If you’re in the market for a midsize car today, you have plenty of choices. Well, for now, as the ever present crossover is rapidly compelling the manufacturers to kill off the traditional midsize sedan. Several nameplates from which to choose–Camry, Impala, Fusion and Optima and of course Accord, to name a few. And they all come in the same flavor of competent albeit repetitive design and styling. Where’s the flair, man? Once upon a time, before safety standards, emissions and plain old public demand trumped style, a buyer could get virtually whatever their heart desired, right down to colors, options–and yes, Virginia, even a body style other than the now-ubiquitous four-door sedan. Want an aqua Skylark convertible with a white interior, V8 and four-speed? Done! How about a red Lark Wagonaire with a red interior, 350 McKinnon (nee GM) V8, power retractable roof over the cargo area, and automatic transmission? No problem. You could have those cars and everything in between–in 1965. Everything from cheapskate beige two-door post with manual everything to fully loaded sports convertible with a fire-breathing powerplant. So let’s set the way-back machine to Autumn 1964 and see what we can get.
The 1962-64 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk is my favorite Studebaker. It was the last of a line of Studebaker Hawks that began in 1956. But thanks to the deft hand of Milwaukee’s famous industrial designer, Brooks Stevens, it was remarkably refreshed in Autumn of ’61 for one last hurrah.
But its structural origins went back to the early Fifties. And while it wasn’t much of a secret to anyone who had an interest in Studebakers, the improved 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk somehow managed to be newer, fresher and more interesting than the sum of its parts.
Since I first attended an SDC meet thanks to my parents back in 1996, I have loved Studebaker. But even I have to admit that, in the end, Studebaker did themselves in. They very nearly went under in the 1930s, but thanks to the new management team of Harold Vance and Paul Hoffman–and in no small part, healthy refinancing and restructuring–Studebaker survived the Depression. By late 1933, against all odds, the corporation was back in the black. Unfortunately, those same guys started making the decisions that led to the last South Bend Studebaker cars leaving the soon-to-be-shuttered factory in December 1963, only a few short months into the 1964 model year.
Studebaker got off to a great start in the postwar era with their startlingly modern, all-new 1947 line.
I have been a Studebaker fan for some time. I blame my parents. Back in 1996, during a particularly difficult year health-wise, my mom and dad took me to an SDC meet at the Moline Holiday Inn. I was smitten. There were so many cool models! 1950-51 “bullet nose” Champions and Commanders, Golden Hawks, Larks, all kinds of great stuff. But perhaps my favorite model at the show was the Gran Turismo Hawk.
Cleverly restyled by Milwaukee-based industrial designer, Brooks Stevens, this was essentially a 1953 “Loewy coupe” with some cosmetic surgery and a Thunderbird-inspired roofline. Introduced for the 1962 model year, it was a surprisingly modern update for such an old design. Keep in mind, most American cars in the ’50s and ’60s got 2-3 year redesigns, even if it was sitting atop the same old chassis. Studebaker, with the lack of the Big Three’s deep pockets, had to improvise.