Failed 1954 Packard-Studebaker Merger; Creation of Golden Hawk & Silver Hawk

Greg Zyla
A Reader Writes: Greg, my grandfather had a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk with a straight-drive factory overdrive 3-speed manual and a 352ci Packard engine. It would run over 100mph in that overdrive gear easily.
My family also owned a 1959 Lark, but never a Packard. Can you give an update on that Packard and Studebaker merger I remember? Why did it fail? Thanks for all your columns. Charles M., retired and now living in St. Johns, FL.
The Author Responds: There were two Packard engines that powered the 1956 Golden Hawk, specifically a 352ci V8 producing 275-horses and a 374-incher developing 310-horses. The “straight-drive” overdrive was one of two transmissions available for the 1956 Golden Hawk. Specifically, there was a manual Borg Warner T85 3-speed with overdrive you refer to and the Packard built “Twin Ultramatic” automatic trans-mission.
The Ultramatic mated to a 3.07 rear gear, while the 3-speed manual had a more high-performance friendly 3.92 rear axle ratio thanks to the overdrive. Surprisingly, of the 4,071 Golden Hawks built in 1956, only 786 came with the overdrive manual T85 transmission. The other Golden Hawks were automatics so not many got to experience what your grand-father did back in 1956.
In 1957, Studebaker eliminated the Packard engines, relying on a supercharged 289ci V8 to arrive at the same 275-horses as the 352 Packard.
Being that I mention Packard again and again, I will now address your question about the merger of the two that took place in 1954. Specifically, as the decade of the 1950s moved forward, Packard started to lose market share in the luxury car sales race. This led to what has to be one of the worst mergers in car history when Packard joined forces with Studebaker because Studebaker had way more dealers across the United States.
Notable is that it was Packard that pursued the merger, and what Packard executives later discovered was that Studebaker “cooked the books” when presenting its financial strength. This fact went undetected until the merger was legally binding and irreversible.
As for the few highpoints of this deal, perhaps the most beautiful Studebaker ever built was the aforementioned “Hawk class” models that included the initial Golden Hawk in 1956 and then followed by the Silver Hawk that joined the family in 1957. Both were ahead of the time and respected today for outstanding two-door sport coupe styles.
Notable is during its 1956-1958 production run, only 9,305 Golden Hawks were ever built and noted Hawk designer Robert Bourke receives kudos for his styling efforts. The Golden Hawks were pillarless hardtops while the Silver Hawk had a B-pillar. By 1959, only the Silver Hawk was available and by 1961, it was called solely the Hawk. A GT Hawk appeared in 1962 and lasted through 1964 with very limited sales of just 1,855 units sold for the three year duration. This ended the beautiful Hawk design’s run.
The final “real” Packard came to market in 1956, when the company released some beautiful models. Packard’s design for 1956 included a facelift from the 1955 new generation, its best was the 1956 Caribbean convertible or hardtop in tri-tone color. Today, these Packards command big money at the auctions and feature Packard’s first ever overhead valve V8 that debuted in 1955.
Unfortunately, by 1957 the Packard cars were pretty much Studebakers with Packard badges and by 1958, Studebaker emerged as the sole brand that would take the company into the future. Packard officials felt that the larger Studebaker dealership network and the aforementioned “Packard badge on Studebaker cars” would sell.
It was not to be, however, as only a few Packards were available in 1957 including a four-door sedan and a Country Sedan Wagon. Consumers weren’t fooled and knew immediately that the Packards they loved in the 1940s and early 1950s were now Studebakers with Packard badges. The result was Packard sales drop-ping to just 4,857 units, overall that year.
In 1958, even fewer Packards were sold and by mid-year, Packard-Studebaker announced all Packard production would cease. Later, Studebaker found some profits thanks to the 1959 Lark, which debuted as a new body style on the same 1958 chassis. The Studebaker brand labored on when the final vehicle was built in 1966, called the Cruiser, and featured Chevrolet engines and transmissions as Studebaker had stopped driveline production in late 1965.
This sums up the sad tale of the Packard-Studebaker merger. Thanks for your letter.
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