a little strange. It’s too bad this article doesn’t get more detailed in the cars’ specs.
The real lede of this article got buried – that the massive Chrysler was described by the race-driver-author as “the best handling car I’ve ever driven from a dealer’s showroom” – in the same article where he got to drive the Corvette – a car that nobody ever described as a sloppy handler. What is also interesting is how close the acceleration times were between the PG Corvette and the FOM Thunderbird. Roughly equal power (albeit with a huge displacement difference) and with the Ford running a transmission that never got much respect, those cars came within a fraction of one another in the tests.
I think the conclusion is that there were two legit road cars here – the Vette and the Chrysler. There were also two cars more designed for the boulevard – both of the ones named after birds. And of all of them, the Hawk with the Packard V8 was the one with the most untapped potential – for example, I wonder how this car would have run with the 2×4 bbl setups the Vette and Chrysler got. We’ll never know.
The mystery of the Chrysler’s poor showing in acceleration isn’t really a mystery at all. 0-60-1/4 mi were never the Hemi’s playground, with most of its power coming at higher revs. The Packard was clearly a torquemonster off the line. And this is why this 56 did so much better than the 57 with the supercharger. All things being equal, big cubic inches will beat small cubic inches with a blower almost every time in tests like these.
One additional thought comes to mind – I wonder if the Hawk had the benefit of the Twin Traction differential – which was an S-P exclusive in 1956. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say. Some sources say TT was not offered on Studebakers until 1957, but this article came out very late in the model year and there is also a service bulletin from March of 1956 marking the TT’s use in Studebaker trucks.
A TT diff would certainly have helped this car more than many, given it’s extremely light rear end.
What is also interesting is how close the acceleration times were between the PG Corvette and the FOM Thunderbird
It’s all about the torque, which is really the key to acceleration. Corvette: 270 lb.ft.; T-Bird: 324 lb.ft. Huge difference.
The supercharged Golden Hawk engine had a rather narrow power band. Studebaker-Packard knocked the compression ratio down to 7.5:1 with the supercharger, so it was weak at low speeds (gross torque peak was 3,200 rpm), and it would float its valves at 4,500 rpm, a couple hundred rpm short of the advertised power peak.
I agree with tour assessment on the cars JPC. The Vette and the 300 are two of my all time favourite 50s cars and definitely the true road machines. The T-Bird and Hawk are also among my favorites, but certainly more for cruising than sporting.
Wheel spin from a poor luanch could explain the slower RT 0-60 time. The dual quad 265 seemed to be a poor match for the PG. I have several road tests of Vettes with this drivetrain setup, and none are particularly quick off the line. Perhaps it’s the same car being tested by several magazines. Regardless, the dual quad setup is probably too much carburetor for that little engine comprising power on the low end. I do recall testers describing how it was weak on the low end, or maybe they were descibing a bog. The 55 Vette with the single quad 265 had stronger numbers acceleration to lower speeds (RT tests). The 265 dual quad Corvette with a 3-speed was a much stronger performer, breaking into the 15 second quarter mile times.
As confusing as the “performance car that’s not a 2-seat roadster” market was, in the near term it would get only more confusing with the 4-door Rambler Rebel the following year.
Just in terms of styling alone, to me the ’56 Vette is the hands down winner! Always loved the style of the ’56 and ’57 models. But for me they would have to have power steering and power brakes!
I guess it should be a surprise that the Chrysler 300-B handled notably better than the Corvette, considering that the Corvette was still teetering around on a 1949 Chevrolet chassis. Later in the model year, the 300-B could have been equipped with 3-speed Torqueflite and a high compression engine with 355 horsepower. I wonder how far that would have gone to address the acceleration deficit?
Typical uninformed comment. The 300’s chassis also dated from 1949, which was all of seven years earlier. It’s how they tuned the suspension that counted, and the Corvette’s handling was considered world class all the way to the end of the C1’s run. Hardly “teetering”.
For a more modern owner’s perspective on the 1956 Golden Hawk handling, check out this link:
Man, I loved this – thanks for finding and sharing. I trust you’ll investigate “Stock Car Records are Phony.”
I checked on our road tester, Jimmy Reece. Top notch speedway guy, died in the finala lap at Trenton in 1958. Appears to have run stockers (AAA/USAC) only occasionally, mostly at Milwaukee. Hudson, Dodge, Chevy, Pontiac, but no Chrysler noted:
I seem to recall reading that when Packard acquired Studebaker, one of the benefits would be with the suspension system. The expectation was that the Studebaker President (and the Hawk, too?) would inherit the Packard chassis with torsion bars. It never happened. Not even a mock up. A pity. It would have significantly improved the President’s ride with a shorter and more sophisticated chassis.
I take issue with the statement regarding the inefficiency of the Ultramatic transmission. The Ultramatic was the most sophisticated and advanced of the automatics available on the cars in the article. Indeed, the 1956 version was the best of all Ultramatics, with it’s aluminum case and improved valvebody. Like all Ultramatics this one had a lock up torque converter. The Golden Hawk received the higher stall torque converter, too. I suspect the Golden Hawk tested with the Ultramatic had a 3.07 final drive ratio. If tested with a 3.54 or 3.73, the results could have been different. Having driven a number of 1956 Golden Hawks, I can attest to traction being an issue that requires careful driving. You are correct in your speculation of the three speed manual Hawk, it probably had a 3.9 final drive.
Also, Twin Traction was available on Packard and Clipper models with the Dana 53 and 45 differentials initially. By sometime in mid to late 1956 production, Twin Traction was made available on Studebaker models with Dana 44 and 60 differentials. The cars tested were probably built without Twin Traction.