How Studebaker Works

1955, 1956, 1957 Studebakers

The sporty 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk was a good bargain but didn't sell many copies.

Even while being purchased by Packard, Studebaker hitched hopes for higher sales to a group of facelifted '55s laden with chrome. Among them were the first postwar President models: top-line Deluxe and State four-door sedans (replacing Land Cruiser) and pillared and pillarless State coupes.

More power was the order of the day. The Champ six was stroked to 185.6 cid and 101 bhp. Commander's V-8 was pumped up to 140 bhp despite a downsizing to 224.3 cid. Presidents arrived with a 232 bored out to 259 cid, good for 175 bhp. Seeking to hold production costs, Studebaker discarded Automatic Drive for Borg-Warner's cheaper "Flight-O-Matic."

But sales still lagged, so a raft of changes were made in January '55. Commander was promoted to a 162-bhp "Bearcat" 259 (an optional "High Power Kit" added 20 bhp more), and Presidents graduated to a 185-bhp "Passmaster" version.

At the same time, noncoupe Presidents and Commanders gained trendy "Ultra Vista" wrapped windshields, and a jazzy President Speedster hardtop bowed with "quilted" leather interior, full instrumentation in a tooled-metal dash, and wild two-tone paint schemes like pink and black and "lemon and lime."

But because it listed at a pricey $3253, the Speedster was not a big seller (just 2215 built). Neither were its linemates. In a year when most makes set new sales records, Studebaker managed only 133,826 cars. At this point, South Bend needed about 250,000 annual car sales just to break even.

A game reskin for '56 achieved a squarer look announced by large mesh-filled grilles. Commander and Champion gained inexpensive two-door "sedanets" priced under $2000, a spiffy long-chassis Classic sedan joined the President range at $2489, and wagons got new names: Pelham (Champion), Parkview (Commander), and Pinehurst (President). Coupes were dubbed the Hawk line of "family sports cars." The last '50s Studebakers styled by the Loewy team, they featured an admirably restrained facelift of the original 1953 coupe, with modest tailfins and a large square grille riding high on an elevated hood. Deluxe interiors featured tooled-metal dash trim, as on the '55 Speedster. There were four versions, pillared Flight Hawk and Power Hawk, and hardtop Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk. All were good-looking, competent through curves, and impressive on straights. Topping Studebaker's '56 engine chart was a 275-bhp 352 V-8 from new partner Packard as exclusive power for the Golden Hawk. Champs, Flight Hawk, and the Pelham wagon carried an unchanged six, while 259 V-8s now delivered 170/185 bhp in Commander/Power Hawk/Parkview. A new long-stroke 289 version offered 195/210/225 bhp in Presidents/Sky Hawk/Pinehurst. The Flight Hawk listed below $2000 and the Golden Hawk at $3061, so Studebaker's "family sports cars" were good buys in 1956. Trouble was, they were peripheral sellers appealing mainly to enthusiasts, while the bread-and-butter models appealed to few mainstream buyers. Studebaker thus managed just 85,462 of its '56 cars, including 19,165 Hawks. But the worst was yet to come: In 1957-58, Studebaker and Packard combined couldn't sell more than 80,000 cars a year. In May 1956, Packard president James J. Nance arranged with Curtiss-Wright Corpora­tion, through its president, Roy Hurley, for "advisory management services" -- in other words, a cash bailout. With that, plans for an expansive new 1957 S-P line were abruptly canceled and Nance resigned along with Studebaker chairman Paul Hoffman and president Harold Vance. This left Hurley to preside over a group of 1957-58 Studebakers restyled in the only possible way -- on the cheap.

Duncan McRae did the deed, giving standard '57s a full-width grille and grossly distended rear fenders suggesting fins. Hawks gained prominent fins that didn't seriously detract from overall appearance. Models were cut to Deluxe and Custom Champ and Commander sedans, Pelham and Parkview wagons, three President sedans, Golden Hawk, and a new pillared Silver Hawk available with six or 289 V-8.

Somehow, Studebaker also managed four-door wagons, offered as Commander Provincial and President Broadmoor. Higher compression lifted the 259-cid V-8 to 180/195 bhp, and the Golden Hawk exchanged its Packard engine for a Paxton-supercharged Studebaker 289 delivering the same 275 bhp.

Another attempt to spark sales produced the midyear Scotsman, a miserly wagon and two sedans offering six-cylinder power -- and very little else -- for well under $2000. Some 9300 were sold, but overall '57 sales did not spark, and model-year car production ended at only 74,738.

For more on defunct American cars, see: