Before there was a Studebaker Hawk, there was the 1955 President Speedster, and it foreshadowed the style and features of the 1956-1964 Hawk model line. Let’s have a closer look.
We can’t say the 1955 President Speedster fathered the Studebaker Hawk, exactly. The ’56 Hawks were already well on their way down the development pipeline when the Speedster made its appearance, first as a short run of show cars, than as an official production model. Still, it can be seen that Studebaker’s flashy ’55 flagship model helped to define the style and features of the four-model Hawk line that was introduced for 1956. The Speedster is an interesting car in its own right, too, so let’s check it out.
The first President Speedster, based on a production K-body President State hardtop, was completed at Studebaker’s South Bend, Indiana plant on August 27, 1954, and another 13 units were assembled over the next week or so. These first 14 cars were intended for display purposes only, but evidently they were a hit, as two months later the Speedster went into regular production. A total of only 2,215 units were built before ’55 model-year production wound up in September of 1955.
The Speedster’s price was exclusive as well: $3,253, nearly $800 more than the standard President two-door hardtop and well into Buick Roadmaster territory. Included in the hefty sticker price was a long, long list of standard equipment, starting with the 259.8 CID Passmaster V8 with 185 horsepower, dual exhausts, and power steering and power brakes.
The first 14 Speedster show cars were finished in a flamboyant two-tone combo of Hialeah Green and Sun Valley Yellow (above and lead photo) that was soon nicknamed “Lemon-Lime.” This scheme also proved to be the most popular of the Speedster production colors, while other available combinations (there were eight total) included Shasta White/Velvet Black and Coraltone/Pimlico Gray, all with matching interior schemes. The catalog art above shows the extra bright metal and badging found exclusively on the Speedster, including the wide basket-handle trim (inset) that dressed out the C-pillar and rear window.
The Speedster’s cabin was boldly upholstered in diamond-pleated leather for the seats, with matching diamond-pleat vinyl for the door panels and headliner and lush deep-pile carpeting on the floors. Interior colors were matched to the equally flamboyant exterior paint schemes, and must have been quite a sensation in Studebaker showrooms in 1955.
One of the most memorable Speedster features is the dash, which is unique to this model. To reduce tooling costs for the short production run, it was molded in Royalite, an ABS plastic developed by U.S. Rubber. Since the dash contained no glovebox, a map pocket was sewn into the passenger door panel. An engine-turned, stainless steel instrument panel insert housed six racing-style Stewart-Warner gauges with white-on-black faces. With a somewhat different layout, the sporty dash theme was carried over into the Hawk line in 1956.
With barely 2,200 units produced, the Speedster had no major impact on Studebaker sales in 1955, which totaled around 116,000 vehicles. But it did influence the automaker’s Hawk line through its nine-year (1956-1964) model run, and in Studebaker collector circles, the President Speedster remains a coveted car to this day.