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, "[but] 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.