The fate of the revolutionary cars of the past is not always a happy one. Some achieved commercial success and public acceptance, while others became the cause of the collapse of entire automobile empires. One of the “great Americans” Hudson Hornet, who turned 60 on October 16, has succeeded in both. Recognized by critics and buyers, as well as a taste of high-profile racing victories, this car was the beginning of the end of the famous brand.
With the money of a rag tycoon
Today few remember about the Hudson brand, which, in general, is not surprising – the last car of the company rolled off the assembly line almost half a century ago. But if past accomplishments disappeared in the fog of time, this does not mean that they did not exist at all.
In the early 1920s, the Hudson Essex became the first affordable hardtop car. It was a real sensation for the time.
To begin with, Hudson (in Russian it reads “Hudson”) is curious even for its name. The company received its name not in honor of the chief designer or owner, but thanks to the sponsor. In 1909, four enterprising young men Roscoe Jackson, Roy Chapin, Howard Coffin and Fred Bezner decided to create a car company. All of them had previously been employees of Oldsmobile and knew what to do. The money for the new venture was provided by a prosperous Detroit trader, Joseph Hudson. Not that he was very interested in cars, as much as he wanted to help his own son-in-law. The retail tycoon’s daughter was the wife of one of the firm’s founders, Roscoe Jackson.
And the $ 90,000 from Joseph Hudson was not wasted. The very first model, the Hudson 20, turned out to be successful enough that in the year of its debut the company entered the 11th line of the largest auto companies in the United States. The Hudson Motor Cars Company got on its feet, but its finest hour came in the 1920s. Then the small Essex (in fact, it was not even a model, but a real budget sub-brand) simply blew up the market, offering customers a car with a fully closed body (that is, with a hard top) at an unprecedentedly low price – until that moment, open models were much ahead of on sales of closed colleagues. Thanks to Hudson, this trend has changed once and for all. The nation’s success immediately catapulted the company into one of the largest players in the American market. True, during the years of the Great Depression, Hudson only narrowly escaped collapse, but in the 40s, thanks to orders from the military department, the Detroit company returned financial well-being.
Lie to the rescue
The war was over, the company’s safes were filled with cash again, and demand for new cars outstripped supply. American workers and employees, who made good money on military contracts, enthusiastically began to spend their savings. At the same time, the management of Hudson understood that very soon customers would become more discriminating and demand more sophisticated cars. So the development of a completely new Hudson was not put on the back burner. But what kind of car should it be? Nobody really knew it.
The designs of the first post-war Hudsons were unimaginable. Pictured is a 1947 Commodore.
The leading role in choosing a new direction belongs to the chief designer of the company, Frank Spring. He came to Hudson in 1931 and was known as a very colorful figure. In addition to his passion for oriental philosophy and vegetarianism, Spring was a big fan of European cars. He subscribed to whole boxes of automobile magazines and technical literature about cars of the Old World, admiring creations from Lancia, Citroen, Tatra. The progressive-minded designer was especially fascinated by the idea of a monocoque body, which promised considerable benefits: weight reduction, improved handling, increased safety and comfort.
And this is how Commodore looked just a year later. Agree, the difference is impressive!
However, the opinion of the slightly eccentric stylist was unlikely to be heeded if Mr. Spring had not unexpectedly found allies in the technical department of Hudson. The fact is that during the war, in the workshops of the company, not only engines for landing ships and anti-aircraft guns were assembled, but also elements of the empennage of combat aircraft. Many of the company’s engineers have learned from their own experience how effective aviation technologies are, and in particular, the frameless supporting structure of the fuselage. Using all his eloquence and enlisting the support of the chief designer, Frank Spring convinced the head of Hudson, Abraham Barit, that the future of the car belongs to the monocoque body.
Advertising of the first Hudson so-called “step down” -series. An X-ray diagram of the car’s supporting structure is clearly visible in the left corner from above.
The choice of a new design direction was no less important. The fact that it will not last long on pre-war luggage became clear on the example of Packard. The Clipper, which debuted in 1941, was called the machine of the future, and just five years later it was contemptuously compared to a pregnant elephant. However, one should not go too far – the new Studebaker of 1947 seemed to the public too bold and unusual.
According to the marketing specialists of the company, in 1948 there was no other car on the market with such a wide sofa.
Unsurprisingly, President Hudson, a conservative and extremely cautious by nature, feared that nothing good would come of his subordinates’ venture.
Barit decided that the monocoque body was revolutionary in itself, and that the futuristic design should not scare away buyers. The idea, in general, is not devoid of meaning, alas, matured in the president’s head only when the stylists of Hudson were already working hard on the appearance of a promising model.
The Hudson Hornet officially went on sale on October 16, 1951. The “hornet” achieved the main feats on the race tracks
For designers Robert Andrews and Bill Kirby, the order sounded like a bolt from the blue. Well now, all the work is down the drain? “Well, no!”, – decided the desperate guys and ventured into unheard-of impudence.
Here is how it was. Andrews drew a sketch of an imaginary car that closely resembled the forward-looking Hudson, but was adorned with the Buick emblem. Then the sketch “quite by accident” caught the eye of Frank Spring. Hudson’s chief designer immediately took the sketch to the president, who called an emergency meeting on fire. When asked where this drawing came from, Robert Andrews, slightly embarrassed, but on the whole confidently, lied, they say, he got the sketch from a familiar designer from General Motors, where the new Buick is now being developed …
An advertisement for the 1951 Hudson line. From the relatively compact Pacemaker to the powerful Hornet
The sleek and squat car looked too daring in the minds of President Hudson, but on the other hand, Mr. Barit understood: since they are working in this direction at GM, then in no case should you lag behind. As a result, perhaps the loudest deception in the history of automotive design worked, and the project of the “aerodynamic” model received the same indulgence.
The risk was worth it – the new Hudson turned out to be a wonderful car in every sense. The first thing that caught my eye was the small height. A meter and a half is normal by today’s standards, but in December 1947, the Super Six and Commodore were the lowest in the States. In addition, they featured a streamlined, aerodynamic body with closed rear wheel arches, and a high waistline, coupled with a modest glass area, gave the Hudson a sporty and aggressive look.
Abraham Barit must have realized by then that he had been tricked. None of the competitors’ cars came close to resembling the aerodynamic Hudson. But journalists and critics liked the car, and the unusual exterior did not scare away buyers either. In addition, an even more advanced design was hidden behind the unusual appearance.
From the standpoint of today, the first mass-produced American car with a monocoque body looks a little naive. Structurally, the chassis was not so much a “monocoque”, but rather a simple version of the space frame. Rigid and tough on its own, on the Hudson this construction is phenomenally tough and durable. Why is that? Everything is very simple. The 1948 model, as we know, was the firm’s first experience with a monocoque body. There were simply no computers then, and the designers of Hudson, in order not to make a mistake in the calculations, made the load-bearing elements of the frame wider in cross-section than was necessary. As they say, it is better to overdo it …
Hudson had to launch a special version of the Hornet with a twin carburetor and Twin H-Power intake to certify the X-7 boost engine for racing.
As a result, the car turned out to be more than 200 kg heavier than originally planned, however, the Hudson still turned out to be lighter than its frame contemporaries. And in terms of torsional rigidity, it exceeded them at least twice!
As Frank Spring predicted, the monocoque, even in its most primitive form, endowed the car with a whole scattering of talents. Having abandoned the usual frame, or as the Americans call it body-on-frame, the new Hudson was able to make it low, significantly reducing the coefficient of drag. And this is not at the expense of the spacious interior. A unique feature of the car was the floor located below the thresholds, thanks to which all Hudson models of 1948-1954 went down in history as step down cars, that is, literally “cars into which you go down a step”. Previously, all American models had to go up on the contrary.
Inside, the passengers were waiting for a truly huge salon. Record-width sofa, formally three-seater, without much hesitation took four adults into its arms. And how many hidden advantages the super-rigid body structure concealed in itself! At that time, there was no car in the States that was safer, especially in the event of a coup, and more stable at high speed. The long base, wide track, low center of gravity and telescopic shock absorbers, which were rare for those times, in front and rear, provided the five-meter big guy with very decent controllability with enviable smoothness. It was certainly not a European sports car capable of masterly aft in corners, but for its size the Hudson had the makings of a real premium sports sedan.
The only thing is that the overclocking dynamics were not too impressive. Debuted at the end of 1947, an inline “six” with a volume of 4.3 liters and a capacity of 121 hp. accelerated the car to hundreds in just 18 seconds. However, for that time, a very worthy result. But most importantly, unlike many competitors, Hudson did not force it to dump in turns.
Hornet in attack
The novelty was warmly greeted by the public – already in 1948, almost 120 thousand Super Six and Commodore cars were sold (the models differed from each other only in the level of finish and decor), and a year later the circulation increased to almost 160 thousand. Well, the firm, meanwhile, offered new options. A shortened version of the Pacemaker debuted in 1950, but the real legend was born a year later when the famous Hornet entered the scene.
Replica of the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, the car that still holds the NASCAR record for wins in a single season
In fact, the “hornet” was the body of the Super Six and Commodore models, but with a more powerful engine. The “six”, bored to 5 liters, produced almost 150 “horses”, which, in combination with a manual transmission, made it possible to accelerate to a hundred in 13 seconds. The car’s decent dynamics, coupled with excellent handling, quickly made the Hornet ideal for amateur racers.
A 1953 2-door Hornet Club Coupe with a 145-horsepower inline-six cost $ 2,742, a hundred more than, say, a Buick Super with a 160-horsepower V-8. Unsurprisingly, by that time, demand for Hudson models had begun to plummet.
In the early 50s, the NASCAR racing series was rapidly gaining popularity. Liberal rules and generous prize money attracted more and more participants to the start every year. Soon the car companies realized the beauty of the new championship. After all, the pilots fought with each other at the wheel of almost serial models – “stock cars”, which literally means “standard cars”.
Car workshop owner and successful pilot Marshall Teague next to his beloved brainchild, the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, which can be translated as “Mythical Hornet”
Already in 1951, auto shop owner Marshall Teague won the prestigious 500 Daytona miles at the wheel of a Hudson. His car was inferior to rivals in maximum speed on straight lines, but in long bends the “hornet”, by virtue of its design, more than recouped.
One of the most affordable in the Hudson lineup is the Wasp model
Teague soon found himself at Hudson’s Detroit office to arrange factory support for his own racing program. The firm provided him with three cars and mechanical engineer Vince Piggins. But even these generally modest costs turned out to be quite enough – by the end of the season, the racing “hornets” will have time to win thirteen NASCAR stages and take third place in the team competition.
The Hudson emblem is more reminiscent of the city’s coat of arms. The logo is based on a triangle symbolizing the “dynamics”, “reliability” and “value” of the brand’s cars. Later, ships were added to the triangle, hinting at the high engineering potential of the company, and fortress towers – a symbol of stability and reliability
In the offseason, Teague and Piggins shook up the car thoroughly, paying special attention to the engine. The new engine, loudly named the 7-X, was a forced version of the standard inline-six with direct-flow exhaust, increased compression ratio, larger valves and a dual carburetor. Thanks to these tweaks, power from the standard 145 hp soared up to 210 “horses”. And as soon as the best car in terms of handling got a decent engine, it had no rivals on the track. In the 1952 championship season, the Hornets won 27 races out of 33, which is still a NASCAR record. In 1953, the Hudson riders put in 22 more stages, which was more than enough for the next title.
It’s not meant to be…
The only pity is that the racing feats of the “mythical hornet” did not affect the sad fate of the Hudson brand in any way – sales have been declining since 1950. The full-size Hudson was not cheap from the start – the 1948 model was $ 450 more expensive than its predecessor. And when Detroit’s Big Three started price dumping, all the smaller companies were the losers. Sadly, the design of the car also played its role. The engineering-complex Hornet was difficult to upgrade. While GM, Ford, Chrysler models each year offered buyers new stylistic delights, Hudson models remained the same. Worse, the car’s squat aerodynamic shape fell out of style very quickly. Perhaps the matter could still be corrected by investing in the development of a new generation of the model, but Hudson’s management put it all on a different card – the compact Jet sedan. And they did not guess. Jet, which spent its last money to create, was a deafening flop in the market.
Remember the famous cartoon Cars? In this case, you are familiar with the character that Armen Dzhigarkhanyan duplicates in the Russian version. Needless to say, Doc Hudson is the 1951 Hudson Hornet? By the way, in the original version of the “hornet” is voiced by Paul Newman – not only a Hollywood star, but a very successful race car driver. On his account, say, 2nd place in the overall standings at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979
On May 2, 1954, the Hudson Motor cars Company ceased to exist, becoming part of the reorganized American Motors. Well, the “mythical hornet” has remained the brightest spot in the biography of the forgotten Detroit brand.