(a.k.a. Red Car Day at Chez la Vache!)
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Our Ruby Tuesday post two weeks ago was about the still-beautiful 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner, which (as you have read) is in «Louis'» opinion, the most beautiful car ever built. If you have been following the history of Studebaker and Packard «Louis» has been posting on Ruby Tuesday, you will recall that in 1954, Packard, now led by the dynamic James Nance, had bought Studebaker as a step in a grand plan posited by Nash president George Mason to become the fourth full-line U.S. automaker after General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The newly merged company would be called American Motors. Toward that end in 1954 , Nash bought Hudson and Packard bought Studebaker. These two halves were then to merge to complete Mason's grand plan.
Then the chain cigar-smoking Mason got pneumonia and died. Nash was taken over by Mason's second-in-command, George Romney, father of current U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney did not like James Nance and refused to complete the merger. Not only that, he cancelled the component-sharing plans Mason and Nance had worked out. Nance had built an all-new engine and transmission plant in Utica, MI in no small measure to supply Nash and Hudson with Packard's new V8 engine and re-tooled Ultramatic Drive automatic transmission. Romney tooled Nash to built its own V8 and bought Hydramatic Drive automatic transmissions from GM, leaving Nance with excess capacity at Utica. Romney also refused to supply Nance with Nash-Hudson built components for Studebaker-Packard. Romney was going to go his own way, and did...
Nance had arrived in Packard in 1952. The auto industry has long lead-times in product development, so the earliest practical model year in which the Nance imprint would appear in great detail on Packard cars was 1955. The first built-from-scratch Nance Packard was to be the 1957 models. More about the 1955-1956-1957 Packards in future posts. This brings us to 1956, a stop-gap year for Studebaker-Packard.
The merger between Studebaker and Packard was completed in 1954. With Packard, having received most of the development money for its 1955 models, Nance gave Studebaker most of the development money for 1956. Nance desperately needed to get more volume out of Studebaker, whose plants in South Bend, Indiana and Los Angeles, California were vastly underutilized. (In retrospect, Nance should have closed Los Angeles as soon as it was clear that Romney would not follow through on Mason and Nance's merger plans. In the end, it wouldn't have changed the outcome, but in the short term, it would have kept Studebaker from bleeding so much money off of Packard. Studebaker had the highest labor costs in the industry. Neither the South Bend nor Los Angeles plants were operating at any where near capacity. South Bend easily could have supplied the West Coast with all the cars built at Los Angeles. The additional shipping cost would have been more than offset by the savings in labor.)
To get more volume out of Studebaker for 1956, the Bourke-designed body shells were given a handsome facelift by stylist Vince Gardner. Studebaker extended the model range in the sedans by adding a President Classic to the top of the range President line. The regular President was built on the 113" wheelbase chassis that the Champion and Commander lines were built on; the President Classic was on the 120" wheelbase. (Had Bourke gotten his way for the 1953 models, all the sedans would have been on the 120" wheelbase. Studebaker management, in one of the mistakes that put them under, insisted on the 113" wheelbase, a decision that made the resulting sedans look foreshortened and somewhat dumpy while the Land Cruiser (which became the President for 1955 and beyond) were built on the 120" wheelbase and thus were much nearer to the ideal Bourke strove for in the sedans. Had Bourke gotten his way, the sedans would have rivaled his stunning Starliner coupe in beauty.) For 1956, trying to reach into more market segments to give Studebaker more volume, Nance approved two versions of the Starliner (hardtop) and two versions of the Starlight (pillared coupe) spun off from Bourke's 1953 design. These four cars would be the Studebaker Hawks.
At the bottom of the range was the Flight Hawk. This was a pillared coupe powered by the Champion's 6 cylinder engine. Next up was the Power Hawk, a pillared coupe powered by Studebaker's 259 cubic inch V8 used in the Commander series.
The top of the Hawk line for 1956 was the Golden Hawk, powered by the Packard 352 cubic inch V8. The 1956 model year was no where nearly as good for the industry as 1955, and both Studebaker and Packard suffered volume losses - fatal in the case of Packard. Alas, the four versions of the Hawk only were only built for the 1956 model year.