The Studebaker Golden Hawk is a two-door pillarless hardtop coupe type car produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana between 1956 and 1958.
The last Studebaker until the Avanti to have styling influenced by industrial designer Raymond Loewy's studio, the Golden Hawk took the basic shape of the 1953-55 Champion/Commander Starliner hardtop coupe but added a large, almost vertical eggcrate grille and raised hoodline in place of the earlier car's swooping, pointed nose. At the rear, a raised, squared-off trunklid replaced the earlier sloped lid, and vertical fiberglass tailfins were added to the rear quarters. The Golden Hawk was two inches shorter than the standard Hawk at 53.6 inches.
The raised hood and grille were added to allow space for a larger engine, Packard's big 352 in³ (5.8 L) V8, which delivered 275 bhp (205 kW). This big, powerful engine in such a light car gave the Golden Hawk a phenomenal power-to-weight ratio (and thus performance) for the time; of 1956 American production cars, the Golden Hawk was second only to Chrysler's 300 B by that measure — and the expensive Chrysler was a road-legal NASCAR racing car. The Golden Hawk can be considered, like the Chryslers, a precursor to the muscle cars of the 1960s.
The heavy engine gave the car an unfounded reputation for being nose-heavy and poor handling (the supercharged Studebaker engine that replaced the Packard mill for '57 was actually heavier). Road tests of the time, many of which were conducted by racing drivers, seldom mentioned any handling issues. Speed Age magazine of July 1956 tested the Golden Hawk against the Chrysler 300 B, Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette, finding that the Golden Hawk could out-perform the others comfortably in both 0-60 mph acceleration and quarter mile times. The fastest 0-60 reported in magazine testing was 7.8 seconds, while top speeds were quoted as 125 mph (201 km/h) plus. Film buffs will remember these performance statistics demonstrably cited as Charlie and Raymond Babbitt (Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman) spot a Golden Hawk in 1988's Rainman.
A wide variety of colors (including two-tone, befitting the times) were available. Two-tone schemes initially involved the front upper body, the roof and a panel on the tail being painted the contrast color, with the rest of the body the base color. Later 1956 production had the upper body above the belt line, including the trunk, as the contrast color with the tail panel, roof and the body below the belt line trim being the base color. The interior included an engine turned dash.
An increased options list and reduced standard equipment were used to keep prices down compared to the previous year's Studebaker President Speedster, which the Golden Hawk replaced. Even turn signals were technically an option.
The Golden Hawk was matched with three other Hawk models for 1956, and was the only Hawk not technically considered a sub-model within one of Studebaker's regular passenger car lines; the Flight Hawk coupe was a Champion, the Power Hawk coupe was a Commander and the Sky Hawk hardtop was a President.
1957-58: The Supercharged Golden Hawk
The Golden Hawk was continued for the 1957 and 1958 model years, but with some changes. Packard's Utica, Michigan engine plant was leased to Curtiss-Wright during 1956 (and eventually sold to them), marking the end of genuine Packard production. Packard-badged cars were produced for two more years, but they were essentially dressed-up Studebakers. The Packard V8, introduced only two years earlier, was therefore no longer available. It was replaced with the Studebaker 289 in³ (4.7 L) V8 with the addition of a McCulloch supercharger, giving the same 275 hp (205 kW) output as the Packard engine. This improved the car's top speed, making these the best-performing Hawks until the Gran Turismo Hawk became available with the Avanti's R2 supercharged engine for the 1963 model year. The Golden Hawks were 203.9 inches long. A padded dash was standard.
Styling also changed somewhat. A fiberglass overlay on the hood was added, which covered a hole in the hood that was needed to clear the supercharger, which was mounted high on the front of the engine. The tailfins, now made of metal, were concave and swept out from the sides of the car. The fins were outlined in chrome trim and normally were painted a contrasting color, although some solid-color Golden Hawks were built.
Halfway through the 1957 model year, a luxury 400 model was introduced, featuring a leather interior, a fully upholstered trunk, and special trim. Only 41 of these special cars were produced, and a mere handful are believed to exist today. One of them is currently housed at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend.
For 1958, the Golden Hawk switched to 14 in (36 cm) wheels instead of 15 in (38 cm), making the car ride a little lower. The 15-inch wheels, however, were available as an option. Other styling changes included a new, round Hawk medallion mounted in the lower center of the grille, and the available contrasting-color paint was now applied to both the roof and tailfins. One unique feature was a vacuum gauge on the instrument panel. Padded dash boards were standard.
Several minor engineering changes were made for '58, including revisions to the suspension and driveshaft that finally allowed designers to create a three-passenger rear seat. Earlier models had seating for only two passengers in the rear because the high driveshaft "hump" necessitated dividing the seat; a fixed arm rest (later made removable because of customer requests) was placed between the rear passengers in earlier models.
In January 2011, Barrett-Jackson auctions sold a 1957 Studebaker Hawk for a final hammer price of $99,000.
End of the line
Like many more expensive cars, Golden Hawk sales were heavily hit by the late-1950s recession, and the model was discontinued after only selling 878 examples in 1958. The Silver Hawk remained as the only Hawk model; it was renamed simply the Studebaker Hawk for the 1960 model year.