Many Studebaker Hawk devotees feel Studebaker saved the best for last with the valedictory 1961 model. The reason: first-time availability of a four-speed floorshift gearbox, supplied by Borg-Warner.
Appearance changes were few, and a company press handout described the 1961 Hawk as "retaining its classic 'gran turismo' sports car styling." Motor Life magazine thoroughly enjoyed its four-speed test car: "At or near sea level, we could lug out in high gear from very low rpm or snap into third for more rapid passing speeds."
Top speed was 120 mph "according to the car's instruments," thought the actual velocity was probably closer to 115 mph. Signalling the end of this line, Studebaker announced only 6,110 of the 1961s would be built, each carrying a special numbered dash plaque engraved with the buyer's name. As it turned out, demand was more limited than even that modest figure, and a mere 3,929 examples were built.
Of course, Studebaker wasn't finished with the Hawk, though it was finished with the finny 1956 styling. But even if it wasn't a success on the sales chart, this Hawk generation was undoubtedly influential. In fact, there's every reason to believe that Chevrolet took a good long look at it when creating the Corvair Monza, which set the pace for the buckets-and-console sporty car craze that was sweeping Detroit by 1962.
As we know, Studebaker fell in line with the more sophisticated Gran Turismo Hawk, which has tended to overshadow the earlier models for both historical interest and enthusiast esteem. But it's only a matter of time before the 1956-1961 Hawk achieves widespread recognition as a collectible automobile. If it suffers in comparison to other late-Fifties collectibles -- and it does in several ways -- it is because it was a Studebaker, the product of a company then on the ropes due to its unfortunate habit of being either a little too early or a little too late. In the end, South Bend's winged warriors were a little of both. They deserved better.