“One of the industry’s all-time greats.” Jay Leno calls it “top ten of America’s most collectible cars.” Another author declared their models “the greatest of the era.” just what car and company is worthy of such adoration you ask? The Hudson Hornet.
The Hudson Motor Car Company was birthed in 1909 when Joseph L. Hudson and eight of his friends came up with the cash to form the company. Hudson was a Detroit department store magnate and it was a rather crazy time in the automobile business. Everybody wanted to get in on the business gold rush of car making.
The company was doing enough things right that they managed to survive to World War II, when the government directed them to stop making cars and make things for war like anti-aircraft guns, naval engines and airplane parts. In 1929 their sales of 300,000 units made them the third largest automaker in America, behind Ford and Chevy.
After the war, Hudson did some more very smart things. They built up their 6-cylinder flathead engine with thicker cylinder walls and other innovations that boosted power by 18% and introduced the “step down bodies.” Hudson lowered the passenger compartment into the car’s frame. Handling improved greatly with this lowered center of gravity, and as a bonus, safety and the comfort of the car’s ride also showed significant improvement. One writer judged the ride of the Hudson’s step down body models as “sumptuous.”
One Hornet veteran said: “Now this Hudson was the smoothest and fastest car I have EVER been in…including many hot cars in the ’70s…Handled curves like a Southern Pacific train on tracks!”
As far as safety goes, engineers added extra steel and braces until the car was as strong as a bridge. It even contained girders that formed a safety cage. It could handle rough roads. A crash couldn’t break it.
All of this set the stage for the introduction in 1951 of the model Hudson called the Hornet. Long, (124-inches) low, and powerful (308 cubic-inch engine with optional dual carburetors) the Hornet was something special. It would be described as a full size car and came to hold a newer title in the automobile lexicon, “muscle car.”
The step down body accomplished one other thing, it gave the Hornet a low slung, sleek look maximized by the nearly covered rear wheel wells.
By 1954, sadly, sales of the Hudson models began to fall and financial difficulty followed close behind. A merger was facilitated with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors. Units produced after the merger moved away from the step down cabin design and other key strengths of Hudsons.
By June of 1957 American Motors moved away the Hudson products and halted production, fastening their dreams on the Rambler line.
But the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to tell us, was about when the Hudson Hornet went racing. In the early ’50s, stock car racing was done using of all things, stock cars. And it turns out, the Hudson Hornet was quite a stock car, indeed.
Hudson was the first automobile manufacturer that showed any interest in stock car racing. When the Hornets went racing, things weren’t going to be the same for a while. Two racing circuits existed, the AAA and NASCAR Grand National. Hornets cleaned up in both.
Herb Thomas’s #92 Fabulous Hudson Hornet ran on the NASCAR Circuit. He and other Hornet drivers racked up wins in 27 of the 34 Series events in1952. They followed that up by winning 22 of the 37 events in 1953 and 17 of of the 37 races held in 1954.
Over in the AAA Circuit drivers had similar results. Marshal Teague won 12 of the 13 events of 1952 outscoring the second place driver in points by 1,000. In the crazy 1952 season the Hornet won 40 of 48 racing events. We would call that dominating today, and all that using just 6 cylinders.
If you want to see the #92 in all its glory, it’s now on display at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, housed no less in the world’s last former Hudson dealership, Miller Motors, in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Tom McCahill in Mechanic Illustrated put it this way, “Hudsons are ripping the feathers out of the other brands on one simple, but oh so vital, point. They are America’s finest road cars from the very important standpoint of roadability, cornering, and steering…To stay with the Hudsons on a race course, these other cars must literally pull themselves apart in the corners, while the Hudsons sail around with effortless ease.”
So if you need more proof that Hudson Hornets were special cars, listen up, Steve McQueen drove a 1953 Twin-H powered sedan. I rest my case.