Story and photos by Brian Earnest
A lot of longtime old car guys have found out that if you look long enough and hard enough for a car, the break you are hoping for will probably come eventually.
And good fortune usually shows up when you least expect it.
Such was the case for Tom Upham, of Janesville, Wis., who spotted a strange ad back in 2009 offering to trade a 1957 Studebaker for a pontoon boat. “At the time we were looking for a ’53 Studebaker because that was my very first car when I got out of the Navy,” Upham recalled. “We happened to see this little ad in some magazine. I called the guy and told him I didn’t have a pontoon boat, but I was interested in looking at the car.”
The car was located in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, and Upham picked a miserable winter day to go check it out. “We went down there to look at it and it was buried in a garage. We had to shovel snow to get in the garage. It was like 20-below [zero] — it was in January. We were able to find out that the engine was free on it so we made an offer and the guy took the offer, and when he got ready to sign the paperwork over he had the title from the original owner .. He bought the car but hadn’t titled it … So we made arrangements to go get it two weeks later and we went down with four guys and a trailer and we couldn’t budge the car. We couldn’t move it. It took a come-along to get it out of the garage … We winched it onto the trailer and took it home.”
The black 1957 Silver Hawk clearly hadn’t been driven in many years. Upham never found out exactly how long it had sat idle, but the Studebaker was in remarkable original condition and 100 percent intact. Upham believes the car may have had one repaint, but no other restoration efforts. Once he got it running, each trip in the car was like a ride back into the 1950s.
“We’re not sure about the paint, but it looks really good. Even the inside of the trunk looks this way, so if they painted it, whoever painted it, they did an excellent job. Even the inside of the doors look like the outside,” Upham notes. “The interior is original. The inside and dash and everything has never been painted … All we did was wash and wax it.
“We got it back and got it running and since them we’ve rebuilt the transmission. It’s unusual in that it’s a ’57 Silver with automatic transmission, power brakes and [power] steering both. So two years ago we took it to Colorado to the International Studebaker Meet and we drove the car out there. We had it judged and we came home with a second place trophy… People were amazed at how original it is.”
That journey wasn’t without one setback, however. “We had a good trip, except for about two hours out [on the way back] we threw a rod … so we ended up having to rebuild the engine.”
Upham figures the engine issue was a relatively small price to pay to own one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced machines of its time. With cars like the wonderful Silver Hawk rolling off its assembly lines for 1957, it’s hard to imagine how Studebaker was actually hemorrhaging money at the time and forced to eventually merge with Packard. In 1963, the once-mighty Studebaker plant in South Bend, Ind., was shuttered and the marque itself finally went the way of the dodo bird in early 1966 with final production in Hamilton, Ontario.
Studebaker hoped the Hawk series would help turn business around when the model lineup arrived for 1956. The sexy, sophisticated styling was the calling card for four new cars in the Studebaker lineup: the Flight Hawk, Power Hawk, Sky Hawk and top-tier Golden Hawk. The cars were fitted with unique fiberglass tail fins, had fancy upright radiator shell designs, sporty low profiles and lively performance. But a year later, for 1957, the company replaced the Flight Hawk, Power Hawk and Sky Hawk with the new pillared coupe Silver Hawk. Buyers could opt for either the 289-cid President V-8 engine or the base six-cylinder found in the Champion line. The Silver Hawk was similar in looks to the top-line Golden Hawk, but featured less chrome and no scoop on the hood. The Golden Hawk was also available only as a hardtop and came standard with a belt-driven supercharger.
By 1959, the Silver Hawk was the only Hawk still flying. In 1960, Studebaker dropped the Silver label and went back to calling the model simply the Hawk.
Upham’s car was one of 9,607 Silver Hawks built for 1957. It would have carried a base price of $2,263 before any options were added and tipped the scales at about 3,200 lbs.
The overhead-valve, four-barrel 289 under the hood pushed out 210 or 225 hp. The large fins were now made of metal and had a concave shape with a pointed bullet behind the door opening that pointed at a horizontal body molding. Four finned brake drums did the stopping and a Twin Traction limited-slip differential was optional on V-8-equipped cars. Power steering was also optional, as were power brakes, air conditioning and an automatic transmission to replace the standard three-on-the-tree.
“I had a ’51 [Studebaker] Champ at the time and I was looking for a car to drive,” Upham said of his decision to pursue his Silver Hawk. “A Studebaker was my very first car and over the years we had a ’53 and we had a ’61 Lark, which my wife drove for a while … Then we had a ‘51 ‘bullet nose’ and a ‘62 GT that was kind of a lost cause. When I got out the military in ’59 the first car I bought was a 1953 Studebaker and I’ve always liked them.”
Upham hasn’t found out much about the earl history of his car, but he did get some help from factory records.
“We went to the Studebaker Museum and asked if they could give us an idea when it was built,” he said. “The car was built Oct. 23, 1956 and the build sheet and everything on it matched: Black, red and white interior, 289 V-8 with four-barrel, and had power steering, power bakes and automatic transmission. It had dual antennas — we broke one off yesterday! We put some side mirrors on it. There were no side mirrors on it. In ’57 that was an option. That’s the only thing I’ve really added to it … We put stuff like tires and belts and that sort of stuff. And we drive it.”
One of those trips last summer included a morning run to the Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis., where it attracted plenty of admirers.
“It’s very enjoyable and fun to drive, It’s a head turner. If you are going to see a ’57 Hawk, it’s usually a Golden Hawk. You see very few Silvers. There aren’t too many around,” Upham said. “I drive it all around and I go to all the local car shows. It was on a trailer once when it broke down, but it’s never been on a trailer since.”
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