The 1953 Hudson Jet was a beautifully engineered, high-performance small car with many wonderful qualities and bearing a distinguished name -- but a car that looked perfectly awful from virtually any angle.

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The 1953 Hudson Super Jet posted impressive performance numbers, including 31 mpg at 30 mph and 18 mpg in traffic.
1953 Hudson Super Jet posted impressive numbers,
including 31 mpg at 30 mph and 18 mpg in traffic.
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It bore no family resemblance to the sleek and purposeful big Hudsons, and lacked even that quality of quirkiness that somehow saved the Nash Rambler. There was no Jet convertible with windshield frames that didn't retract, nor a cute little station wagon with a bi-level roofline.

Jets were just conventional two-and four-door sedans, far too high and much too narrow to please the eye, with a front end one owner likened to a "guppy's mouth." Worse, a stripped Jet cost nearly $200 more than a Chevrolet One-Fifty four-door sedan: $1,858 versus $1,670 (and $1,874 for a top-line Bel Air). It took a very serious Hudson devotee to buy one.

Yet, the Jet was an outstanding car in almost every respect except looks. The only all-new American car for 1953, "The Wonderful Hudson Jet" was quicker than its competition, more solidly built, free of chromium excess, cheap to run, and eminently practical.

Road & Track, always ready to lampoon domestic small cars in those days, admitted that the Jet had changed its editors' minds. "Demonstrate this car and it will sell itself," wrote editor John R. Bond. But the problem was that people who bought imports amounted to two percent of the 1953 market. Add those who bought American small cars, and you might just make six percent.

Of course, a car like the Jet was bound to be liked by people for whom an Austin A-35 was ideal family transport, and those who normally sang the praises of imports were exuberant. "You can cruise all day long at 70 to 75 mph without any feeling of engine strain," wrote John Bentley (who couldn't get away with that in his Austin), "nor is it necessary to stand on the brake pedal ... nine inch drums provide over 132 square inches of lining area. ... Compare these figures with those of other Detroit products lugging from 500 to 1,000 pounds more. Congratulations, Hudson."

Congratulations, phooey. "You just don't take a chance on a car like this," said the late Hickman Price, Jr., a former vice-president of Kaiser-Frazer, who had gone through the same sad story with the Henry J, "not if you are a company the size of K-F or Hudson. We brought the Henry J out in 1950 at only a few dollars more than a Ford and Chevy, and quickly learned even that was too high a price. To bring it out at $200 more would have been suicidal. That was Hudson's experience. I could have saved them the expense of finding out."

To get a feel for the Hudson Jet's beginnings, continue on to the next page.

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