Created under tight constraints, with limited resources, and within an astonishingly short timeframe, the Gran Turismo Hawk emerged as an exceptional American grand touring car, truly representing the art of purebred craftsmanship. This remarkable automobile was conceived by a company teetering on the brink of extinction.
While the Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk might have faded into relative obscurity in contemporary memory, it stands as a testament to a bygone era when Studebaker, one of the oldest and most prestigious American car manufacturers, crafted high-quality vehicles. Established in 1852, Studebaker originally specialized in traditional coachbuilding, producing wagons, carriages, and harnesses. However, in 1902, the company ventured into the burgeoning automobile industry. Notably, Studebaker initially explored electric vehicles, a choice that aligns with the early popularity of electric cars. Two years later, in 1904, they extended their offerings to include internal combustion engine-powered cars. Over the following half-century, Studebaker managed to distinguish itself in an American automotive market dominated by Detroit’s “Big Three.” Their success was driven by a commitment to well-built, technically innovative, safe, and reliable vehicles.
Yet, by the early 1960s, the company faced financial turmoil, and its flagship model, the Hawk series, was grappling with dwindling sales. In a bold move to rejuvenate the Hawk, Studebaker’s newly appointed president, Sherwood Egbert, turned to his close friend, Brooks Stevens, a talented industrial designer and automobile enthusiast. With a mere budget of around seven million dollars and an incredibly tight timeframe of just six months, Stevens undertook the formidable challenge of redesigning both the Hawk and the smaller Lark models.
Undaunted by the seemingly impossible task, Brooks Stevens exceeded all expectations by delivering a thoroughly revamped prototype a month ahead of schedule in July 1961. The result was the birth of the Gran Turismo Hawk, which splendidly combined the latest American automotive design trends with elements reminiscent of successful European grand tourers. Stevens retained the general front fascia of previous Hawk models but introduced alterations like redesigned headlights and a radiator grille inspired by contemporary Mercedes-Benz vehicles, which were distributed in the United States through Studebaker’s dealership network. While the front maintained some familiarity, the rest of the car underwent a profound transformation. The roofline was substantially redesigned, incorporating hefty C-pillars resembling those found on the immensely popular Ford Thunderbird’s removable hardtop.
Furthermore, the GT Hawk departed from its tailfin-adorned rear, adopting a more sophisticated swept-back look, accentuated by taillights reminiscent of the Lincoln Continental. Interior improvements were equally impressive, featuring a fully padded dashboard, a pioneering feature at the time, and other cost-effective refinements.
Under the hood, the GT Hawk inherited its predecessor’s chassis and 289-ci (4.7-liter) V8 engine. The V8 was available in standard or optional high-performance configurations, the latter featuring new components, including front disc brakes, radius rods, a rear anti-roll bar, and seatbelts. The R-series Jet Thrust engines from the innovative Avanti were introduced, offering potent performance.
Despite these substantial advancements, the GT Hawk struggled to gain traction against its main competitors, the Ford Thunderbird and Pontiac Grand Prix. Sales figures continuously declined, leading to the discontinuation of the model in December 1963. The final model year saw sales plunge to an abysmal 1,484 units.
While the Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk may not occupy the forefront of contemporary memory, it endures as a testament to the finest American grand tourers ever crafted. With its timeless styling, respectable power, and remarkable comfort, it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with its European counterparts. As described by MotorTrend magazine, the GT Hawk was “a willing and able car definitely in the tradition of the high-speed tourers of Europe.”
Today, well-preserved GT Hawks can be acquired for a modest sum. Models featuring the high-performance R1 or R2 engines command a premium, but standard 289-powered examples offer an affordable option for classic car enthusiasts. To experience a surviving GT Hawk in all its glory, consider watching the YouTube video by Lou Costabile.
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