History of the Hudson Motorcar Company
- good value and performance with solid engineering!

In 1909, four former associates of Ransom E. Olds (Roy Chapin, Howard Coffin, Frederick Bezner and James Brady) began building a line of cars that became known for value, performance and solid engineering..

Each of the founders put up $1,500, not much by auto industry standards, even in those days. The big bankroller was Joseph L. Hudson, department store magnate who invested $90,000 in the new motor-car venture. Hudson's portion was by far the largest investment. Roy Chapin, who emerged as the leader of Hudson Motor Car Co. and whose son, Roy Jr., would later run American Motors, the result of a merger of Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson, prudently decided to name the car after the man who put up most of the money.

The Hudson Motor Car Co. came to life in the winter of 1909, with a total capitalization of $100,000. First factory was that of the Aerocar, a venture that had gone under. Chapin and Coffin both were "graduates" of Ransom Olds' Olds Motor Works. They subsequently had built the Thomas-Detroit and the Chalmers-Detroit before launching Hudson.

The factory at the corner of Mack and Beaufait where Hudson began production in 1909. This building was rented from the defunct Aerocar (1906-1908) car company. Company fortunes would allow a move to a new factory at Jefferson and Conner around 1913, built especially for the production of the new 1913 Hudsons. The men shown in the Hudson are probably factory employees.

This 1909 Roadster was Hudson's first model run. Little changed from the first 1909 Hudson in the 1910 Hudson Model 20. Ads described the engine as "Renault-type - the pride of France."

The company got off to a rousing start. Its first full year in business it posted 4,000 sales, a record for those days. In just its second year of production - 1910 - Hudson Motor Car Company ranked 11th in the nation in automobile production. Chapin realized that most potential customers didn't want to ride out in the elements, as they were forced to in the open cars of the era, so he developed "closed" models that allowed driver and passengers to ride in relative comfort, an innovation that helped sales skyrocket. In 1911, production more than doubled, to over 8,000. Those first Hudsons used four-cylinder engines and were offered only as racy roadsters.

In 1912, the company moved into its new Albert Kahn-designed factory at Jefferson and Conner on Detroit's lower east side and built the prototype of a new six-cylinder engine that would be put into production for 1913 and would make Hudson a solid member of the automotive family. High-performing sixes had been limited to luxury cars, but the standard-priced Hudson made it available to all.

This 1913 Hudson Type 37 Raceabout has 32 H.P., lots of brass, twin spares, oval fuel tank, outside gears and handbrake, monocle windscreen and artillery wheels.

In 1915, Hudson advertised itself as the "world's largest manufacturer of six-cylinder cars." In 1916, Hudson unveiled its "Super Six" which set numerous speed records and achieved racing success. Also in 1916 Hudson introduced the first "balanced" crankshaft in its six-cylinder engine. This innovation offered unparalleled smoothness, and it was quickly copied, but not before Hudson established the reputation of its "Super Six."

In 1919, the company decided to bring out a smaller, less expensive "companion car" to the Hudson and found a name for it on a map of England - Essex, selected for its snob appeal.


Introduced in March 1919, this was the 2nd body style added to the Essex line. It featured a fabric visor and gray whipcord upholstery.  21,879 Essex's were shipped in 1919.

 Hudson built the Essex through a separate corporation and in 1922 the Essex was the lowest-priced closed coach car in America and selling well.

The two lines of Essex cars in 1922 were identified as either 1st or 2nd editions. The 1st editions were carry-overs from 1921, as were Hudsons, while the 2nd editions featured an entirely new body that was wider and longer. This photo is a 2nd edition as shown by the front hinged front door.

By the close of World War I Chapin realized that his company needed a competitor to the Ford Model T, which was the dominant vehicle of the era, so he had his engineers develop the Essex line. With an advanced all-steel body, the new brand quickly established itself, despite the 1919-20 recession. By 1926, Hudson was expanding its corporate base, opening a $3-million body plant that produced newly styled bodies for both Hudson and Essex. It was another record sales year: 228,000 units, for 6.2 percent of the market. The company had invested some $10 million in its Essex Phaeton model, with an adjustable walnut steering wheel, which it billed as "the world's largest single body-building unit." Hudson offered a starter button on the instrument panel that year, another first in the industry.


This 1926 Essex 5 Passenger Sedan was the first 4-door closed Essex to be offered since 1922. It was a late 2nd series entry it was intro'd in November. It weighed 2,540 pounds and cost $795.

 
1926 Hudson 4-door aluminum body Sedan
 

In the late '20s, some Hudsons were built with custom bodies and straight eight engines, first by Biddle & Smart, later Murray, Briggs and LeBaron. In 1931, Frank Spring, formerly of Murphy, joined the company as styling director.

The elegant 1926 Hudson limousine with body by Biddle and Smart cost around $2,000.
This 1932 Essex coupe was built in that make's final year. The Essex had been introduced by Hudson as a smaller "companion car" in 1924. The name was reportedly selected from a map of England as one that sounded prestigious.

By 1929, the Essex was selling so well that it was merged into the Hudson line and enabled Hudson to finish third in sales among American nameplates. By 1929 the company had leapfrogged its way to the number three spot on the U.S. sales chart, behind just Ford and Chevrolet, with 300,962 units sold. But that proved to be the high-water mark for the company. The stock market crash of October 1929 and the decade-long Depression that followed hit Hudson particularly hard, possibly because the bullish Chapin continued to be optimistic. Sales never again reached the 1929 levels, despite some excellent cars after World War II.

The Coach, also known as the Two-door Sedan, was Hudson's lowest-priced model in 1929. A 2 door, 5 passenger vehicle, it was positioned as a family car. The 1929 Coupe was a popular two-seater built on the 122-inch Model R chassis. The two-seater became known as a "doctor's car," and was quite popular among many lines of professionals who had to travel from one location to another.
This 1931 Hudson Boattail Speedster with special rumble seat body is one of the few Hudsons classified as a classic.

The Terraplane was introduced in 1932 as a model of Essex and in 1933 Hudson dropped the Essex name and called its companion car the Terraplane. Hudson built the Terraplane as a separate car until 1938, when it made the Terraplane a model of the Hudson, then dropped it in 1939, apparently because it felt the Terraplane tail was beginning to wag the Hudson dog and was overshadowing Hudson.

1932 Terraplane 4 Passenger Roadster
This '37 Terraplane 4-door sedan was one of the last Terraplane's built.

Through the Thirties, Hudson continued to be an innovator with its Essex and Terraplane lines. In 1932 those brands offered a choice of either six or eight cylinder engines, but 1932 was the low point of the Depression, and the expensive changes to the models were greeted with yawns, not with profits. To jump-start sales, Hudson tried stunts. Several hill climbs, economy runs, and speed records were established, but still sales languished. In 1934, Hudson introduced "Axle-Flex," a semi-independent front suspension, and in 1935 the "Electric Hand," a vacuum-powered automatic gearshift built by Bendix, which did not work too well. Add to that the fact that Hudson styling was not inspired in the late '30s, plus the effects of the Great Depression, and simply surviving into the '40s was quite an achievement.

It wasn't until the United States became involved in World War II that Hudson really shook off the doldrums. Like all major U.S. industrial companies, Hudson ceased building cars for the duration of World War II and became part of "the Arsenal of Democracy," and began to manufacturer machine guns, aircraft components and huge engines for naval craft. War work restored the company to profitability.

The Invader Marine Engine was built during World War II by Hudson to support the War effort. They were used mostly in Landing Craft and Air-Sea Rescue, and as a replacement engine for PT boats. They displace 998 cubic inches and have 6 cylinders, an overhead cam, two updraft Zenith carbs, and twin ignition with 12 spark plugs. They weigh about 3000 pounds each with the gearbox and deliver 265 horsepower, with 780 foot pounds of torque at 2000 rpm. Both left and right hand rotation models were built for twin engine installation.

After the war ended in 1945, Hudson got another chance to vault towards the top of the United States auto industry. Hudson's management was much more attuned to succeeding in boom times than in retrenching when times grew tough, and the American auto market was poised for unprecedented growth. Pent-up demand for cars was at its all-time peak after four war years had completely shut down auto production for civilian use.

In 1948 Hudson got off to a good start by introducing an all-new Super Six (the Super Six engine evolved into the "308" Hornet powerplant which made Hudson the king of stock car racing 1952-54), but it might be said that the car was too advanced for the marketplace. With unit body construction that Hudson sales brochures referred to as "monobilt," the landmark Hudson Super Six set the stage for today's automobiles, most of which use "unibody" designs. The floorpan of the Hudson was suspended from the bottom of the chassis, a throwback to Harry Stutz's "underslung" technique (which earned it the nickname "Stepdown.") and the precursor of today's low-aspect vehicle profiles. The chassis also extended outside the rear wheels, giving the car a well-enclosed "low-rider" look. From ground to rooftop it was a foot lower than many of its contemporaries, and there was no doubt it was a handsome design. Despite the racing success of the Hudson Hornet, sales languished.

Step-down 1948 Hudson Commodore. The step-down was Hudson's first post-World War II design, sleek, slab-sided and streamlined with unibody construction.

The Hudson Hornet, introduced in 1951, took the Super Six chassis, refined it and then added the piece de resistance, a significantly more powerful engine. When the 262 cubic inch displacement in-line six-cylinder engine was bored out to 308 cubic inches, the Hudson Hornet instantly became one of the hottest cars on the road. On the strength of its powerful engine and low center of gravity, it didn't take long for early Fifties stock car racers to figure the Hornet had something going for it. In some ways it was odd that Hudson's rather mundane L-head straight six became the hot ticket in the early Fifties, because that era was highlighted by the revolutionary high-compression V-8s from Cadillac and Oldsmobile. But the combination of dual carburetion (Twin-H Power) and cubic inches proved impressive in the face of high-tech. It dominated stock car racing in the early Fifties, when stock car racers actually raced "stock cars." Marshall Teague, who became synonymous with Hudson performance in the Fifties, won 12 of 13 AAA events in 1952. Overall, Hudson won 27 of the 34 NASCAR Grand National races in 1952, followed by 22 of 37 in 1953, and 17 of 37 in 1954. It was an incredible accomplishment, especially from a car that had some legitimate luxury credentials. The chassis' lower center of gravity, created by the "step-down design," was both functional and stylish. The car did not only handle well, at least in the Fifties idiom, at the same time, it treated its six passengers to a sumptuous ride. The low-slung look also had a sleekness about it that was accentuated by the nearly enclosed rear wheels.

1951 Hudson Hornet

An ill-fated compact Jet was added to the line in 1953. The Jet sold poorly, but inspired a two-passenger sportster called the Italia. The Hudson Italia was designed by Frank Spring. Spring had intended the sleek body for the Hudson Jet, but A.E. Barit, president of Hudson, wanted something more conventional with more headroom.


The Jet was a small car Hudson introduced in 1953. The 1955 Hudson Italia was a special sporty coupe built on a Hudson Jet platform. The Italia was designed that year, actually intended to be the Jet body. But top management wanted something more conventional with more headroom. The Italia is the Jet platform with an Italian body, powered by a 202-cubic-inch 104-horsepower straight six-cylinder engine.

The Italia used the Jet platform with an Italian body by Carrozzeria Touring of Milano, and was powered by a 202-cubic-inch 104-horsepower straight six-cylinder engine. Interesting design touches are the exhaust pipes coming out of the rear fenders and the massive grille, which would show up on the '56 Hudson after the AMC merger, a Hudson on a Nash body, known to collectors as a "Hash."

Hudson had many glory days - famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart helping to introduce the first Terraplane, introduction of the very advanced "Stepdown" Hudson in 1948, Marshall Teague and his road-racing triumphs in the booming big-six Hornet of the '50s - but the Depression had hurt the company badly and the stakes were getting too big in the auto business for the smaller independents and unfortunately, the unibody design was expensive to update, so it suffered against the planned obsolescence of  the "Big Three". Hudson's competitors, using separate body-on-frame designs, could change the look of their models on a yearly basis without expensive chassis alterations, but the "StepDown" uniboby design was essentially locked in until a re-engineering came due. So, despite its racing successes, Hudson's sales began to languish.

The year of 1954 was the last pure all-Hudson produced. In an effort to survive, Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator on May 1, 1954 to form American Motors Corp.
 


Workers strike in front of Hudson (and other) Factories


Hudson Auto Plant

 


AMC's version of the "Final Solution" for The Hudson Motor Car Company
 


The 1955 Hudson became a restyled Nash badged as a Hudson. Production was moved to Kenosha, Wis., and the Hudson plant in Detroit was closed. The Hudson, the real Hudson, was dead. From then on, Hudsons were Nashes with a Hudson nameplate. The 1957 was the last Hudson produced of any kind.

The last true Hudson was produced in 1954, the year Hudson and Nash merged. This '54 Hudson Hornet convertible was the top of the line. This 1956 Hudson Hollywood is powered by a 352 Packard V-8 with Packard Ultramatic drive. A Hudson six was also available.

This History of Hudson would not be complete without a brief synopsis about the little Metropolitan. Although it was never really part of the Hudson family it was nevertheless sold in Hudson dealerships and carried the venerable Hudson name in it's beginnings.

The Metropolitan was designed in the USA by William J. Flajole, for Nash Motor Division of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. Fisher & Ludlow, Ltd., built the body and the mechanical outfitting was done by Austin Motor Company, Ltd. Both companies were in Birmingham, England. Production of the Metropolitan began in October 1953. The original cars were badged “NKI Custom”.  (NKI – Nash Kelvinator International)  First cars arrived in North America in December ’53. On January 22, 1954, the name was officially changed to “Metropolitan”. Official launch date was March 1954. All “NKI Custom” nameplates were supposed to have been removed and the “Metropolitan” nameplates installed, but some did make it out to the public before the changeover. These were to be changed when they came in for service. (The only known example of the original “NKI Custom” script still being on a car is one in a museum in California, although this could have been re-installed at a later date.) There were two models, 541, Convertible, and 542, Hardtop Convertible. They were equipped with a 1200cc Austin A40 engine. On May 1, 1954, Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company merged to form American Motors Corporation. By mid 1954, the Metropolitan was being marketed as a “Hudson Metropolitan” as well as a “Nash Metropolitan”. The models were identical, with the only difference being the grill emblem and horn button. The “Hudson Metropolitan” used the “bull’s eye” horn button that would later be used on all Metropolitans. The “Nash Metropolitan” still used the “Nash” hubcaps for a short while, but soon changed to the “M” hubcap used by the “Hudson Metropolitan”, and all later Metropolitans.