1952 Hudson Hornet
1952 Hudson Hornet. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

When Hudson and Nash joined in 1954 to form American Motors Corporation, it marked the end of the real Hudsons. Although AMC marketed cars with Hudson nameplates until 1957, they were largely re-badged Nashes. The last and best of the genuine Hudsons were built from 1948 to 1954.

Hudson dated back to 1909 when four ex-Olds Motor Works employees formed a car company. Their $90,000 start-up funding came from Joseph L. Hudson, a Detroit department store magnate, and thus his was the name that went on the cars. The company prospered immediately, and by mid-1910 a first-year industry record 4,000 Hudsons had been produced. By 1929 Hudson production had surpassed 300,000 cars.

Hudson, like others, suffered during the Depression of the 1930s, but nameplates like the popular priced Essex and the high performance Terraplane helped pull it through. In 1941, the last full production year before the auto industry switched to war work, Hudson showed a profit of $4 million. Hudson resumed building slightly altered prewar designs on August, 30, 1945, just after the Second World War. It, along with all other manufacturers, capitalized on the pent-up demand for new cars.

Hudson and Studebaker were able to get their new cars models out faster than the big three, GM, Ford and Chrysler. Hudson’s sensational 1948 model appeared in December, 1947. Like the new Studebaker, Hudson made the prewar designs look old and outdated.

The new Hudson’s major impact was its low profile. At 1,534 mm (60.375 in.) high, it was almost 230 mm (9 in.) lower than the ’47 Hudson, and 51 mm (2 in.) lower than the new Studebaker. Its 1,956 mm (77 in.) width allowed a seat 1,626 mm (64 in.) wide in front and 1,600 mm (63 in.) in the rear. Hudson’s lowness was achieved by placing the floor between the frame rails. These rails were part of the over-all body structure,a type of unit construction that tied the body and frame together into one integrated package.

Hudson advertised the safety and convenience of its “Step Down” design. The low centre of gravity gave a good handling car, and Hudson virtually ruled National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) tracks for several years.

Although appearing fat and heavy today, it was in keeping with the “inverted bathtub” look that was popular in that era. The fenders were fully integrated into the body, and the slab sided styling was relieved by a mid-body character line flowing from the front to rear.

Hudson had a new, sturdier, four main-bearing (previously three), side-valve, “Super Six” 4.3 litre (262 cu. in.) engine developing 121 horsepower. The slightly smaller 4.2 litre (254 cu. in.) side-valve, in-line eight continued, rated at 128 horsepower. Some suspected that the new six’s power was underrated to save the eight’s prestige.

Although a fully automatic transmission didn’t come until 1954, courtesy of General Motors, Hudson had an interesting choice in gearboxes. In addition to manual, with optional overdrive, it offered semi-automatic, vacuum-shifted “Drive Master,” or the overdrive-equipped “Super-matic” which shifted itself when the accelerator was released briefly.

The 1948 Hudson’s annual sales were 117,200, 42,000 more than in 1947 and the best year since 1929. Little changed for 1949, Hudson’s 40th anniversary, sales climbed to 159,100.

But the environment was becoming more competitive. The Big Three now had full lines of new models, and the pent-up demand from World War II was almost satisfied. Hudson again carried its main line over into 1950 little changed. A lower priced Pacemaker helped Hudson hold model year sales to 121,408, but they were still about 25 percent below 1949.

For 1951, the company introduced the Hornet, the most famous of all Hudsons, with a 5.0 litre (308 cu in.) 145 horsepower version of the six. More was easily on tap with the factory’s “severe usage” (a nice euphuism for “racing”) parts. This powerful, sturdy engine and the good handling made the Hornet the king of the racing circuits, and helped increase Hudson’s 1951 sales to 131,915.

Nineteen-fifty-two marked the beginning of the end. In spite of the introduction of the new Wasp model on the Pacemaker’s shorter wheelbase, but with a more powerful 4.3 litre (262 cu in.) six, and the briefly offered Hudson Jet compact, sales fell to 70,000 1952s, and 66,143 1953s. Nash and Hudson came together to form AMC on May 1, 1954.

Hudson’s decline was caused by severe competition from the Big Three, a shortage of money for new styling, and the lack of a V-8 engine to fully compete in the horsepower race. Fitting the big six with two-carburetor “Twin-H Power” wasn’t enough. The attrition that would eventually swallow up all of the small independents soon removed J. L. Hudson’s name from the automotive scene.

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