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1954-1955 Hudson Italia

The 1954-1955 Hudson Italia benefited from the mid-1950s desire for sports cars and Italian-inspired products. See more classic car pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1954-1955 Hudson Italia was Hudson's entry in the red-hot sport-model market of the mid-1950s.

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In the 1950s, anybody who was anybody in the automobile business needed a limited edition "sports" model. For Chevrolet it was the Corvette, for Ford the Thunderbird, for Kaiser the Darrin, for Nash the Nash-Healey -- and for Hudson the Italia. There were, however, these differences: The Italia held four rather than two passengers and, more than just a sports car, it was intended to spark a new generation of Hudsons.

Like the other sports models mentioned above, the Hudson Italia's underparts came "off-the-shelf," in this case mainly from the Hudson Jet, in order to keep its costs down. In the end, it didn't matter, because Hudson merged with Nash and the combined American Motors put its faith in Nash designs for the future. Hudson sold only 26 Italias, including the prototype.

The man who had to sell them was Roy D. Chapin, Jr., later board chairman of AMC, who said: "Well, I got rid of them!" When told that the 26 Hudson Italias allegedly paid for themselves, Chapin chuckled: "Shows what a good salesman I was, but I don't believe it. The research and development figure for the Italia [sources had quoted $28,000] sounds like our racing budget in those days."

The Hudson Italia was the dream of Hudson's respected chief stylist Frank Spring. Writer Michael Lamm once suggested that it came as a "reprieve" for Spring, who "had been terribly disappointed with the Jet." Added Chapin: "Another reason is that somebody got to [Hudson president Edward] Barit and convinced him that we had to have a more modern image. The old Step-down was in production too long; we had to do something to dramatize Hudson."

The Hudson Italia was indeed dramatic, standing 10 inches shorter than the big Hudsons but retaining their low center of gravity and granitic durability. Notable features included a stylishly wrapped windshield; functional, brake-cooling fender scoops; doors cut into the roof for easy entry; scads of interior space; and the industry's first flow-through ventilation system (obviating vent windows).

The interior of the Hudson Italia sported the most anatomically correct car seats thus far designed, adjustable fore/aft and for rake, with two separate leather covered seat cushions of varying density for the back and seat.

For more on the interior and other design details of the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia, continue reading.

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The seats of the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia were anatomically correct and fully adjustable.
The seats of the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia were anatomically correct and fully adjustable.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Possibly the most marketable aspect of the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia was that it was, of course, Italian -- a good thing to be in those days of fascination with Pinin Farina and his ilk.

Built out of sheet aluminum by Carrozzeria Touring, the Italia took shape in what Ed Barit's son remembered as "a hole-in-the-wall operation down a narrow Torino side street, with a sort of production line snaking through a series of old dilapidated buildings." Now that's Italian!

Announced in August 1953, the Hudson Italia prototype toured car shows and dealerships and received a warm reception along the way. With the exception of its trick taillights, built into triple sets of external dummy exhaust pipes, and the "praying mantis" front bumper, it was a good, clean design, bristling with interesting features: esoteric, unexpected, aircraft-inspired, and unlike anything else on the market.

Hudson commissioned a run of 25 "production" Hudson Italias and priced them at $4,350. At this price (a 1954 Cadillac started at $3,838), initial enthusiasm waned, and factory sources state that only 19 orders were received. Some Hudson collectors say this was actually a figure for initial deliveries, since many potential buyers tried to order Italias at the rime and were turned away by dealers, who thought of it as a one-off pipe dream.

High price combined with lackluster performance (despite the aluminum body, it weighed over 2,700 pounds) to severely hamper the Hudson Italia's appeal. But Hudson never put much faith in it as a sales weapon; its real purpose was to act as an advance product for future Hudson passenger cars.

The 1954-1955 Hudson Italia featured the first flow-through ventilation system in auto history.
The 1954-1955 Hudson Italia featured the first flow-through ventilation system in auto history.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

One of these, called X-161 (Spring's 161st experimental prototype) was a four-door derivation with the Hornet engine; it delivered good if not blinding performance. Hindsight is cheap, but many now believe that Hudson should have launched the X-161 instead of the Jet in 1953 -- that it would have sold much better than the Jet did.

Roy Chapin sums up the Hudson Italia and X-161 project this way: "Of course, today it is dated -- but it's still a terrific exercise in automotive design. Again, the problem was much the same with the other Hudsons. It was a very costly car to make and couldn't command the price you had to get for it -- coupled with the fact that the decision was made to put nothing but a six-cylinder engine in it."

Keep reading to learn about the specifications of the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia.

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Despite a warm reception at auto shows, the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia suffered from a hefty price tag and poor performance.
Despite a warm reception at auto shows, the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia suffered from a hefty price tag and poor performance.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1954-1955 Hudson Italia had a lot going for it -- thoughtful, stylish design, a sport-car label, and, of course, Italian inspiration. Check out the 1954-1955 Hudson Italia specifications below.

Specifications

Engine: sidevalve I-6, 202.0 cid (3.00 × 4.75), 106 bhp; 114 bhp optional

Transmission: 3-speed manual

Suspension, front: independent, coil springs, tube shocks

Suspension, rear: live axle, leaf springs, tube shocks

Brakes: front/rear drums

Wheelbase (in.): 105.0

Weight (lbs): 2,710

Top speed (mph): 90

0-60 mph (sec): 14.0-15.0

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