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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