Gear Head Tuesday – Testing the ’56 Golden Hawk

Gear Head


A Packard V-8 powered ’56 Studebaker Golden Hawk in the Tangerine and Snow Cap White two-tone paint scheme.

For 1956, the fatally cobbled together Studebaker-Packard put most of its scarce product development capital into Studebaker in hopes of getting volume at Studebaker to a profitable level. This left Packard with having to do a mild (but successful) facelift on its ’56 Packards. There was an effort at component sharing, too, as outlined below.

Much of the effort to facelift the ’56 Studebakers was expended on the sedans. One of the many things that had gotten Studebaker into trouble when the ’53s were launched is that management refused to build the svelte sedan that Robert Bourke wanted to build which would have been based on the Starliner/Starlight platform and would have had the same 120″ wheelbase. Instead, they forced Bourke to foreshorten his splendid design for the sedan and put it on Studebaker’s 116.5″ wheelbase platform. As a result, the sedans did not look right – and the public (aided by the brutal price and volume war of ’53-’54 between Ford and Chevrolet) rejected the Studebaker sedans. Studebaker-Packard president James Nance, never at a loss for a colorful phrase, hated the look of the ’53-’54 Studebaker sedans, calling their styling “the drooping penis look.” Thus the effort for the ’56 Studebakers was to mitigate the look Nance hated.

One of the best looking cars in the Studebaker line was still Bourke’s Starlight coupe and Starliner hardtop. For ’55, a special hardtop version of the top-of-the line President Starliner was given a luxurious leather interior and badged as the Speedster. Studebaker took this a step further for 1956 by modifying the Starlight/Starliner body, especially the grille, and introducing what became the antecedent of the personal luxury genre, the Hawk series.

The ’56 Hawks were offered in two body styles – the pillared coupe and the hardtop – and offered as four series: the six cylinder Champion-powered Flight Hawk pillared coupe, the 259 cubic inch V-8 Commander-powered Power Hawk pillared coupe, the 289 cubic inch V-8 President-powered Sky Hawk hardtop and, the top of the line, 352 cubic inch Packard V-8-powered Golden Hawk hardtop. Golden Hawks ordered with an automatic transmission received the Packard Ultramatic Drive unit rather than the Studebaker-Borg Warner developed Flight-O-Matic. Thus the Golden Hawks were a step toward component sharing between Studebaker and Packard. Putting the big Packard V-8 into the Studebaker body added only about 60 pounds – the beefy Studebaker V-8 was no lightweight engine. The Golden Hawk was the fastest car of any manufacturer for 1956. Studebaker sold more Golden Hawks than they did ’55 Speedsters, but the number totaled a disappointing 4,071 units.

To promote the Golden Hawk, Studebaker hired the then-famous race driver Bill Holland to test the Golden Hawk and produced this filmed commercial of Holland putting the Packard-powered Hawk through the paces (click to play):


For you Hudson fans, “B-Squared” sends us this link to photos of a Hudson gathering near Detroit this past weekend.

'53 Hudson Hornet


Jaguar XKs as art
(Hat tip again to “B-Squared”)




“Chris-to-Fear” (below with his 1960 Land Rover) celebrates 1 Million Miles and 25 years of safe driving at UPS:



Add yours →

  1. Gordon F. Kertzel,lll 09/05/2017 — 15:45

    Interesting piece, Paul. I did have to access it through the link you sent me in the personal email. Gordon

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We all remember ignorant things, I always loved the 56 stud. About 5 years ago my sister offered to give me a ’38 President or the ’56 Power Hawk, I was traveling and said no. Sometimes I ain’t right!
    Good Post…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. … hee hee … I wish I had known Shirl then! I would have taken her up on it if she had offered me the Power Hawk! 🙂


  4. Thanks for foraging this up! Here is another example of how S-P went all out, with little money, to produce the most distinctive array of cars in the Detroit market in 1956!

    Liked by 1 person

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