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How Hudson Cars Work


1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 Hudson cars
The 1946-47 Hudson cars -- including this 1946 Hudson Commodore -- were very similar to the company's 1942 models.

Like most other Detroit cars, the 1946-47 Hudsons were just '42s with new wrinkles -- mainly a less-elegant front sans prow. However, the small 175-cid six was forgotten, and a vastly simplified lineup offered fewer models spread among Super and Commodore Six and Eight, all on a 121-inch chassis. But there were no fewer than three transmission options: $88 stick/overdrive, $40 "Vacumotive Drive," and $98 "Drive-Master" (with Vacumotive).

Vacumotive operated the clutch automatically, while Drive-Master eliminated both clutch and shift motions. By putting the shifter in third gear, the car would start in second gear and upshift to third when the accelerator was lifted. Slowing to a stop, Drive-Master would shift to second again. Hudson built over 91,000 of its '46 models, two-thirds of which were Super Sixes.

The 1947s were unchanged save details like a chrome trunkĀ­lid nameplate, right- and left-side exterior door locks, and a small lip on the housing of the prominent triangle medallion above the grille.

Hudson produced some 92,000 cars for the model year, but fell from ninth to 11th on the industry board. Other makes were doing better in the unprecedented postwar seller's market. Still, Hudson sales exceeded $120 million in 1946, and the firm netted over $2.3 million. Two years later, Hudson made more money than it ever would again, earning $13.2 million on gross sales of $274 million.

The reason was a brand-new car, the now-famous "Step-Down." Named for its innovative recessed or dropped floorpan, it completely surrounded passengers with strong frame girders in one of the safest packages of the day -- maybe one of the safest ever. It also offered rattle-free unitized construction and a radically low center of gravity that made for great handling. The long 124-inch wheelbase provided a smooth ride and king-size interior space.

The Step-Down was even beautiful in its way: a long "torpedo" with clean flush-fender sides, modest taillamps, fully skirted rear wheels, and a low, horizontal grille. The design evolved from wartime doodles of aerodynamic forms by a design team under Frank Spring, who went way back with Hudson and was way ahead of the times with the Step-Down.

Though Hudson stuck with a four-series lineup for 1948-49, it violated an old Detroit caution about not restyling and re-engineering in the same year. Thus, Super and Commodore Sixes carried a new 262-cid inline six-cylinder engine with 121 bhp, only seven less than the unchanged 254-cid straight eight. It had only four main bearings instead of five, but was as smooth and durable as the eight.

Hudson finally joined the rest of the industry and replaced its outdated splash lubrication with full pressure for the new six. It also delivered surprising performance: 0-40 mph in 12 seconds with Drive-Master; stick-shift cars were even faster. With this gutsy new six in the advanced Step-Down platform, Hudson was transformed almost overnight from an also-ran performer into one of America's quickest, most-roadworthy cars.

Dealers cheered the Step-Down upon its mid-1948 introduction. Here was precisely what they needed for great sales in a heady market where customers sometimes outnumbered available cars. Sure enough, Hudson surged not only in profits but also in production, selling 117,200 of the '48s and 159,100 of the near-identical '49s (only the serial numbers were different).

But there was one big problem. As a unitized design, the Step-Down couldn't be greatly changed without great expense, and Hudson sales wouldn't be sufficient to cover the cost once the postwar seller's market ended in 1950. A slow-selling '53-54 compact only accelerated the depletion of cash reserves.

As a result, the Step-Down wouldn't be updated much until 1954, by which time it was way too late, forcing Hudson to seek refuge with Nash under the American Motors banner. Nor would Hudson be able to afford a station wagon or V-8 engine, two very popular '50s commodities. In fact, Hudson offered only sixes in 1953-54, and though the "fabulous" Hornet engine dominated stock-car racing in that period, sixes were a tough sell in the mostly eight-cylinder medium-price field where Hudson competed.

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