Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1956–58 Studebaker Golden Hawk

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and maybe to drop the hint that the muscle car’s roots can be traced back a lot further than the range of years that we generally think of these cars as coming from. It has been over 50 years since the Studebaker Golden Hawk graced America’s highways. Since Studebaker is no longer in business, can we now ask if the Golden Hawk is or is not a muscle car? I think it’s worth taking a look. Introducing the Studebaker Golden Hawk.

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In 1956, the Hawk line consisted of four separate trim levels, each more expensive as you went up the line from Flight Hawk to Power Hawk, Sky Hawk and the top-of-the-line Golden Hawk. Beneath the scooped hood of the Golden Hawk was a 352-cu.in., 275hp V-8 that was built by Packard. This was the only model to have both a Studebaker emblem and a Packard engine. One of the biggest reasons the Golden Hawk is popular and continues to rise in value is that in 1956, the Golden Hawk was a sports car that was a family car too. It had more power per pound than any American car, and seated four or five in luxurious comfort.

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The 1956 Hawk was targeted at those who wanted the performance of a Corvette or a Thunderbird, but wanted more room. The 1956 Golden Hawk was a success, and while overall Studebaker sales dropped to 82,000 in 1956, one-fourth of that number were Golden Hawks.

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The Golden Hawk was continued for the 1957 and 1958 model years, but with some changes. The Golden Hawk featured the same 289-cu.in. V-8 as the Silver Hawk, but when equipped with the McCulloch supercharger, it produced as much power as the larger 352-cu.in. V-8 did in 1956 (that would be 275 HP, and 333lbs ft of torque at 3200 RPM). Additionally, the 289 weighed up to 100 pounds less than a 352, which aided in handling, a complaint from the 1956 model. 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. These cars were remarkable in the performance department, with a top speed of 127.5 MPH.

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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.

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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.

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For 1958, the Golden Hawk switched to 14-inch (356 mm) wheels instead of 15-inch (381 mm), 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.

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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 armrest (later made removable due to customer requests) was placed between the rear passengers in earlier models. 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.

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The Golden Hawk is directly related to the ground-breaking 1953 Starliner Coupe, created by Raymond Loewy’s design team. Specifically, the Hawk design came under the direction of Bob Bourke, and was his last Studebaker design. He developed the bold grille, the hood scoop, and expanded the Speedster-style instrument panel to include a metal turned facing across the full width of the dash panel.

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Value-wise today, these very rare cars are worth around close to $30,000 in top condition, according to auction results and asking prices in collector car want ads. Of all the independent domestic makes, Studebaker has the largest following. But does that make it an Obscure Muscle Car? Does it deserve a place in the Obscure Muscle Car Garage, or is it just a 50′s cruiser that’s only good for car shows, and nostalgia? I’m looking forward to your opinions.

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

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