The Hudson Hornet -- including this 1954 Hudson Hornet model -- was unbeatable in stock car racing.

1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 Hudsons

Sales executive Roy D. Chapin, Jr., the son of the famous Hudson founders (and a future chairman of American Motors), later explained things this way: “If you don't have enough money to do something…and if you haven't learned to specialize in a given thing…sooner or later you find you just can't do everything. [Hudson was] usually reacting, rather than anticipating."

To a large extent, Hudson's postwar plight was shared by all the independents: too little money for enough changes to keep buyers interested, resulting in fewer sales and even less money for new products.

Hudson entered the 1950s in excellent shape, selling more than 120,000 Step-Downs for the first model year. A big hit -- more than 39,000 orders -- was the new low-priced Pacemaker with a 119-inch wheelbase and a destroked 232-cid Super Six. Though horsepower was only 112, performance was as good as that of Nash's top-line Ambassador and well ahead of most similarly priced rivals.

Both Pacemaker and the 1950 Super Six offered fastback four-door sedans, long-deck club coupe, and a convertible and fastback two-door sedan called Brougham. Pacemaker also listed a three-passenger coupe, the 1950 price-leader at $1807. Other standard Pacemakers cost under $2000 except the convertible ($2428).

A few dollars more bought a Pace­maker DeLuxe in the same body types save the long-deck coupe. These used the 262 Super Six engine, which was a bit more potent now at 123 bhp. Commodore Six and Eight deleted two-door sedans, Super Eight the convertible. The main appearance change from 1948-49 involved adding twin diagonal grille bars -- the make's traditional triangle motif.

Hudson also added yet another transmission choice for 1950. Though called Supermatic, this was just a semiautomatic like Drive-Master. Supermatic added an overdrive that automatically engaged at 22 mph when selected by a dashboard button. Price was $199, versus $105 for Drive-Master. Of course, neither was a proper substitute for a fully automatic transmission, which belatedly arrived for 1951: a proprietary GM Hydra-Matic at $158. At that point, Supermatic was dropped.

But Hudson's big '51 news was the powerful six-cylinder Hornet, a four-model line priced the same as Commodore Eight ($2543-$3099). At 308 cubic inches, the Hornet engine was the largest American six offered after World War II, and though it made just 145 bhp in initial form, it was capable of far more in the hands of precision tuners.

Undoubtedly the most famous of Hudson wrench-spinners was Marshall Teague, who claimed he could get 112 mph from an AAA- or NASCAR-certified stock Hornet. An enthusiastic cadre of Hudson engineers helped by conjuring a raft of "severe usage" options -- thinly disguised racing parts.

By late 1953, they'd cooked up a hot "7-X" racing engine with about 220 bhp via 0.020-inch overbored cylinders, special cam and head, larger valves, higher compression, and "Twin-H Power" with dual carbs and manifolds -- which Hudson claimed were the first twin manifolds on a six.

The Hornet proved near-invincible in stock-car racing. Teague finished his 1952 AAA season with a 1000-point lead over his closest rival, winning 12 of the 13 scheduled events. NASCAR aces Herb Thomas, Dick Rathmann, Al Keller, and Frank Mundy drove Hornets to 27 victories in 1952, another 21 in '53, and 17 in '54.

Hornets kept on winning after that, but none of their competition successes affected production Hudsons, and sales continued to fall. Though the company kept adding and subtracting series through 1954, it couldn't alter styling much, nor add new body styles after the Hollywood hardtop coupe bowed as a Hornet, Super Six, and Commodore Six/Eight for 1951. Super Eight and the standard Pacemaker were dropped that year, when another facelift brought more-massive, full-width grilles, plus larger rear windows for nonhardtop closed models.

More trim was shuffled for '52, when Super Six was renamed Wasp and gained a slightly more-potent 127-bhp 262 engine that it shared with Commodore Six. Pacemaker and both Commodores vanished for '53, leaving 119-inch-wheelbase Wasp coupe and sedans, the same plus Hollywood and convertible in new upmarket Super Wasp trim, and four Hornets on the 124-inch platform. One bright spot: The Hornet six was now offered in a 160-bhp version, and the 170-bhp Twin-H Power (7-X) mill was a regular factory option.

But Step-Down production diminished in each of these years, falling from about 93,000 in 1951 to 45,000 in 1953. Though government-ordered Korean War cutbacks didn't help civilian sales, military contracts earned Hudson an $8.3 million profit in 1952. Unfortunately, that was more than wiped out by staggering 1953 losses totaling more than $10.4 million.

For more on defunct American cars, see: