Like most other Detroit producers in the early '30s, Hudson began moving away from classic four-square styling, rooted in Greek architecture, to embrace streamlining. The 1934 and '35 models were transitional: still rather boxy but less-angular, helped by skirted front fenders.
The all-new '36s looked something like the previous year's Chrysler/DeSoto Airstreams: modern, but not Airflow-radical. Highlights included tall, rounded, Plymouth-like diecast grilles and all-steel bodies with rather dowdy lines. Engines remained dowdy, too. The straight eight was little changed through 1936, variously sold in Standard, DeLuxe, and Custom series. For '35 came a new six: a 212.1-cid unit that made 93 bhp through 1936, then 101/107. The 1937-38 Eights delivered 122/128 bhp.
A reduced 1935-36 market share suggests Hudson was late in shifting to the popular "potato look." Though the firm managed 85,000 units and fifth place for 1934, some two-thirds were low-priced Terraplanes. Output then rose to average 100,000 units per year in 1935-37, but that was good for only eighth -- and Terraplane still garnered the lion's share of sales.
Worse, Hudson likely cut prices below the profit point, as it kept losing money despite this increased volume. From less than $1 million in earnings for 1937, Hudson lost nearly $5 million in recession year 1938.
After serving in the Hoover Administration, Roy Chapin returned as Hudson president in 1933. He departed again three years later after making some key product decisions inaugurated under his successor, A.E. Barit. These involved a consolidated line emphasizing economy rather than performance.
Thus, after four years as a separate marque, Terraplane was put back under the Hudson banner for 1938. Bowing that same year was a new low-priced senior series, the "112" (named for its wheelbase length). With only a small 175-cid six making just 83 bhp, the 112 was sluggish next to the speedy 96-bhp Terraplane: 35 seconds 0-60 mph, top speed barely 70 mph. But it returned up to 24 mpg and was attractively priced as low as $700. The 212 Terraplane engine also powered that year's Custom Six, again tuned for 101/107 bhp. An unchanged eight was reserved for a single Custom line.
The national economy was looking up by 1939, when Hudson dropped Terraplane, trimmed the 112 to a single DeLuxe series, and unveiled new 101-bhp Pacemaker and Country Club Sixes on respective wheelbases of 118 and 122 inches. The 212 six also returned in large, comfortable five- and seven-passenger sedans curiously tagged "Big Boy." Custom Eight became Country Club Eight, but power and wheelbases were untouched.
This was the final year for Hudson's 1936 bodies, and some deft design work alleviated much of their former bulkiness. Long-chassis models were especially graceful, but all of the '39s wore more-horizontal grilles with thick bars that made for a nicer "face" than the controversial "waterfall" ensemble of 1937-38.