Studebaker Stories:



By Vince (last name withheld by request)

A few days ago, in July on I-40 in North Carolina, I saw the rear end of what I couldn't believe. I got closer to make sure I wasn't mistaken. It was a beautiful '58 Golden Hawk in tow on a trailer. This apparition instantly brought back a flood of memories.

I've never considered myself much of a car buff. In the days when I grew up in rural Virginia, most of the kids I went to school with built model cars and could tell you more about the details of cars than stats' on baseball cards. In the country, at least in that area, racing had a big influence on us all. There was local dirt track racing and there was NASCAR. Most Sunday afternoons we hung around the garage and listened to the race on the radio. NASCAR then was far different than today's; it was about the cars and less as much about the drivers, it was about the love of racing and less as much about the money. Whether you were a Ford or Chevy person was a very serious choice like religion or politics. There were a few Mopar heads too, but mainly Ford or Chevy were the definition of your moral fiber. I guess I never got bit by the car bug in the way they did. My idea of what a car should be was a Studebaker.

I've never understood with the innovations that Studebaker introduced to the automotive industry like streamline body styles, automatic chokes, and hill-holder clutches why Studebaker didn't succeed. Maybe they were just ahead of their time.

The late 50s were a golden age for cars. The '57 Chevy still has somewhat of a cult following. We had one. I don't remember much about it when my dad had it but he sold it to my grandfather. My grandfather let me drive it a couple of times under his supervision and only for a short distance because I was young, but I can say the '57 Chevy was the first car I ever drove. I never understood the fascination with '57 Chevys.

1 The apple of my eye was my dad's '57 Studebaker Silver Hawk. That was the car. It had class and style that nothing else had. Ours was white over black. I remember the unique shape of the cab, the swirl metal dash panel, eloquent and sporty body style, and the hood ornament of a naked lady leaning into the wind that just put the finishing touch on the car. I can't think of a single model of any car yet made that just looks so cool. You can keep the Mustangs, T-birds, Sting-rays, 57' Chevy's, and the like, the Golden and Silver Hawks were the coolest, classiest cars ever made.

But aside from looking good was what was under the hood. I don't remember as much about how it handled, but I do remember that once it was moving, it was moving. It would top out of 2nd at 90 and bury the speedometer in short order (seems that the speedometer went to 120). I never knew the top speed because even after the speedometer was out of site, the Silver Hawk still wanted more road.

The Silver Hawk was primarily used as a family car for us. It served well for a number of years till my dad put it out to pasture (parked it). By that time it had quite a few miles with squeaks and rattles and needed some upholstery work, but I still wanted it. It still ran OK at that time. He would crank it occasionally to keep everything working OK, but in doing that one day an oil line broke and caused some engine problems.

That's were the memories turn dark. My dad, a mechanic, didn't want to fix the car. I started asking to buy the car from him. He didn't want to sell it. Not selling the car was characteristic of him. He hated to sell anything (still has most of the cars he's ever owned). I watched several cars go to rust that he wouldn't sell (though he has preserved a few others over the years like a '56 De Ville). I ask to buy the Silver Hawk a few times and he declined. I figured he would change his mind one day.

Then one day I drove over to his house and noticed the Silver Hawk wasn't there. Gone! He had sold it to someone a few weeks earlier who drove by and ask about it; and not even for a large amount of money. I still don't know the reasons; maybe good ones, maybe not.

In retrospect, the car needed a lot of TLC. And although the body was in good shape, at the time I didn't have the resources to do a project car. And, being at that age, I'm sure I would have just had to drive it most everywhere. As much as I hate to admit it even now, the Studebaker was probably better off - at least that's what I tell myself.

I caught one last quick glimpse of a Silver Hawk in primer about 2 years later that must have been it, and that's the last I saw of it.

Over the years I've watched people's eyes glaze over when I've tried to tell them about the Silver Hawk. I've tried to explain what a marvel it was. Nobody seems to get it. I've pondered all the what ifs'. I've wondered what ever happed to that old car. I've never forgotten about it. I'd like to think it got restored and is still out there somewhere. Where ever it went, a piece of me went with it, and a piece of it is in me.

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