A well-preserved 1956 Sky Hawk.

The 1956 Studebaker Hawk Performance

The 1956 Golden Hawks with the Packard engines were capable of 120-130 mph speeds, but the heavy engine in the light Hawk body created some severe handling problems. Here we take a look at the 1956 Studebaker Hawk performance.

For the most part, road tests of the 1956 Golden Hawk showed about as much common sense as S-P had in stuffing the huge, overweight engine into the light chassis. As former Indy-winning race driver Bill Holland reported in the March 1956 issue of Speed Age magazine: "You may be wondering whether or not the car is hard to drive, or even if it's safe. I will say definitely that this automobile is not a compromise in any way between safety and performance. Just under five feet in height, the car has a center of gravity so low that it would be almost impossible to turn over. I put it through several controlled slides and found it recovered perfectly. It is balanced properly so that it can still be controlled with the steering wheel while it is sliding." Even more amazing was this: "I took the Studebaker over some bumpy, windy, hilly roads on the test grounds and found that I never once had to 'fight' it." No mention anywhere of the heavy front end and consequent ill-handling.

Tom McCahill had a more realistic assessment in the April 1956 Mechanix Illustrated: "The [Golden Hawk] is quite a nose-heavy car (because of its heavy engine), and it is almost impossible to make a fast-getaway start on any surface without encountering wheel spinning. I feel that if I'd shoved 200-300 pounds of sand in the trunk to equalize the weight distribution, my times would have been considerably better."

Motor Trend accurately described the handling as "strained when the car was thrown into a hard U-turn at relatively low (20-45 mph) speed. It was here that the heavy Packard V-8 made itself apparent, for the front end became sluggish as the stressed wheel rolled under."

Such comments are interesting for this writer, who can reflect on owning three 1956 Golden Hawks. The most unique was an all-black example undoubtedly set up for drag racing, with no power steering or power brakes, but carrying the three-speed/overdrive manual transmission and an outrageous 374-cubic-inch Packard Caribbean V-8. Though the previous owner claimed this engine was installed at the factory, we were never able to verify it. However, it wasn't unusual for dealers to substitute the standard induction system with a dual four-barrel manifold on the 352. We do know it was almost impossible to keep a clutch in this black bomb, for never did a Studebaker have so much sheer torque.

Our other two 1956s were much more mundane, and were equipped with the troublesome Twin-Ultramatic. Though we never ran either one flat out, those who tried it with similar cars spoke of speeds in the 120-130 mph range. Because of poor test conditions at Daytona Beach, tester McCahill wasn't able to see much over 120 mph with his car. Later he speculated that if conditions had been better, "it is my sincere belief that it would have just tipped 130 and stayed there as steady as the smile on the Mona Lisa."

On the next page, read about changes made to the Studebaker Hawk lineup for 1957.

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