"Symphonic Styling begins with brilliantly modern new design," said the 1941 Hudson's brochure, "... bodies that are 5 1/2 inches longer, a full 2 inches lower, and roomier than ever." This might have confused many car shoppers, because, from the front at least, the 1941s looked much like the previous year's cars.

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The Hudson Commodore Eight debuted in 1941.
The Hudson Commodore Eight debuted in 1941.
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The 1940 Hudson had looked strikingly new. A broad grille of seven horizontal louvers spanned from fender to fender, and the fenders themselves were an outgrowth of the body, not bulbous lumps connected to the body by a catwalk as on General Motors' cars. A sharp crease headlined the prow, on a hood hinged to open from the rear, a Hudson feature introduced the previous year.

A fully-independent, coil spring front suspension replaced 1939's leaf-sprung beam axle, though it must be said that Hudson's had been no ordinary beam axle: with characteristic Hudson thoroughness it had featured radius arms in addition to the semi-elliptic springs and, in 1939, added a stabilizer bar that Hudson called "Auto-Poise."

This latter device linked one front wheel to the other with a torsion bar, an arrangement that was to become commonplace a few years later but was a Hudson exclusive at the time. Hudson boasted "Center Point steering," which used an idler arm mounted in the middle of the front cross-member and two "half tie rods."

A close look, however, proved the newness of the 1940 Hudsons to be deceptive. The fresh appearance was really only a nose job on the 1939 bodies, albeit a clever one. Hudson's own advertising played up the illusion by highlighting the nose and hiding the rest of the car in shadows.

And the front suspension was the only significant mechanical change, though wheelbases grew on bottom- and top-of-the-line cars, and transmissions were redesigned for "side shift" operation from the column linkage (1939 gearboxes having been converted "top loaders," with cable-and-rod actuation).

The 1940 Hudson, then, was a very evolutionary venture into the new decade. In fact, Hudson engineering and styling had nearly always been evolutionary, in large measure due to the company's perennial paucity of cash. While the firm had enjoyed the status of third best sales in the industry in 1929, the 1930s had been a bit of a roller coaster. Red ink showed up in 1931, and lasted -- but for three years of modest profits in 1935-1937 -- until 1940.

From the rear, differences between the 1940 and 1941 Hudsons were more obvious.
From the rear, differences between the 1940 and
1941 Hudson were more obvious.

Thus the six- and eight-cylinder engines had much in common; both were lineal descendants of the Essex six of 1924, a much-maligned powerplant whose deficient lubrication often caused bearing failure while running downhill. However, many years of incremental engineering had made the engines reliable, including their "splash" lubrication -- and Hudson eights would splash until they left production at the end of 1952. Hudson's forte was metallurgy, and the company's chrome alloy cylinder blocks were nearly indestructible.

A number of mechanical features were unique to Hudson, and interestingly so:

  • Chief engineer Stuart Baits had been badly injured in an accident while testing Hudson's new hydraulic brakes. Vowing never to allow such failure again, Baits designed the "Double Safe" system that automatically activated the mechanical emergency brakes on the rear wheels if the brake pedal sank below a certain limit.

  • Almost from the beginning, Hudson had used a cork-faced clutch, which ran in oil. It was uncommonly smooth, and quite reliable.

  • Followers of other makes found Hudson's door locks strange. Instead of pushing the inside lock buttons down to lock the doors as in other cars, Hudson owners pulled theirs up. The reason for this anomaly was amazingly simple: It's much harder to break into a car by pushing the button down with a coat hanger than to pull it up.

If the 1940 Hudson had been a new-looking old car, the 1941 was a familiar new car -- almost too familiar. From the front, it took an expert to tell a 1941 Hudson from a 1940: Two additional grille bars and revised hood trim were the only obvious changes.

The parts manuals tell a different and more dramatic story. Only the front fenders interchange with the earlier cars. Moreover, from the cowl back, the 1941 Hudsons were undeniably all new, longer and lower, with a pleasing "bustle" where the 1940 cars had a holdover 1930s fastback theme.

For more on the 1941 Hudson models, continue on to the next page.

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