Not many cars in our American car history have marked so many “firsts” as the 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk 56J. After the merger of Studebaker and the Packard Motor Car Company, The Studebaker Hawk was the first new model produced by the combined new company. It was taken from the Raymond Loewy original designs for the 1953-55 Studebaker Starliner, generally considered a masterpiece of futuristic design back in the day. The Golden Hawk was one of four Studebaker Hawk models premiered in 1956. The Golden Hawk 56J was the top of the line pillarless hardtop and was sold as its own model.
This week, Arizona Classics out of Scottsdale, Arizona posted this sensational example of a first-year 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk 56J model. (Click here to view the ad on Arizona Classics’ website.) Arizona Classics points out that it was the “First American, family-sized sports car”. It is “perfect throughout,” they tell us. It was factory optioned with power steering, ‘Heavy Duty’ power 11” drum brakes, Ultramatic-Drive transmission, and dual exhaust. The beautiful Snowcap White over Sunglow Gold two-tone paint compliments a “perfectly restored interior featuring pleated seats, padded dash and sun visors (all options.) It also comes with optional tach and vacuum gauges, electric clock and rear cent armrest. Because the Golden Hawk cost so much for Studebaker to produce, it came with almost no standard optional equipment. So a new car buyer would have had to have ordered these options and paid extra for them, increasing the cost of a new car purchase.
Although the Golden Hawk got a bad rap because of the heavy 352 big block 5.8L Packard engine mounted in a 3,360-pound little sports car. Packard’s 352 ci 5.8 L V8 with the 4-barrel carburetor and overhead cam was rated from the factory at 275 horsepower, and created 380-ft/lb of torque. Back in the day the rumor was that it made the Golden Hawk “nose heavy.” (This rumor seemed to have been predicated when some Studebaker dealers actually installed 374 ci Packard engines in the Golden Hawks with dual quad carburetors. The car was not designed for that big a mill and was understandably front heavy.) But people who actually tested the 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk 56J said it had the perfect power-to-weight ratio, much like the Chrysler 300B. One magazine tested the Golden Hawk against the Chrysler 300B, Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette. They stated that the Golden Hawk outperformed all of them easily in 0-60 miles per hour acceleration and in quarter-mile times. They said it did 0-60 in just 7.8 seconds. Nobody disputed that it would do 125 mph with no trouble. The Packard Ultramatic dual-range automatic transmission with a “direct drive” clutch would engage in high gear. It was a predecessor of the overdrive transmissions which would not come into use for another thirty years.
Among other first-year technical improvements were Safety-Fin brake drums (creating extra cooling); self-tightening wheel bolts; padded dash and padding on the rear of the front seat; and a “hill holder,” to prevent the Golden Hawk from rolling back on hills. The car also featured a tachometer and vacuum gauges as well as a 12-volt electrical system and 30-amp generator. This ground breaking car was never recognized for the important innovations it introduced to the American automotive industry. But it does hold that place in history. There is not doubt that the unique Golden Hawk was the fore runner of the ’60s muscle cars. It was a performance car way ahead of its time.
The 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk 56J differed from the original Loewy design with an “egg crate” style front grille and raised hoodline to allow for the bigger motor. It also had fiberglass raised fins on top of the rear quarters, and was two inches shorter than the original design with a squared off rear valance. These first year Hawks became famous for their two-tone paint schemes. There were 4,071 Golden Hawks built in 1956, in that first year of production. They were built from 1956 through 1958. The 56J Registry figures that only about 500 of these cars still exist today.