My first time (to drive 100 mph) was in a ’57 Studebaker Golden Hawk
Tulia, Texas, 1963
I was sixteen years old, attending Tulia High School. I played a trombone in the High School Band, led by Bruce Cook. All of us high school boys were, in varying degrees, “Gear Heads” in that we liked cars. We thought Bruce Cook was cool because he had a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville hardtop with the rare Rochester mechanical fuel injection set up rather than the more common “Tri-Power” three-two barrel carburetor. Mr. Cook was also a very fine band director and he led the Tulia concert band and marching band to many prizes in the various musical contests he entered the band in.
Band director Bruce Cook had a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville in this paint scheme. His Bonneville had the rare Rochester mechanical fuel injection set up.
The boys mostly were “Chevy guys” or “Ford guys.” Ray Sprawls liked the Mopars. I fell into the Ford camp as I had bought Don Shackleford’s Dresden Blue ’57 Ford Custom when he ordered a new Ford Falcon Sprint hardtop, but what I REALLY liked were Packards and Studebakers. I liked to go by Elliff’s Body Shop because Mr. Elliff liked Studebakers, too. He had a black and white ’56 Studebaker Sky Hawk hardtop and assorted other Studebakers.
The father of Dana Elliff, the girl with the most bodacious ta-ta’s in Tulia High, had a ’56 Studebaker Sky Hawk.
There was a Ford dealer, John Wilkerson, a Chevy dealer and Hutto’s Chrysler-Plymouth in town. In a town as small as Tulia, there were no other new car dealerships. I indulged my Packard fantasies by looking at T.A. Hayhurst’s 1955 Packard Clipper Constellation hardtop at church on Sundays. Someone else at church, whose name I don’t recall, had a rare ’57 “Packardbaker” Country Sedan station wagon, one of only 869 built.
T.A. Hayhurst, a local printer, had a Citrine and Onyx ’55 Packard Clipper Constellation. Someone else – I recall the car, but not the owner – had a rare ’57 “Packardbaker” Clipper Country Sedan, one of 869 built.
Tulia is located in the Texas panhandle roughly equidistant to my home town, Lubbock, to the south and Amarillo to the north. It is a farming community and was home to my maternal grandparents and quite a few other relatives on my mother’s side of the family. Why I was in Tulia rather than in Lubbock in 1963 is a story for another day.
My grandparents lived at 412 North Collins Street. My mother had a sister and five brothers. Her youngest brother, Jerry, was only slightly older than me and we both attended Tulia High in 1963. My political character, “Jerry Mander,” spells his name “Jerry” rather than “Gerry” as you might expect from the pun on the word “gerrymander” as a hat tip to my uncle Jerry, whose politics are as Conservative as mine. It’s funny that after all these years I still remember the address of my grandparents’ home.
My grandparents’ home was here, 412 N. Collins. In 1963, there were houses on every lot on the block.
It was that ability to remember things that led to my first time (to drive 100 miles per hour). I was working in a grocery store, Griffith’s Food Town, after school and on weekends. Food Town was in many ways an advanced store for the times, especially considering that it was in Tulia, whose population was about 6,000 then. (It has since shrunk to around 4,000.)
Food Town measured 150′ x 175′, giving it 26,250 square feet at a time when the next largest grocery store in town, Littlejohn Bros., measured only 4,000 square feet. Food Town had a snack bar, a bakery and on the west side, a built-in convenience store that was open nights and Sundays. The regular store was closed on Sundays. The size of the store and the number of departments in Food Town were rare for the day, all the more so given Tulia’s size.
A man named Warren Trewick became a meat cutter at Food Town. I had long been fascinated with the low slung Studebaker coupes designed by Robert Bourke and which (as we saw last week) had morphed into the Studebaker Hawks.
Warren had a ’57 Golden Hawk, which meant that it had the 289 cubic inch V8 and a supercharger. It was Arctic White with Tiara Gold fins and a gold interior. Oh, my, it was a beautiful car! I made it a point to let Warren know that I knew a lot about Studebakers and that they were among my favorite cars.
The interior in Warren’s Golden Hawk was the same as in this ’57 Golden Hawk.
One day I was talking to Warren about his Hawk. I learned that he had recently purchased it. There wasn’t a Studebaker dealer in Tulia. Warren was wondering where he might get a Service Manual for the car. His jaw dropped when I told him to write Studebaker’s Service and Parts Division at 635 South Main Street, South Bend, 27, Indiana. He was amazed that I knew by memory the address, down to the postal code (27) that larger cities used before the ZIP codes were introduced later that year – 1963.
Somewhat nervously, I asked him if I might drive it. Up to that point in my young life, I had never driven a Studebaker of any description, although my Aunt Susie had once had a ’52 Studebaker Commander hardtop, but I was too young to drive when she had it.
Warren and I were both on lunch break when I gave him the address for Studebaker. Warren agreed to drive the car out to the Dimmitt Highway and then let me drive back.
I remember being nervous in anticipation as I got into the passenger seat of this beautiful Golden Hawk. We drove west on S.W. 2nd Street to Highway 87, turned south onto Highway 87, then west onto Highway 86 which went to Dimmitt via Nazareth.
In those days, the sale of alcoholic beverages in Texas was tightly controlled. The Baptists and the bootleggers (but I repeat myself …) saw to that. Alcoholic beverage sales had to be voted in precinct-by-precinct. Between Tulia and Dimmitt was Nazareth. The good folks of Nazareth had voted their precinct to be “wet.” Dotted across Texas are many German settlements, either Lutheran or Catholic. Admiral Chester Nimitz was from one such, a German Lutheran settlement, Fredericksburg. Nazareth was populated by German Catholics, and they weren’t going to be denied their beer. So Nazareth was “wet,” and on Friday and Saturday nights, traffic on Highway 86 to and from Nazareth was heavy with people living in “dry” areas making their pilgrimage to Nazareth for alcohol.
Warren drove his proud Hawk out on Highway 86 stopping well short of Nazareth. He pulled over, turned the car around back toward Tulia and we exchanged seats. I had a lump in my throat as I got behind the wheel. I took an admiring look at the full instrumentation and the engine-turned dashboard, adjusted the seat and the mirrors, eased the car into “Drive” and began heading back to Tulia.
No “idiot lights.” The Golden Hawks had a full set of instruments fitted into an engine-turned dashboard.
As I approached 60 miles per hour, I asked Warren if he had taken the Hawk up to 100. He looked at me somewhat nervously – he could see where the question was going – and replied, “Yes, a few times.” I asked him if he cared if I took the car to 100. He reluctantly assented. There was really no other traffic on the road, so I brought the car to a stop and then put the gas pedal to the floor. I well-remember the feeling of the engine as the supercharger went from low boost to “full puff mode.” When the supercharger kicked in to full boost, it seemed the speedometer needle leapt toward 100. My heart was racing, my mouth had turned to cotton and the pulse in my wrists throbbed, but I kept the gas pedal down and reached the 100 mile per hour mark. I glanced over at Warren, I could tell he was nervous about my driving the car at 100 despite his consent for me to do so. I was keeping a wary eye out both for the Texas Department of Public Safety, a.k.a. the Highway Patrol, and for the big Oldsmobile driven by my Uncle Donald’s father-in-law, Sheriff Smith. After driving a mile or so at 100, I lifted my foot from the gas pedal and let the Hawk coast down to 60. As if to reassure Warren that I didn’t want to wreck his Hawk, after a couple of miles at 60, I pulled over and let him drive us back to Food Town. And that was my first time, courtesy of a Studebaker Golden Hawk, at 100 miles per hour.
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Please note that with input from “Studebaker Barry” in Texas and from George H., I corrected some factual errors I made in last week’s post.
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1957 Studebaker TV ad: