Packard Hawk – 1958

At the time it looked like automotive suicide – and there is certainly a direct relationship between the Packard Hawk’s outrageous styling and the final demise of the company.

Packard had been one of the great prewar American car manufacturers, but lost their way in the superheated market competition of the 1950s. A 1956 merger with Studebaker – also dying on its feet – attempted to blend the companies’ car styles as well as the ledgers. Both were disasters, and the Packard Hawk is their final memorial.

It’s a tough one. You love it for its over-the-top fins, scoops, and ‘features’, and devastating power-to-weight ratio (its groundbreaking use of fibreglass made it extremely fast); or you hate the ridiculous add-ons of a wind scoop on the hood and a pointless, fake continental tire bulge on the trunk, the compressed ‘fishy’ grin of the front grille, and the total lack of aesthetic unity that insulted the respective histories of both Packard and Studebaker.

The Hawk’s seats were leather, with matching Naugahyde trim around the instruments crowded on the dashboard. There were vinyl armrests outside the windows, presumably for super-relaxed driving. The finesse of Studebaker’s early 1950s Starlight and Starliner coupes was stretched into the fishy rictus of Packard’s desperate attempt to make the Hawk attractive – to someone, somewhere. It was said, wonderingly, that the Packard Hawk was ‘the swan [that] had become the ugly duckling’.

The hybrid was so depressingly contrived it was contemptuously dismissed as a ‘Packardbaker’. Yet its Studebaker V8 engine, supercharged, made it the fastest production car ever made by Packard; and stylistically, if only in retrospect, the Packard Hawk’s marriage of form and function is only as overwrought as Le Corbusier’s buildings. Like them, it now looks more robustly effective, if just as strange.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1958

ENGINE:

4.7 l (289cid) OHV V8

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.0 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW

It’s hard to overstate the shock felt in the USA at the demise of Packard. Since 1899, the company had grown big on its high standards of engineering and luxury fittings. It was also Packard who built the V12 engines of the World War I Liberty airplane – a power unit that allegedly’ distinguished itself in rum-running boats after the war.

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