Historic Car Brands



Eight Detroit businessmen formed a company in February 1909, to produce motor cars that would sell for less than US$1000 (around 30 grand in today’s Au$) each. The brand was named after the principal capital contributor, Joseph L Hudson. Hudson motor cars introduced several innovations over many years of production that continued until 1957.


1909 Model 20 – EricW7


Under the guidance of Roy D Chapin, the first 1909 Hudson ’20’ model was launched only five months after the company’s founding and became an instant success, with some 4500 being sold by the end of 1910. Sales continued to climb and in 1914 all Hudsons adopted left hand drive.

1919 Hudson Phantom


After Word War I, Hudson had achieved a high status reputation, so, in 1919, the company introduced the Essex brand that was aimed at budget-minded buyers and competed with Ford and Chevrolet. Hudson continued head to head with Oldsmobile and Studebaker. 


1926 Essex 6 Tourer – Sicnag


The 1922 Essex was available with a closed-body for only $300 more than the 1922 Essex touring, soft-top body, at a time when closed bodywork was much more expensive than rag-tops. The Essex cloaked-body volumes went up rapidly, allowing a price reduction, to the point where both body types cost the same.

Initial Hudsons had bodies made by Fisher Body Co, but after that company was bought out by General Motors in 1919, Hudson signed a supply contract with Biddle and Smart. This company supplied aluminium-panelled bodies over wooden framework. As Hudson sales increased, so did demand for bodywork and Biddle and Smart expanded accordingly.


1929 Hudson Roadster – Michael Barrera


In 1926, Hudson needed some 41,000 Biddle and Smart car bodies, but the company had been planning for a change in body design for some time. In that same year, Hudson opened its own all-steel body panel-pressing shop and the writing was on the wall for Biddle and Smart. Although Hudson continued to take aluminium ‘custom’ bodies until 1930, the volume days were over and Biddle and Smart folded in 1931.


1931 Hudson 8 Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren


By 1930, fashion dictated an eight-cylinder powerplant and Hudson resounded with a flat-head, side-valve engine that displaced 219 cubic inches and put out 80hp from a 5.8:1 compression ratio. The crank set new standards in the USA, running in five main bearings, with eight counterweights and a vibration damper. Lubrication was enhanced by an oil pump and the engine was rubber-block mounted to the chassis.

The new eight-cylinder was the only Hudson powerplant available and the Super Six was confined to Essex cars.

Hudson was also noted for offering an optional vacuum-powered, automatic clutch, starting in the early 1930s. 



In 1932, Hudson began phasing out the Essex brand and came up with ‘Terraplane’ as a brand name, suitable for the time when pioneering aviation achievements received enormous publicity. The new line was launched on July 21, 1932, with a promotional christening by Amelia Earhart and Orville Wright was an early Terraplane customer.

The most memorable Terraplane sales slogan came in 1933: “On the sea that’s aquaplaning, in the air that’s aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, hot diggity dog, that’s Terraplaning!” 

Roy D. Chapin – back at Hudson after an assignment as President Hoover’s Commerce Secretary – described the Terraplane as: “A very light car in the bottom price class; a vehicle which would combine style, comfort and reliability”.

Chief engineer Stuart Baits designed a frame requiring less steel, reducing the Essex wheelbase from 113 inches to 106 inches and and with a narrower track. The chassis was welded in strategic places to keep the structure rigid and the bodied car weighed 400-500 pounds less than the Essex. 


1934 Terraplane K Coupe – C Masonwhf


The Terraplane was initially powered by the proved six-cylinder that had been enlarged from 160 to 193 cubic inches, taking output from 58hp to 70hp. Frank Spring designed the Terraplane body, using a tapered, streamlined design that had an ‘aero’ signature.

A unique Terraplane feature was the ‘Duo-Automatic’ brake system that backed up the hydraulic brakes with mechanical linkages. 

For 1932 and 1933, the new cars were branded ‘Essex-Terraplane’ and from 1934, just ‘Terraplane’.


1934 Hudson Eight Convertible Coupe – Lars-Goran Lindgren


For the 1933 model year only, a now-enlarged 244 cubic inch straight-eight, with down-draught carburation, was available on top-spec’ Essex-Terraplane models. Hudson models had a 254 cubic inch eight, but with a less-efficient up-draught carburettor. 

The 1933 Essex-Terraplane, 94hp, eight-cylinder cars were believed to have the highest horsepower-to-weight ratio of any series-production automobiles in the world and were favoured by several gangsters of the day: John Dillinger, ‘Baby Face’ Nelson and John Paul Chase!

The Essex-Terraplane Eight models were distinguished by having vent doors on their bonnets, in contrast to the 70hp, six-cylinder versions that had stamped hood louvres. 

A 1933 Terraplane Eight convertible coupe set a record for the race to the summit of Mount Washington that remained unbroken for 20+ years. Essex-Terraplanes scored record performances in the USA and around the world; particularly in hillclimbs.


1938 Hudson 112 – Lars-Goran Lindgren


Terraplane models boosted Hudson Motor’s sales during the Great Depression in the 1930s, outpacing Hudson vehicles in the mid-1930s, to the point where, in 1938, the Terraplane lineup was renamed ‘Hudson 112’.

An optional accessory on some 1935–1938 Hudson and Terraplane models was a steering column-mounted, electric gear pre-selector and electro-mechanical automatic shifting system, manufactured by the Bendix Corporation and marketed as ‘Electric Hand’.

This took the place of the floor-mounted shift lever, but still required conventional clutch actions. (Cars equipped with Electric Hand also carried a conventional shift lever in clips under the dash, which could be pulled out and put to use in case the Electric Hand should ever fail.)

In 1936, Hudson revamped its cars, introducing a new ‘radial safety control’ / ‘rhythmic ride’ addition to the front suspension – virtually a double-Panhard-rod axle locator – that allowed the use of softer front springs. It was partially successful, but was replaced by independent front suspension in 1940.

The 1936 Hudsons were also considerably larger inside than competitive cars and the engines were powerful for the time, developing 93hp up to 124hp. 


1939 Hudson Country Club Six 93 Convertible Coupe – Lars-Goran Lindgren


As the role of women in car-purchase decisions increased, Hudson hired Elizabeth Ann Thatcher in 1939. Her contributions to the 1941 Hudson included exterior trim with side lighting, interior instrument panel, interiors and interior trim fabrics

For 1940 Hudson introduced coil spring, independent front suspension, aircraft-style shock absorbers mounted within the front springs and true centre-point steering on all its models – a major advance among cars in this price range. The Super Six model was reintroduced as well. 

Despite all these changes, Hudson’s sales for 1940 were lower than in 1939 and the company lost money again.


1941 Hudson Coupe  – Lars-Goran Lindgren


The 1941 Hudsons retained the front end styling of the 1940 models but the bodies were  larger and convertibles had power-operated tops A new manual three-speed syncromesh transmission had quieter-running, helical gears. 

In 1942, as a response to General Motors’ Hydramatic automatic transmission, Hudson introduced its ‘Drive-Master’ system that,  in fully automated, mode served as a good semi-automatic transmission. When coupled with an automatic overdrive, Drive-Master was called Super-Matic.


1947 Hudson Commodore Eight Convertible – Lars-Goran Lindgren


Hudson ceased auto production from 1942 until 1945 in order to manufacture material during World War II, including aircraft parts and naval engines, and anti-aircraft guns.

In 1948, Hudson launched its ‘step-down’ bodies, in which the front and rear floor pans sat inside perimeter frames, lowering the floor level and producing a lower centre of gravity, for better handling.


1952 Hudson – Bull Doser


For the 1951 model year, the six-cylinder engine received torque and horsepower boosts and the GM-supplied four-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission was optional in Hornets and Commodore Custom 6s and 8s.

Hudson’s strong, light-weight body, combined with its high-torque, six-cylinder engine, made the company’s 1951–54 Hornet dominant in NASCAR in 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954 – back in the days when ‘stock’ car racing meant exactly that.


Hudson Hornet race car – Hostetler Hudson Motor Car Collection – Kremmerbi.


The smaller US automakers found it increasingly difficult to compete with the Big Three (Ford, GM and Chrysler) during the 1950s, in terms of pricing and in the necessary tooling to keep annual upgrades fresh. Hudson’s once-innovative ‘step-down’, unit-body construction made restyling expensive. 

Although Hudsons dominated racing, sales fell each year from 1951 to 1954 and only Korean War military contracts kept the company afloat. On March 20, 1954, the Hudson Motor Car Company reported a loss of $10,411,060 in 1953 as compared with a profit of $8,307,847 in 1952.


1953 Hudson Hornet


After Hudson’s high-priced, Jet compact car line failed to capture buyers in its second straight year, Hudson and Nash-Kelvinator (makers of Nash and Rambler) merged in 1954, to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC).

It was clear that AMC needed a V8 and an agreement was made for the new 320 cubic inch (5.2-litre) Packard V8 engine and Packard’s Ultramatic automatic transmission would be used in the 1955 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models.


AMC V8 – Christopher Ziemnowicz


However, AMC was busy developing its own solid-lifter V8 and that four-barrel carbie 250 was used in the Hudson Hornet ‘Specials’ of 1956. These cars had the top-of-the-line model trim, but were built on the shorter wheelbase Statesman and Wasp models.

The Hudson Hornet Special didn’t take off in the marketplace and only 1757 Hudson Hornet Specials were produced: 1528 four-door sedans and 229 two-door hardtops. In contrast, 3015 Hornets equipped with the Packard V8 were sold in 1956.


1955 Hudson Hornet – Jeremy


More popular Hudson models were powered by the 308 cubic-inch (5.05-litre) Hornet Six that was available with an optional high-compression cylinder head and dual-carburettor ‘Twin-H Power’ manifold.



However, in late 1956, AMC determined that the Nash and Hudson brands were beyond redemption and the last Hudson rolled off the Kenosha assembly line on June 25, 1957.


1957 Hudson Hornet V8 Sedan – Sicnag


Hudson Down Under


1937 Hudson Terraplane Sedan – Sicnag


Hudson vehicles were first imported into Australia in 1913, by Brisbane company McGhie Motor Company and in 1915 the Sydney branch of Dalgety & Co. Ltd became the distributor of Hudson and Essex vehicles for New South Wales. 

In 1926 a new company, Leader Motors Limited, was formed to be the exclusive distributor of Hudson and Essex motor vehicles in Queensland. 

Hudson and Essex assembly by Neal’s Motors of Port Melbourne began in Victoria in 1927. 

In February 1934 Ruskins Body Works of West Melbourne secured the contract to build Hudson and Terraplane bodies for the whole of Australia, replacing several interstate bodybuilders, including Holden. 

In 1939 Dalgety & Co sold their automotive business to Ira L & A C Berk Pty Ltd which thereafter became the distributors for Hudson in NSW and QLD. The company opened a manufacturing plant in Belmore, Sydney in February, 1949.

Despite import restrictions after World War II, Australian distributors of Hudson, Nash, Packard, and Studebaker were able to bring in limited numbers of US-built, right-hand-drive vehicles from 1946.

Dunlop Rubber Company released a report in 1949 about Australian car sales for the period of 1932 to 1949 in which it reported that Hudson vehicles (including Essex and Terraplane) numbered 10,424 units for the 17-year period, coming in at 13th place overall.

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