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The History of the Hudson

By

The History of the Hudson

1954 Hudson Italia

Michele Hamer

After the Great Race of 1908, when the world saw an automobile go from New York to Paris, via Alaska, Japan, Siberia and Berlin in 169 days, car companies started being formed in great numbers. The one we are highlighting today was created by four former associates of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company when they got together and began building a line of cars that became known for value, performance and solid engineering, the Hudson Motor Car Co. The company was founded in late 1909 and got its name from its largest investor, Joseph L. Hudson, department store magnate.

The 1909 Roadster with a four cylinder engine was Hudson's first model run and got the company off to a great start. By Hudson’s second year, they ranked eleventh in the US in automobile production. Hudson was one of the first automakers to develop a "closed" model car to protect their customers from the elements, an innovation that sent sales soaring. By 1911, production doubled to over 8000 cars built.

Another good decision by the founders was to put a six cylinder engine in their standard priced cars in 1913. High performing sixes had been limited to luxury cars, but now it Hudson was making it available to a larger car buying audience. By 1915 Hudson was advertising itself as the "world's largest manufacturer of six cylinder cars."

Hudson continued its success with its "Super Six" with the first “balanced” crankshaft which gave the car a smoother ride, and together with its companion car, the low priced four cylinder Essex. By 1925, sales had grown enough to make Hudson the third largest US automaker behind Ford and Chevrolet.

The stock market crash of October 1929 and the decade-long Depression that followed, hit Hudson particularly hard. Had it not been for the speedy, inexpensive Essex Terraplane, Hudson might have folded by 1940. The “Great Eight” they introduced in 1930 wasn’t that great. At 213.5 cubic inches, its engine was actually smaller than previous Hudson sixes and had just 80 horsepower to move a heavy chassis.

Like all major U.S. automakers, Hudson ceased building cars for the duration of World War II to manufacturer machine guns, aircraft components and huge engines for naval craft. But once the war ended in 1945, the demand for cars was at an all time high and Hudson’s new Super Six hit the road running. This Super Six engine evolved into the "308" Hornet powerplant which made Hudson the king of stock car racing. 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.

Despite its racing successes, Hudson's wasn’t seeing the sales numbers climbing and re-engineering their cars would be too expensive due to their unibody design. Hudson's competitors used separate body-on-frame designs, and could change the look of their models on a yearly basis without expensive chassis alterations. In an effort to survive, Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator on May 1, 1954 to form American Motors Corp.

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