On this Day:
Today’s Smile is dedicated to Jack Irwin.
In 1909, The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded.
The Hudson Motor Car Company made Hudson and other branded automobiles in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., from 1909 to 1954. In 1954, Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). The Hudson name was continued through the 1957 model year, after which it was discontinued.
The name “Hudson” came from Joseph L. Hudson, a Detroit department store entrepreneur and founder of Hudson’s department store, who provided the necessary capital and gave permission for the company to be named after him. A total of eight Detroit businessmen formed the company on February 20, 1909, to produce an automobile which would sell for less than US$1,000 (equivalent to approximately $28,804 in 2020 funds).
One of the chief “car men” and organizer of the company was Roy D. Chapin Sr., a young executive who had worked with Ransom E. Olds. (Chapin’s son, Roy Jr., would later be president of Hudson-Nash descendant American Motors Corp. in the 1960s). The company quickly started production, with the first car driven out of a small factory in Detroit on July 3, 1909, at Mack Avenue and Beaufait Street on the East Side of Detroit, occupying the old Aerocar factory.
The new Hudson “Twenty” was one of the first low-priced cars on the American market and very successful with more than 4,000 sold the first year. The 4,508 units made in 1910 were the best first year’s production in the history of the automobile industry and put the newly formed company in 17th place industry-wide, “a remarkable achievement at a time” when there were hundreds of makes being marketed.
Successful sales volume required a larger factory. A new facility was built on a 22-acre parcel at Jefferson Avenue and Conner Avenue in Detroit’s Fairview section that was diagonally across from the Chalmers Automobile plant. The land was the former farm of D.J. Campau. It was designed by the firm of renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn with 223,500 square feet and opened on October 29, 1910. Production in 1911 increased to 6,486. For 1914 Hudsons for the American market were now left hand drive.
Coachbuilder Fisher Body Co. built bodies for Hudson cars (as well as many other automotive marques) until they were bought out by General Motors in 1919. From 1923, Hudson bodies were built exclusively by Massachusetts company Biddle and Smart. The lucrative contract with Hudson would see Biddle and Smart buy up many smaller local coachbuilders to meet the Hudson demand. Peak shipments came in 1926, when the company delivered 41,000 bodies to Hudson. An inability to stamp steel meant that their products were made using aluminum.
On 1 July 1926, Hudson’s new US$10 million ($146,184,211 in 2020 dollars) body plant was completed where the automaker could now build the all-steel closed bodies for both the Hudson and Essex models. Biddle and Smart continued to build aluminum body versions of the Hudson line and were marketed by Hudson as “custom-built” although they were exactly the same as the steel-body vehicles. With Hudson now building in-house, Biddle and Smart saw their work for Hudson drop by 60%. From 1927 Hudson gradually began to utilize local coachbuilders Briggs Manufacturing Company and Murray Corporation of America to supplement Hudson’s own production which was expanding domestically and internationally. With car prices falling due to the Great Depression and the costs to transport vehicles from Massachusetts to Detroit becoming too expensive, the contract with Biddle and Smart was terminated in 1930, and Biddle and Smart went out of business shortly thereafter.
At their peak in 1929, Hudson and Essex produced a combined 300,000 cars in one year, including contributions from Hudson’s other factories in Belgium and England; a factory had been built in 1925 in Brentford in London. Hudson was the third largest U.S. car maker that year, after Ford Motor Company and Chevrolet.
Hudson had a number of firsts for the auto industry; these included dual brakes, the use of dashboard oil-pressure and generator warning lights, and the first balanced crankshaft, which allowed the Hudson straight-six engine, dubbed the “Super Six” (1916), to work at a higher rotational speed while remaining smooth, developing more power for its size than lower-speed engines. The Super Six was the first engine built by Hudson, previously Hudson had developed engine designs and then had them manufactured by Continental Motors Company. Most Hudsons until 1957 had straight-6 engines. The dual brake system used a secondary mechanical emergency brake system, which activated the rear brakes when the pedal traveled beyond the normal reach of the primary system; a mechanical parking brake was also used. Hudson transmissions also used an oil bath and cork clutch mechanism that proved to be as durable as it was smooth.
As the role of women increased in car-purchase decisions, automakers began to hire female designers. Hudson, wanting a female perspective on automotive design, hired Elizabeth Ann Thatcher in 1939, one of America’s first female automotive designers. Her contributions to the 1941 Hudson included exterior trim with side lighting, interior instrument panel, interiors and interior trim fabrics. She designed for Hudson from 1939 into 1941, leaving the company when she married Joe Oros, then a designer for Cadillac. He later became head of the design team at Ford that created the Mustang.
Hudson’s strong, light-weight bodies, combined with its high-torque inline six-cylinder engine technology, made the company’s 1951–54 Hornet an auto racing champion, dominating NASCAR in 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954.
Herb Thomas won the 1951 and 1954 Southern 500s and Dick Rathmann won in 1952. Some NASCAR records set by Hudson in the 1950s (e.g. consecutive wins in one racing season) still stand even today. Hudson cars also did very well in races sanctioned by the AAA Contest Board from 1952 to 1954 with Marshall Teague winning the 1952 AAA Stock Car Championship and Frank Mundy in 1953. Often Hudsons finished in most of the top positions in races. Later, these cars met with some success in drag racing, where their high power-to-weight ratio worked to their advantage. Hudsons enjoyed success both in NHRA trials and local dirt track events.
1954 – Merger with Nash-Kelvinator
On May 1, 1954, Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to become American Motors Corporation. George W. Mason became CEO and president of AMC while Hudson’s president, A.E. Barit retired to become an AMC board member.
The Hudson factory, located in Detroit, Michigan, was converted to military contract production at the end of the model year, and the remaining three years of Hudson production took place at the Nash plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin building rebadged Nash cars with the Hudson brand name. Nash would focus most of its marketing resources on its smaller Rambler models, and Hudson would focus its marketing efforts on its full-sized cars. The first Hudson model to terminate production was the Jet. The new company could then focus on the more successful Nash Rambler. Henceforth, Hudson dealers would have badge-engineered versions of the Nash Rambler and Metropolitan compacts to sell as Hudson products.
One of the first things Mason did as CEO of the new company was to initiate talks with James J. Nance, president of Packard, for parts-sharing arrangements between AMC and Packard. At this time AMC did not have its own V8 engine and an agreement was made for the new 320 cu in (5.2 L) Packard V8 engine and Packard’s Ultramatic automatic transmission to be used in the 1955 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models.
In July 1954, Packard acquired Studebaker to form Studebaker-Packard Corporation, however further talks of a merger between AMC and Packard-Studebaker were cut short when Mason died on October 8, 1954. A week after his death, Mason’s successor, George W. Romney, announced “there are no mergers under way either directly or indirectly”. Nevertheless, Romney continued with Mason’s commitment to buy components from Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Although Mason and Nance had previously agreed that Studebaker-Packard would purchase parts from AMC, it did not do so. Moreover, Packard’s engines and transmissions were comparatively expensive, so AMC began development of its own V8 engine, and replaced the outsourced unit by mid-1956.
End of the line
The last Hudson rolled off the Kenosha assembly line on June 25, 1957. There were no ceremonies because at that point there was still hope of continuing the Hudson and Nash names into the 1958 model year on the Rambler chassis as deluxe, longer-wheelbase senior models. The combined Nash and Hudson production volume was not sufficient to justify all-new design and tooling, so the Rambler’s platform was expected to be adopted to the longer cars. One major trade magazine said rumors of discontinuance were false and the 1958 Hudsons and Nashes “would be big and smart”. Factory styling photographs show designs for a 1958 Hudson (and Nash) line based on a longer-wheelbase 1958 Rambler. Front-end prototype photos show separate Hudson and Nash styling themes.
AMC’s President, George W. Romney, came to the conclusion that the only way to compete with the “Big Three” was to stake the future of AMC on a new smaller-sized car line. Neither Hudson nor Nash brand names had as much positive market recognition as the successful Rambler and their sales were lagging. Together with AMC’s chief engineer Meade Moore, Romney had completely phased out the Nash and Hudson brands at the end of 1957. The decision to retire the brands came so quickly that preproduction photographs of the eventual 1958 Rambler Ambassador show both Nash- and Hudson-badged versions. The Rambler brand was selected for further development and promotion while focusing exclusively on compact cars.
Eventually, however, something close to the Hudson design was chosen for the 1958 Rambler Ambassador. Hudson brand enthusiasts will note the triangular grille guard and 1957-like fender “gun sights” and the fast-selling 1958 Rambler Customs wore 1957 Hudson-styled front-fender trim (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
A car salesman is showing some fine cars for sale, and the buyer is looking at them.
“Well, this one is a fine 1951 Hudson Hornet,” says the car salesman.
The buyer gasps, “A Hudson HORNET? Well, I wouldn’t want to see a Hudson Wasp!”
The salesman brushes it off and shows him the next car, “this is a Porsche Spyder.”
Again, the buyer is aghast, “what is with car companies naming them after insects?! What’s next, a Volkswagen Beetle?!”
Second, a Song:
Motorvision International did a video on the legendary Hudson Hornet, courtesy of YouTube.com. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“I Knew You Couldn’t Drive. I Didn’t Think You Couldn’t Read.” (Doc Hudson in the movie Cars)
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky