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Automobiles wearing the Hudson badge were only produced for 48 years, but for much of that time Hudson was one of the most successful independent auto makers. The vision of a group of men who had cut their teeth in the automobile business and wanted a car company of their own, Hudson grew swiftly after its formation in 1909, becoming the 11th largest auto maker in just its second year, and rising to 3rd in sales behind Ford and Chevrolet by 1929. Innovative engineering that gave customers better performance and more value for their money was the reason for Hudson’s success. The company was responsible for a number of industry firsts including the first engine with a balanced crankshaft, the first safety dual braking system, and the first dashboard warning lights, but they also made desirable features like enclosed cabins more affordable. However, by the 1950s Hudson and other independents like Packard and Studebaker found it increasingly difficult to compete with the Big 3: Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. Three years after merging with Nash to create American Motors, the Hudson brand was discontinued in 1957.

During the first decade of the 20th century a group of young men came together in Michigan. Among them were Roy Chapin, Howard Coffin, Charles Denham, and Roscoe Jackson. They had worked at the pioneering auto maker Oldsmobile, but they were tired of being employees, and all shared a burning desire to operate a car company of their own. All they needed was funding, and in 1909 wealthy department store owner Joseph L. Hudson, the uncle of Jackson’s wife, became their benefactor, so the new company was named after him. Production of the Hudson Twenty commenced in a rented building and 1108 were produced that first year. Work on a new factory was begun the following year and management decided to manufacture as many parts in-house as possible, to eliminate the middleman and make their cars more affordable while at the same time increasing profits. By 1915 Hudson ranked 6th in automobile sales.

Although they would also produce in-line 8-cylinder engines, “straight” sixes were a Hudson mainstay, and in 1916 they introduced the Super Six model with an all new in-line flathead 6-cylinder engine. This engine featured a number of innovations including Monobloc cylinder casting, but the most significant advancement was its counter-balanced crankshaft. Hudson was the first to employ balance weights on the crank to counter the mass of the reciprocating pistons and connecting rods, which eliminated vibration and allowed the engine to run smooth at higher rpm. The ability to run at higher rpm enabled this new 6-cylinder to make more horsepower than other engines of larger displacement. Super Sixes delivered performance on par with cars that were more expensive and they set several speed records that year at Daytona, Pikes Peak and other sites. Engine balancing techniques pioneered by Hudson are still in use today.

In an effort to increase sales, Hudson introduced the lower priced Essex line in 1919 to directly compete with Ford and Chevrolet. Like most cars of the day, especially in this class, the first Essex models were open touring cars, but in 1922 they offered the Essex Coach, an enclosed 2-door sedan. While boxy and not very attractive the Coach was the first enclosed car offered at an affordable price, and it was well-received by the buying public. Initially it sold for only $300 more than the Essex touring car and the price even dropped below the open car in subsequent years. Prior to the introduction of the Coach, the comfort and protection from the elements provided by a closed car were beyond the means of many buyers. However, by the end of the decade closed cars were 90% of all cars sold, thanks largely to Hudson’s leadership with the Essex Coach. The Essex line was a phenomenal success for Hudson and the company enjoyed tremendous sales growth throughout the 1920s, culminating in peak combined sales of over 300,000 cars in 1929.

The Great Depression was hard on all auto makers, but it was particularly devastating for the independents, and some went under. By 1931 Hudson sales had plunged to less than 57,000 cars. Sales rebounded to over 100,000 two years later and Hudson survived, but it would never gain see the lofty sales numbers of the late 20s. In the early 30s the Essex brand was phased out and renamed Terraplane, however Terraplanes lasted only until 1938 when they became Hudson 112s. At the beginning of the decade a new flathead straight 8 was introduced. In keeping with the Hudson tradition of engine balancing and smooth vibration free operation, it had 8 integral counterweights, a vibration damper, and rubber engine mounts. Other Hudson developments during the 1930s included the “Electric Hand”, a steering column mounted automatic shifter (manual clutch actuation was still required); “radial safety control”, also called “rhythmic ride” suspension, where two steel bars located the front axle allowing the use of longer and softer leaf springs for a smooth ride; and duo-automatic brakes, where the cable operated parking brakes were applied by the service brake pedal if the hydraulic circuit failed and the pedal dropped to the bottom of its travel.

Both handling and ride quality were improved in 1940 when the radial safety control leaf spring front suspension was replaced by coil spring independent front suspension. Two years later Hudson introduced the “Drive Master” system in response to the GM Hydramatic automatic transmission. With Drive Master the driver had a choice of manual shifting, clutchless shifting with a vacuum assisted clutch, or fully automatic shifting that combined the vacuum clutch with automatic shifting. This system had some reliability problems however, and in 1951 it was replaced by GM-sourced automatic transmissions. During World War II Hudson manufactured aircraft parts, cannons, and marine engines for the military. The company’s immediate postwar lineup in 1946 included the Commodore, which had debuted in 1941, the Super Six, and the Carrier Six, a pickup truck that was manufactured for one year only. The first all-new postwar design would debut in 1948 with the famous “step-down” Hudsons.

The 1948 Hudsons were not the first mass produced American cars to be of “unibody”, sometimes called “monocoque” construction, where the body and frame members are welded together to form one unit instead of separate parts bolted together. That honor would go to the 1941 Nash 600, but where the Nash looked like any other car, the ’48 Hudson Commodores and Supers were radically different. Hudson called their construction technique “Monobilt”, and among several unique features the floor pan was welded under the frame rails instead of at the top. The result was a sleek, aerodynamic car that was about 5 inches lower than competitors’ cars of the period, and also several hundred pounds lighter. The “step-down” name was derived from the fact that you stepped over the door sill and down into the interior. Passengers sat within the frame rails rather than over them, which resulted in greater headroom. The low center of gravity also enabled these cars to have exceptional handling.

The performance potential of the step-down chassis was not realized until it was mated with the 308 cu. in. straight 6 and Twin H-Power induction system in the 1951 Hudson Hornet. At first a dealer installed option and the following year a regular production option, the Twin H-Power system consisted of two 1-barrel Carter WA-1 carburetors on a dual manifold, which evenly distributed the air/fuel mixture to each cylinder. This potent combination produced 170 hp and propelled the Hornet from zero to 60 mph in 12.1 seconds and a top speed of 107 mph. The Hornet proved itself on the race track as well, winning many stock car races and setting records that still stand today. But despite this performance, Hudson sales fell during the early 50s. Hudson styling was starting to look dated and the unibody step-down construction proved to be difficult and expensive to modify - at a time when the public had begun to expect yearly styling changes. And although Hudson had done an admirable job creating horsepower with their flathead six, it was at the end of its design cycle and didn’t have the power potential of competitors’ OHV (Over Head Valve) V8s.

For its survival Hudson bet everything on its new entry in the low-priced, compact market, the 1953 Hudson Jet. Like the big Hudsons, the Jet was well built and exhibited excellent performance, but it was not a very attractive car and during its two year production run only about 36,000 were sold. A limited production custom bodied car called the Hudson Italia was designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Italy and built on a Jet chassis. It was intended to generate excitement about the Hudson brand and gauge interest in a potential Hudson sports car to compete with the new Corvette, but only 26 were completed. Without the expected profits from the Jet, Hudson was unable to make the needed updates to its large cars or develop its own OHV V8. Hudson merged with Nash in May 1954 and became a division of American Motors. The last Hudsons were built at Nash’s Kenosha, Wisconsin assembly plant on shared platforms. After 1957 both brands were retired in favor of Rambler, which in turn became AMC in the following decade.

Hudson’s reputation for over-engineering and solid build quality is borne out by the number of Hudsons that survive today almost 60 years after the last one was built. Whether you have a rare model like a Hudson pickup, a Terraplane, or one of the ’48-’54 step-downs, which look like California customs right off the showroom floor, you have a rolling piece of automotive history that deserves nothing but the best care. With our huge selection of maintenance supplies, repair parts, and appearance products we stand ready to help you preserve your Hudson and keep it running well and looking sharp.

Dress your vehicle up. Keep it running at its peak or unleash its hidden power. Make it look like it just rolled off the show room floor. Take care of it and maintain it. You name it, we've got it. We have gathered everything you need to make your Hudson perfect both inside and out. CARiD's job is to meet your every expectation and provide you with quality and durable accessories and parts designed with excellence in mind. Whether you're after luxurious style, brisk performance, or anything in between, our wide assortment covers all the bases.

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