8th Aug 2005, 22:15

I've owned 2 cars of the Champion-Hawk series being discussed: a 1953 Champion Starlight hardtop, and a 1962 Hawk, and drove each of them for years. In later years I worked as a professional mechanic and an automotive journalist, writing for Road & Track, HOT ROD, Car Craft, and Autocraft magazines, so I've worked on, driven and owned quite a few good cars to compare them to.

Enough background. The '53 Champion was a hardtop, which I fell deeply in love with when I passed it every day commuting to college. It was parked in the driveway of a country home, and a good deal of begging and $700 finally managed to persuade the previous owner to part with it.

It's lower body had been painted a metallic gold - very pretty - and its hardtop a Chevy Arctic White truck color, making a very attractive combination. It had a flathead 6 cylinder engine in it - 200 cid, I believe - and a 3-speed overdrive transmission. It was no great shakes in the acceleration department, but its streamlining and the overdrive transmission permitted a top speed of 105 mph with your foot all the way to the floor, at maybe 3000 RPM, but definitely drag limited. I once drove it this way from Dallas, Texas to San Antonio, averaging 86 mph and 26 mpg.

But there's more to a car than streamlining. Tires weren't as good, back in the '50s, when I owned it, the shocks were mediocre, the frame was whippy rather than rigid, and the steering was slow. It was no sports car. As a high-speed cruiser, however, it was great.

And it was beautiful, possibly the best-looking car ever made. And rare. People used to ask me if it was a Maserati, or some other expensive foreign-made GT, and I hated to admit it was made by Studebaker, it made it sound no more classy than a Rambler.

The interior was NOT on a par with the body's looks. It had a bench front seat, few instruments, and no class in the dash layout at all.

But the overdrive made it, mechanically. And oh, those looks. If I had it today I'd rebuild it with later, better, engine, tranny, suspension, steering and brakes, and "Z" the frame. Piece of cake.

The '62 Hawk my wife and I bought in 1967, when I was working as a printer. It had a 289 V8 with a 4-bbl carb, dual exhausts, Twin-Traction limited-slip rear end with 3.73 gears, and a 3 speed-overdrive tranny. It handled very well, despite its slow-ratio steering, and it was quite fast for its day. 0-60 took about 8 seconds, about 105 in the 1/4 mile (the effect of the long gearing) and a top speed of about 130. Thanks to the overdrive transmission, it gave about 30 mpg in highway driving.

I agree with the comments made earlier about its body's design changes. The grille now looked like a Mercedes. In defense of Studebaker's choice here, I think they did this to permit a larger radiator and better air flow for a V8. Even with the 6, the '53 had horrible cooling problems in Texas summers, it seemed like it was always boiling over, even when running pure water.

The rear cockpit shape, stolen from the T-bird, was less defensible; it was truly an attempt to gild a lily, and compromised the car's excellent streamlining.

It, too, suffered from slow steering and a whippy frame. If I had it again, again, I'd "Z" its frame.

Its interior was much better than the '53. Great dash, full instruments, including tach, reclinable bucket seats that folded all the way down to the back seat to form 2 single beds, very attractive, quality upholstery. Truly a very beautiful car, inside and out.

The complaint about sagging doors is legitimate, but many 2-door coupes suffer from this problem, including the later Camaro and Mustang. The doors in all these cars were so heavy and long (to permit easy access to the backseat), that they exerted strong leverage against the front of the door frame, which eventually would bend, permitting the door to sag and no longer mate to the door latches. Later 2-door coupes, like the late Corvairs, had much lighter doors. I own two of the later Corvairs, and their doors still close perfectly now, 45 years after they were made.

In summary? Both the Champ and the Hawk were above par mechanically for their day, but inferior to the very best. They still remain among the best compromises between streamlining and beauty of all automotive history.

4th Dec 2005, 16:17

I wouldn't doubt it, there's still an official AMC dealership in NC (Collier Motors, look it up in Wikipedia).

24th Oct 2006, 22:24

I owned a 64 1/2 Mustang. To me it was rather mediocre; pretty, quick, but the backseat was for decorative purposes only, and in a good rainstorm, the rear end would chose its own direction.

Compared to that, the Hawk should have been a best seller. Perhaps if they had marketed a dressed up version, racing stripes, mag wheels, airbrushed Hawk on the hood... It's too bad I can't spin off an extra 15,000 or so. I'd love to have one of these classics.

12th May 2012, 12:11

A car without all the garbage computers of today's cars gave 30 mpg?! Yet here we are in 2012, and Detroit can't do any better than they did 50+ years ago. Instead we get uni-body construction, practically all plastic bodies, bumpers that you couldn't push a wheelbarrow with, and about as much room inside as a golf cart in order to get the same 30 mpg?!

12th Feb 2017, 05:16

Care to cite some specific examples to support your claims?