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.
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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Hudson Jet's Beginnings
To explain its spectacular failure, it is necessary to go back to the Hudson Jet's beginnings. The Jet was engineered by Millard Toncray and, as with the big "Step-down" Hudsons, he built it like an armored car with an "all-welded, single-unit Monobilt body-and-frame [with] 5,000 permanent welds."
Hudson urged prospects to
"SEE the economy!" of the 1953 Jet.
It weighed 2,700 pounds, 400-500 pounds less than a Ford or Chevrolet, but about 200-300 pounds more than its compact rivals, the Aero-Willys, Rambler, and Henry J. Happily, the weight was overcome by a strong powerplant with enough speed options to fend off any of those competitors.
Hudson called the Jet's engine "a scaled down H-145" Hornet six -- which it definitely was not. With a 3.00-inch bore and 4.75-inch stroke, its 202-cubic-inch six was clearly derived from the old Commodore Eight, which had been discontinued for 1953. Hudson simply used the existing Commodore engine tooling, subtracted two cylinders, and created the long-stroke Jet Six.
This wasn't as odd as it sounds. The small bore allowed higher compression than could be achieved by a squarer bore/stroke ratio. John Bond figured that 7.0:1 was the limit for a "square" L-head without sacrificing volumetric efficiency. The Jet had 7.5:1, and 8.0:1 was optional.
"The piston speed factor [of a long-stroke engine] can be alleviated by good design and becomes negligible when used with an overdrive or a Dual-Range Hydra-Matic," Bond wrote. "During tests we found that valve-bounce occurred at an indicated 63 mph in second gear, 5,500 rpm. ... We approached these speeds at least 75 times and the little stroker was still running as smoothly and as quietly at the end as at the beginning."
"This extremely high-compression ratio gives you unequaled efficiency and maximum economy," said the brochure. "The engine in the Hudson Jet employs the same principles of design -- the same-type oversize bearings and rugged construction -- as the famous H-145 engine in the fabulous Hudson Hornet. It's so smooth, so quietly efficient that a vibration damper is not actually needed, though the best type is provided. ... Hudson's exclusive high-chrome-alloy cylinder block is the toughest in the industry. It machines to a mirror-like finish and outwears ordinary blocks by thousands of miles. This extra-tough cylinder block keeps your engine running like new longer and cuts oil consumption to an absolute minimum."
The Jet offered an array of engines and drivetrains much broader than its competitors, which relied on low-suds fours or sixes with no pretense of performance. It was the only compact besides Rambler with a Hydra-Matic option ($176). Overdrive cost $102. The standard single-carb engine had 104 bhp. Options included a high-compression aluminum head, which delivered 106 bhp, and Twin H-Power, which gave 112. The two options combined developed 114 horses.
For more on the Hudson Jet's mechanics, continue on to the next page.
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Hudson Jet Mechanics
Twin H-Power, optional starting in mid-1952, had actually been on the Hudson shelf since 1944. Twin H-Power ended up making a considerable contribution to the Hudson Jet mechanics.
It consisted of a dual manifold and dual carburetors, providing a very even fuel-air mixture to the cylinders, which in a standard induction arrangement is not ideally suited to six-cylinder engines. It required only regular gas, and on the big Hudsons was a strong reply to the four-barrel carburetor, premium-fuel V-8s gaining in popularity.
On the Jet, it was in a class by itself. The best the 1953 compact competition could muster was 90 bhp, and though a handful of 1954 Aero-Willys cars were produced with 118-bhp Kaiser sixes, they were few and far between.
Jet buyers could tailor performance with a wide choice of rear axle ratios. Manual ratios were 4.10:1 standard, 4.27:1 for mountainous regions, and 3.31:1 for economy. With overdrive, 4.27:1 was standard, but 4.10:1 was available. Hydra-Matics had 3.54:1 standard, 3.31:1 optional. These ratios obviously influenced performance, but whatever the combination, results were well ahead of Rambler, Willys, or Henry J. Typical 0-60 times were 14 seconds, with one automatic Super Jet achieving 12.5. The standing quarter-mile was covered in 19-20 seconds and top speed came in at 95-100 mph.
Unfortunately, the Jet's readability wasn't up to its sprightly acceleration despite Hudson's boast of "the lowest center of gravity among American cars." Motor Trend said the inside front tire "seemed nearly off the ground" in a tight, 50-mph turn, and complained of excessive oscillation above 50 mph: "Bottoming, accompanied by three or four oscillations, occurred at 70 mph, and the front end felt nearly airborne. On sharp dips, full spring travel was reached at 50, and on very severe dips the Jet bottomed at 30 mph. ... To be a real threat, the Jet will need more than its excellent performance. ... A wider track plus heavier shocks would improve stability."
These criticisms were valid, but not intrinsic to the design, and could easily have been cleared up along the lines Motor Trend suggested. But no one could criticize the Jet's performance, or fault its basic engineering. Styling was another matter.
When top management and sales people get involved in automotive styling, the results often resemble Congress' efforts to legislate human behavior. The Jet's design parameters were set not by its engineers nor by Hudson's talented chief of design, Frank Spring, but by Hudson President A. Edward Barit. And therein lies a brief tale.
Barit's basic dimensions weren't bad. His model for the Jet project was Fiat's 1400, a well-designed sedan with a wheelbase and track almost identical to those Hudson came up with, and outstanding interior space utilization. At 105 inches, the Jet wheelbase was spacious compared to 100 for the Rambler and Henry J, offering ride and space advantages that Americans liked.
What killed the Jet was its height, which was out of proportion to its length and width. Former Hudson engineer J.J. Hartmeyer said this was dictated by Barit: "Frank Spring had wanted to drop the height, to get it down lower like the Mercedes. But Mr. Barit wanted those chair-high seats."
The Jet's high build couldn't help but create plenty of headroom, and with 58-inch-wide seats against only 67 inches overall width, it utilized 86 percent of its width for passengers. But Barit's seat specs gave it impossible proportions. Trying to design around these dimensions recalls the late Bill Mitchell's comment that styling a small car is like tailoring a dwarf.
In addition to Barit, the professionals at Hudson had to contend with Chicago dealer Jim Moran, who would often come to the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit to kibitz on styling matters. Roy D. Chapin, Jr., then in sales, later president of American Motors, recalled that "Moran was selling about five percent of Hudson output, 3,000 Hudsons a year; it was an unbelievable thing. One of his favorites was the 1952 Ford, [which Hudson had seen early enough to] determine the Jet roofline." The problem was that the Ford rode a 10-inch-longer wheelbase!
"The Jet originally had a small rear window in it," Hartmeyer added. "Ford came out with a wraparound window, and Mr. Barit and this Chicago dealer had us change to a wraparound. Pittsburgh Plate Glass said they could wrap it if we held the Ford curvature." Hudson did -- but again, that contour was meant for a much larger car.
Meanwhile, Ford had moved the fuel-filler cap behind the license plate for 1952, so the Jet placed it at the rear, too, but just to the left of the license plate and behind its own spring-loaded door. "Mr. Barit [also] wanted high fenders, and liked the round taillights of Oldsmobile," Hartmeyer recalled. The rear quarters of the production car thus ended up as high, slab-sided affairs, capped with little Oldsmobile-type taillights.
For more on the Jet's styling, continue on to the next page.
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Hudson Jet's Styling
It's hard to tie down the Hudson Jet's styling evolution because photographs of prototypes are scarce. Years ago, Special Interest Autos created a composite of what Frank Spring's original proposal looked like, based on the comments of those interviewed.
Even the steering wheel and gauges were
designed to match the Hudson Jet's interior styling.
It was a smooth, low-slung affair, reminiscent of the smaller Mercedes of the time. Notably, it had a fuselage and roofline similar to those of the big Hudson, and a much lower hood and deck.
The horizontal crease in the production Jet hood, wrote then-editor Mike Lamm, "was Frank Spring's original hood line. Likewise, around back, there's another crease in the decklid. It demarks Spring's original decklid height."
There's a rumor that this change occurred by accident at Murray, where Jet bodies were built, but Murray did not make that sort of mistake; its business was built on creating exact copies of prototypes supplied by manufacturers.
Spring, a mercurial aesthete and a brilliant designer, was tremendously upset by the looks of the production car. Although the grille had a slight similarity to that of the big 1954 Hudsons, the rest bore no resemblance to the low-built Hornet and Wasp. "I never knew Frank Spring more upset at anything," said the late Bob Andrews, who worked under Spring at the time and would later help create the Studebaker Avanti. "He was really quite depressed, at times almost suicidal."
Hudson put the best face possible on the styling. "Clean and functional, yet rugged and sturdy, is the distinctive new grille on the Hudson Super Jet. The sleek streamlining reduces frontal surface and enables you to slip along through head winds with a minimum of wind resistance and gasoline consumption. ... Here is a low-priced car with distinctive continental styling. The lean, low lines of the swept-back fenders, rear lights that are clearly visible from side or rear, and massive, wrap-around bumpers are quality details that give the Hudson Super Jet its exclusive custom look."
Luxury was also touted: "Interiors are as glamorous and rich as a jewel case. Seats are finished in a specially woven, two-toned worsted in either blue or green, depending on the exterior color of the car. ... [The] ultramodern, easy-to-read instrument panel is an example of the luxury that is built into every Hudson Super Jet. Instruments are indirectly lighted and clustered for your convenience. Teleflash signals warn you immediately if oil pressure or generator charging rate drops. The slim, two-spoke steering wheel is color-harmonized to blend with the upholstery."
Even the base Jet featured "beautiful new upholstery in a grey weave with red and brown stripes, and this is framed by bolster cloth in a rich tone of solid brown color. This is combined with Dura-fab trim to add even greater durability."
The standard Jet came only as a four-door sedan, base priced at $1,858. About $100 more bought the Super Jet, available with two or four doors, the richer interior, and more exterior chrome around the greenhouse.
Unfortunately for Hudson, parts and material shortages, a fire at General Motors' plant producing Hydra-Matics, plus wildcat strikes and delays in Jet production did not produce the anticipated sales gains. Total volume was just over 66,000 cars, actually a bit less than in 1952, and the company lost $10.4 million -- its biggest loss in history. The only semi-bright spot was that 21,143 sales were Jets, a reasonably good start given the late March 13 debut (production had started in January), but not nearly enough to make a profit.
The Jet had cost $16 million to tool, and its Murray body was the first Hudson shell supplied by an outsider since the 1930s. There was a reason for this: owing to a shortage of funds, Barit had got Murray to agree to a delayed payment plan.
"Murray tooled quite a lot of the car by amortizing, by a charge of say $50 a body," Roy Chapin recalled, "thereby saving the manufacturer the initial capital outlay. As I can remember, there were serious hassles with Murray that the projected schedules were not met, and consequently Hudson amortization and recovering of its tooling costs were running way behind what it had anticipated." This helps explain why Hudson could build 70,000 cars and make $8 million in 1952, yet lose $10 million on almost the same volume in 1953.
Chapin believes the Jet's amortization schedules were crucial in Hudson's decision to merge with Nash (as a very junior partner) the following year: "I can remember some banker friends saying, 'You're not amortizing those tools,' which of course were charged against earnings. In an automobile company your depreciation and amortization policy can materially affect, on a yearly basis, at least your bottom line figure."
Owing to unexpectedly low sales, Barit reported to stockholders that "we found it necessary at the close of  to review and adjust all of our amortization charges for tooling and other items incidental to model life." Hence the problem with Murray. Both sides were unhappy, Hudson because Murray wasn't building bodies fast enough, Murray because Hudson wasn't selling enough of them to cover the amortization.
To learn about the 1954 Hudson Jet, continue on to the next page.
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1954 Hudson Jet
The 1954 Hudson Jets were essentially a repeat of the 1953s with more trim variations and a newly ribbed grille bar with a medallion in the center. There were now three series, with the new Jet-Liner topping the line.
Sales of the 1954 Hudson Jet lagged, contributing
to the demise of the company.
Starting around $2,050 and available as a two- or four-door sedan, the Jet-Liner had a beautiful pleated-vinyl interior with foam rubber seat cushions. Contrasting colors of red, blue, or green with cream were offered, and instrument panel colors were keyed accordingly.
On the outside, there was more chrome trim around the windows, gravel shields, and door-base moldings. The Super Jet series also wore some bodyside chrome, while the base series added a two-door Utility Sedan (with a folding trunk divider partition), and, in April, a price leader called the "Family Club Sedan."
Introduced at $1,475, but quickly raised to $1,621, the Family Club was the cheapest Jet ever. Like the Henry J, it was said to have been created for the millions of people who could never before afford a brand-new car. In fact, it was a desperate attempt to find buyers for the Jet, which was badly lagging in sales.
It had no exterior brightwork other than bumpers and hubcaps, rubber moldings around the windshield and backlight, cheap cloth upholstery, and rubber floor mats. Although it offered the usual range of drivetrains, it failed to relieve the accumulating deficit. A single Jet convertible was also built as an experiment; sales manager Virgil Boyd bought it for his son.
Through April 30,1954, when Hudson closed down as an independent company and joined Nash to form American Motors Corporation, it had lost $6.2 million on sales of only $28.7 million. Had the year continued at that pace, Hudson would have lost $18.6 million, almost double the 1953 record loss.
As it was, AMC didn't report separate Hudson results after the May 1 merger, but Hudson production continued in Detroit through October 29. Only 50,660 cars were built for the model run, and just 14,224 of those were Jets. For the next three years, all Hudsons would be based on Nashes and built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after which the marque would disappear forever.
It's difficult to avoid the temptation of singling out one model as the reason for failure. The One Twenty did not sink Packard, nor indeed did the Packard Six, although the Six contributed; the Lark didn't condemn Studebaker; even the Henry J, as bad a product decision as it was, cannot be called the car that killed Kaiser. The Edsel was a marketing miscue, but hardly the catastrophe" it is often held to be; Ford was making record profits a couple years later. The Corvair or Vega meant nothing in the broad Chevrolet picture.
But if ever there was a single model that had a devastating effect on its maker, it was the Hudson Jet. Product-wise, it was almost exactly wrong. Its timing -- at the height of the horsepower race, with the public besotted by longer, lower, wider cars and V-8 engines, and General Motors and Ford virtually giving away their cars in a price war -- was almost guaranteed to make it a failure no matter how good it was -- and it wasn't that good.
It gobbled up $16 million in tooling expenses at a time when cash was needed to update Hudson's stock-in-trade, the big Hornets and Wasps, which hadn't seen a new body in seven years and desperately needed a modern V-8 to meet the competition.
Despite its good qualities, the Jet was not, in the end, the car those big Hudsons had been, not even a junior edition of them. Hudson, after all, was not a big company. Sixteen million meant a lot. There is no doubt at all that the firm should have put that money into a car with a proven market: a V-8 Hornet, for example.
The Jet finished Hudson, all right.
To find more information on the 1953-1954 Hudson Jet, including prices, models, and specifications, see the next page.
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1953-1954 Hudson Jet Prices and Specifications
By the early 1950s, Hudson was in serious trouble. Desperate to revive sales, the firm bet its future on an all-new compact, the 1953 Hudson Jet. Though highly praised, it bombed -- forcing Hudson into a merger that cost it its independence, and ultimately its life. Here are the specifications for the 1953-1954 Hudson Jet:
The 1954 Hudson Super Jet four-door cost $1,954.
1953 Hudson Jet Models and Prices
|1C Jet||Weight ||Price |
|4-door sedan ||2,650 ||$1,858 |
|2C Super Jet||Weight ||Price |
|2-door Club Sedan ||2,695 ||$1,933 |
|4-door sedan ||2,700 ||$1,954 |
1954 Hudson Jet Models and Prices
|1D Jet||Weight ||Price |
|4-door sedan ||2,675 ||$1,858 |
|2-door Utility Sedan ||2,715 ||$1,837 |
|2-door Family Club Sedan ||2,635 ||$1,621 |
|2D Super Jet||Weight ||Price |
|4-door sedan ||2,725 ||$1,954 |
|2-door Club Sedan ||2,710 ||$1,933 |
|3D Jet-Liner||Weight ||Price |
|4-door sedan ||2,760 ||$2,057 |
|2-door Club Sedan ||2,740 ||$2,046 |
1953-1954 Hudson Jet Production*
|1953, all models||21,143|
|1954, all models||14,224 |
|Total 1953-1954 Hudson Jet ||35,367 |
*Model breakdowns are not available.
1953 Hudson Jet Specifications
|Price ||$1,858-1,954 |
|Wheelbase, inches ||105.0 |
|Overall length, inches ||180.7 |
|Overall width, inches ||67.0 |
|Overall height, inches ||62.8 |
|Tread, front/rear, inches ||54.0/52.5 |
|Ground clearance, inches ||7.4 |
|Weight, pounds ||2,650-2,700 |
|Fuel tank, gallons ||16.0 |
|Width, front seat, inches ||58.0 |
|Width, rear seat, inches ||58.0 |
|Height, front seat, inches ||14.3 |
|Body||all-steel box-section, all-welded Monobilt body-and-frame |
|Type ||L-head 6-cylinder inline |
|Material ||high-chrome-alloy |
|Bore × stroke, inches ||3.00 × 4.75 |
|Displacement, cid||202.0 |
|Horsepower @ rpm ||104 @ 4,000 |
|Taxable horsepower ||21.6 |
|Torque, pounds/feet @ rpm ||158 @ 1,600 |
|Compression ratio ||7.5:1 |
|Main bearings ||4 |
|Valve lifters ||solid |
|Carburetor ||Carter 1-bbl downdraft |
|Engine, optional|| |
|As above, except:|| |
|Horsepower @ rpm ||114 @ 4,000 |
|Compression ratio ||8.0:1 (aluminum cylinder head) |
|Carburetor ||2 1-bbl downdraft (Twin H-Power) |
|Also offered: ||106 bhp with aluminum head, 112 bhp with Twin H-Power and low-compression head |
|Clutch||dry plate |
|Diameter, inches ||9.125 |
|Transmission||3-speed manual, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd; Hudson Overdrive and 4-speed Dual-Range Hydra-Matic optional; all with column shift|
|Ratios ||3-speed: 4.10:1 (4.27:1 and 3.3:1 optional); overdrive: 4.27:1 (4.10:1 optional); Hydra-Matic: 3.54:1 (3.31:1 optional) |
|front ||independent: unequal A-arms, coil springs, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar |
|rear ||semi-floating rear axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, tubular shock absorbers |
|Steering||Gemmer worm-and-roller |
|Ratio ||20.2:1 |
|Turns lock-to-lock ||4.2 |
|Turning circle, feet ||33.4 |
|Brakes||hydraulic, 4-wheel drum |
|Drum diameter, inches ||9.0 |
|Swept area, square inches ||132.14 |
|Wheels||4.00 × 15; 4.50 × 15 optional |
5.90 × 15; 6.40 × 15 optional
|Electrical system||6-volt |
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