The introduction of Studebaker’s Gran Turismo Hawk in the fall of 1962 was something akin to an ICU patient hopping out of bed and reaching for a pack of Luckies. The industry had assumed that Studebaker’s long-running C/K coupe/hardtop, which had made its debut in 1953, as the Starliner, had finally run its course at the dawn of the 1960’s. Indeed, the so-called lowboy – designed by Raymond Loewy’s team, headed by Bob Bourke – was on life number nine by the time of JFK’s inauguration. The original 1953-54 C/K is a Certified Milestone Car, often cited as one of the most beautiful American car designs of all time. Despite its aesthetics, it was far from a commercial success and was reconfigured time and time again.
Variations on the theme started with the 1955 Speedster, which was followed by a flock of Hawks fronted by Mercedes-style grills. The Flight Hawk, the Power Hawk, the Sky Hawk, and, at a pinnacle and sprouting a set of fiberglass fins, the Golden Hawk took flight in 1956. The Silver Hawk, supplanting all lesser birds, joined the Golden Hawk in ’57, and the mutant Packard Hawk hatched in ’58. Only the Silver Hawk survived for ’59 as corporate attention was lavished on the new Lark compact. For the next two years, the name was simply (precious-metal-free) Hawk.
The ’61 was dubbed “Gran Turismo” by Studebaker’s advertising agency, although this was not the actual model designation. With all of its lives presumed to have been spent and the company strapped for funding, it seemed this would be the last iteration of the Loewy Hawk body. Then, against all odds, it was born anew with a subtle, fresh look and was officially relaunched as the Gran Turismo Hawk. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens had been called upon in the winter of 1961 to redesign the Hawk on a shoestring budget for introduction that fall. In amazingly short order, the Loewy-Bourke silhouette was updated with a more horizontal “populuxe” approach. Stevens reverently transformed an icon of postwar streamlining into a more formal contemporary design that included a finless rear deck, a Thunderbird-inspired roofline (made of fiberglass to save tooling costs), and a slab-sided look not unlike the understated Lincoln Continental of the era. The result was an elegant and sporty, rather voguish hardtop. Studebaker’s engineering department did what it could to bring the decade-old powertrain and underpinnings up to date.
Subtle changes mark the three years of GT Hawk production, which peaked in 1962 at about 9000 units. Output in 1963 sank to about half that number, and the ‘64s were never actually built in their designated year, as production ceased in December 1963 with fewer than 1800 completed. Because they represent the most comprehensive realization of Steven’s vision in terms of design detail, the last-year cars are though to be the most desirable, but all three are head-turners.
Performance enthusiasts should look out for the supercharged, R2 Avanti-powered Hawks offered in 1963 and ’64. They feature a heavy-duty suspension, disc brakes, a tachometer, and a 160-mph speedometer. Studebaker scorched the Bonneville salt at 140 mph with a four-speed-equipped R2 Hawk, but it was too late to save the beautiful bird from extinction. In their day, R2 Hawks recorded 0-60-mph times of less than seven seconds, not bad for a seventeen-foot-long luxury five-seater weighing more than 3300 pounds. Non-supercharged Hawks take 4 or more additional seconds to make it to 60, but the point of the car is, as the name suggests, grand touring, not drag racing.
Like the ’53 and ’54 models on which it’s based, the GT Hawk is a Certified Milestone Car, one of the most affordable to wear that distinction. Although it offers fairly strong acceleration and a smooth highway ride thanks to a 120-inch wheelbase, be advised that despite the sporting pretensions, this is in no way a sports car. Because of a significant weight imbalance, (more than 56 percent up front), rear leaf springs, and a solid rear axle, cornering is not the big bird’s strong suit. Today’s radical tires can help the Hawk’s handling significantly.
The main problem with the GT Hawk, as with just about every postwar Studebaker, is the tendency for water and debris to collect in a cul-de-sac in the inner front fenders, rotting them from within. Happily, these are not that difficult to repair, and replacements are available from a number of sources. The 289-cubic-inch V-8 has tremendous endurance, and even high-mileage units can be brought up to snuff easily. Powertrain parts are easy to track down, as all major components were in production for years. The only issue that can potentially foul your Hawk’s nest is that some trim pieces are rare, although reproductions can be found with a modicum of effort.
$8,000 - $17,000
Studebaker Drivers Club, P.O. Box 1743, Maple Grove, Minnesota 55311, 763-420-7829
Studebaker International, 97 North 150 West, Greenfield, Indiana 46140, 317-462-3124; Studebaker Autoparts Sales Corp., 410 West Sample Street, South Bend, Indiana 46601, 800-722-4295; Studebakers West, 335A Convention Way, Redwood City, California 94063.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Author of this review, Bob Merlis, is an automotive journalist whose writing has been published in both general interest and enthusiast periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Automobile Magazine. His feature length writing for Automobile earned him the coveted International Automotive Media Award for his piece on the demise of the Plymouth make. He is currently a continuing contributor to Details Magazine and has seen his pieces published in Car and Driver, Los Angeles Magazine and LA Style where, for four years, he served as Car Culture editor. He is a consultant to the Petersen Automotive Museum in the area of exhibit development. He is a member of the Motor Press Guild, Society of Automotive Historians, Studebaker Drivers Club, Avanti Owners Association International, Alfa Romeo Owners Club and International King Midget Car Club.
Outside the field of automotive journalism and literature, Merlis continues his endeavors in the music industry where he is best known for his nearly thirty year tenure at Warner Bros. Records where he was Senior Vice President, Director Worldwide Corporate Communications. Merlis is now running M.f.h., his west coast-based public relations/marketing consultancy.
Merlis is a native of Brooklyn and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University. He has been a resident of Los Angeles for over 25 years and is the father of three sons, Alexander, Benjamin and Timothy.