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How Hudson Cars Work

1953 Hudson Jet, the Hudson Italia
The 1954 Hudson Super Jet failed to gain sales despite engine and styling updates.

Part of that was reflected in the $12 million bill for Hudson's first compact, the ill-fated 1953 Jet. Bowing as a standard-trim notchback four-door and nicer "Super Jet" two- and four-door sedans, the Jet carried a 202-cid inline six carved from the old Commodore eight. Only 104 bhp was standard, but optional "Twin-H" and high-compression head improved that to 114, which made the little 105-inch-wheelbase Hudsons fairly speedy.

Jets were also as roadable and well-built as any Hudson, but they were not pretty. Over the objections of chief designer Spring, company president A.E. Barit insisted on bolt-upright, slab-sided styling that failed to impress. Hudson tried harder for 1954, adding a cheap Family club sedan at $1621 and luxury Jet-Liners at around $2050. Still, sales went from bad to worse, dropping from 21,143 to only 14,224.

But the Jet did spark a project that might have become the much-needed Step-Down replacement. Called Italia, this was a four-place gran turismo designed by Spring and bodied on the Jet chassis by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan. Advanced features abounded: de rigueur wrapped windshield, doors cut into the roof, fender scoops that fed cooling air to the brakes, flow-through ventilation, form-fitting leather seats, and a 10-inch lower stance than '54 Step-Downs.

But the Italia was too heavy for the 114-bhp Jet inline six-cylinder engine, and its aluminum bodywork was fragile. Of course, these problems might have been licked if Hudson had the money, but by now it didn't.

As a result, only 25 "production" Italias were built, plus the proto­type and an experimental four-door derivative called X-161 (Spring's 161st design project, evidently intended for '57). Project sales manager Roy Chapin, Jr., booted Italias out the door as fast as he could at $4800 apiece. "I got rid of them," he said later, " it wasn't one of my greatest accomplishments."

Nor, for that matter, was the last-gasp Step-Down of 1954. Somehow, Hudson found money for a one-piece windshield and a below-the-belt reskin that imparted fashionable GM squareness -- and an unfortunate resemblance to the dumpy Jet. Cheap Hornet Specials -- club coupe and two fastback four-doors -- were added at around $2600, but the Step-Down was just too old to sell anymore. Model-year production ended at just 36,436 units.

The 1954 Hudsons had bowed amid rumors of a Hudson-Nash merger. The talk was true, and Nash couldn't have come calling at a better time. From January 1, 1954, to its demise as an independent in April, Hudson lost more than $6 million on sales of just $28.7 million. However, Nash president George Mason insisted on one condition: The Jet had to go. Hudson chief A.E. Barit resisted, but not for long. He was in no position to bargain.

For more on defunct American cars, see: