Car of the Week: 1963 Studebaker GT Hawk

Scott Seering promised his late Studebaker buddy that he’d never sell his wonderful 1963 GT Hawk, and so far he’s had no problem being a man of his word
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Car of the Week 2020
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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Scott Seering has a theory about Studebakers and their owners. The die-hard fans of the nameplate are a loyal bunch – loyal to each other and loyal to the orphan brand. And when it comes time for the cars to change hands, it helps to be in the inner circle of Studebaker Nation — or at least a card-carrying member of the Studebaker Driver’s Club. Otherwise, you might be out of luck.

“One of my best friends owned this car,” noted Seering, gazing proudly at his 1963 Gran Turismo Hawk. “And at least with Studebakers, the really good cars go to people in the club. I loved the car and I already had an Avanti, and I didn’t think I was going to get this one. I actually owned a supercharged Hawk that looked just like this, but not near as nice. I had been begging him to sell it for a number of years. Finally he relented and sold the car to me.

“Two years ago the poor guy died of cancer and this was the lead car in his funeral.”

Seering promised his late Studebaker buddy that he’d never sell his ’63 GT Hawk, and so far he’s had no problem being a man of his word. Seering has lusted after cars of the marque from a young age, owned several, and frequently serves as a judge for the class at various regional and national meets. He had some fun in June 2011 with his car at the National Studebaker Drivers Club Meet in Springfield, Mo., where the car scored 385 points out of a possible 400 after making 400-plus-mile trek from Seering’s home in Gleason, Wis.

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“It got almost no deductions for the interior. It was painted in ’89, so there is some paint chips and stuff like that,” Seering noted. “The spark plugs might not be the exact color, but it’s close enough for me.

“At regional meets it’s won many best-of-class awards … It’s just a beautiful original Studebaker. The fit and finish on this car is factory. The interior is exactly correct. It was a beautiful car, and the advice I would give anybody is, if you can buy a car that is done, that’s the way to go! I built up [a 1964] Avanti that was a piece of junk in 1988. It’s a beautiful car — it’s a round-headlight Avanti — but that car had over 100 cracks in the fiberglass, where this was a correct, original car that ran like a top.”

Seering is quick to credit the two previous owners for how well the Gran Turismo Hawk has survived. The car certainly was nicely pampered by the original owner, a woman named Marcella Koebl, who bought the car in January 1964 in Oshkosh, Wis. Koebl received $911 for her 1951 Studebaker sedan as a trade-in, and ponied up the tidy sum of $2,900 to take her sporty new coupe home. Seering’s Studebaker-loving friend, Bob Sanders of Schofield, Wis., bought the car from her estate and enjoyed it for eight years before Seering became the third owner.

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He has done some minor repairs and updates to the car, but for the most part, Seering has been able to enjoy his Studebaker just the way Sanders did. “Bob and his family had run a body shop, Sanders Collision in Schofield,Wis., and they had painted it in 1989 with the Ermine White that you see on it now,” he said. “They painted over bolts and stuff like that. I’ve made it correct. I’ve re-cored the radiator, done all the maintenance, re-plated the valve covers … just to make it up to snuff.

“That’s the way I have to have it because I’m a guy that believes that stock is the only way to go.”

Seering admitted he lusted after the car for years, in part because of its rarity and unique combination of attractive options. GT Hawks came standard with a 289-cid, 210-hp V-8, but they could also be ordered with the 240-horse R1 engine found in the Avanti. Seering’s car came with such a powerplant. It also has power front disc brakes, which were offered as an option in 1963, and also carries the four-speed transmission.

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According to Seering, his Hawk is one of 396 that had the hotter R1 engine, and it’s one of only 97 that had both the Avanti engine and the four-speed. Seering’s car was also ordered with optional undercoating, a windshield washer, “Climatizer” heater and defroster and push-button radio.

The Hawk was in the second year of its second life in 1963. The Hawk series debuted in 1956 in the middle of Studebaker’s hierarchy, but the cars took on a whole new identity in 1962 when Brooks Stevens redesigned the Hawks with a European look and flair that was clearly inspired by Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce and others. The front ends were particularly European looking, while the Hawk’s profile was more reminiscent of the Thunderbirds of the era.

The 1963 models got a few subtle changes, but nothing like they had received the year before. A new squared grille was added, round parking lamps were placed under the headlamps, and the interiors received new pleated vinyl seats and woodgrain trim on the instrument panel. The cars rode on 120.5-inch wheelbases and measured 204 inches from bumper to bumper. Shipping weight was listed at 3,230 lbs.

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A total of 4,009 GT Hawks were built for the 1963 model year— a number that didn’t bode well for the model after it debuted with 8,388 cars built for 1962. The number dwindled even further to 1,484 in 1964 — the GT Hawk’s final year.

Succeeding with any model by the time the 1960s dawned turned out to be an insurmountable challenge for Studebaker, and for all its great qualities, the GT Hawk was doomed to live a short life. Having established competitors such as the Corvette and Thunderbird in place certainly didn’t help, and butting heads with the new Mustang was probably the final blow.

For guys like Seering, though, the GT Hawks were as good as things got among American cars of the era. He figures he has a handsome hobby car that can handle any road trip, performs well enough to keep up with any kind of traffic, and is unusual enough to stand out at any car show.

“It’s just a fun car to drive,” he said. “To me it shifts like a sports car – it shifts like an MG or an Austin-Healey, something along that order. For somebody who’s worked in garages since I was in high school, it’s just fun to drive. It’s got the big old steering wheel so you’ve got the leverage. It’s just very smooth, stable, safe. It cruises effortlessly at highway speed. On the drive to Springfield from my house, which is 825 miles, I averaged 20, 21 miles per gallon. That’s tremendous.”

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Seering says he often splits his hobby miles between his GT Hawk and his Avanti. “After one more tuition payment, a Champ pickup is going to be in my future, too,” he jokes.

When he’s not busy piloting one of his Studes, Seering settles for seat time in his Corvette. He is adamant that his allegiance will never change, however. “Yeah, I have a Corvette — a newer one — and I drive that one, too,” he says, almost apologetically. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, you’re a Corvette guy now.’

“No, I’m a Studebaker guy that happens to own a Corvette.”

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