mid-century intellectual capital

By | January 4, 2014

In 1961, Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert called his longtime friend Brooks Stevens to restyle the latest variation of the 1953 Starliner. Stevens renamed it the Gran Turismo Hawk. The 5-seat sport coupe was produced for the model years 1962-64.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk

designer-bob-bourke-for-loewy-1953-studebaker-commander-starliner1-21953-studebaker-starliner-interior-21953-studebaker-dashboard

1953-studebaker-starliner

1953 Studebaker Starliner

Of all the hundreds of American car manufacturers that have come and gone or are still in business, Studebaker was a company that proved to be innovative, resourceful, and well-respected. From what I’ve read about and seen in Studebaker video documentaries, it was the kind of environment that I would have chosen to work within nearly every department.

By the early 1960’s its corporate structure had diversified to include TWA (airline), STP (engine oil additive), Paxton (engine supercharger), Onan (small engine/generator), Clarke (floor cleaning and maintenance tools) and others. When the car factory in South Bend, Indiana closed in December, 1963, the decision was made by a board of directors which had a view toward future profits through buying and selling commodities.

The relation of Studebaker car manufacturing to automotive history, and to the horse drawn wagon and carriage history dating back to 1852, puts this company in a stand alone category. However, for the Studebaker board members in the early 1960’s, its car manufacturing division was merely one financial ledger amongst a broad portfolio of ledgers–one commodity amongst many, to combine or sell at will.

Despite all that, today there are thousands of Studebaker motor cars that have been preserved and my top two choices for a personal cruiser would be a 1964 Avanti and 1954 Starlight coupe. Overall, I’ve read that many Studebaker original equipment parts are fairly easy to find. Even still, today’s automotive aftermarket supply business is huge and so it’s quite easy to buy a whole new custom chassis, steering, and suspension package and then bolt on your favorite Studebaker body. Ultimately, that’s what I’d do–combine the latest technology in drive train, suspension, etc. with the coach design by some of the best engineers in automotive history.

Here’s an ad for the 1957 Supercharged Golden Hawk. 275hp V-8. As for the body, it’s the first year with the rear fender fins. But guess what? The company engineers, because of low capital, had to design those fins as bolt-on fiberglass panels. The Hawk series was an extension of the 1953 Starliner/Starlight coupe design and with yearly revisions it was carried into the 1964 model year.

One more thing regarding Studebaker as an innovator is the fact that during its transition from building horse drawn carriages to building horseless carriages, it produced electric cars from 1902-1912. This fact brings the question of how can a company with a history of manufacturing sustainable technology get forced into obsolescence? The whole story of Studebaker into the 1960’s turned out as a classic tragedy–in this case, a truly great association of people overcome by a cartel of competing car manufacturers, bankers, and governmental groups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *