How Hudson Cars Work

1954, 1955, 1956, 1957 Hudsons

The 1955 Wasp Sedan was part of the first group of Hudson-Nash merger cars.

The merger amounted to a Nash takeover. Mason had hoped to add just-married Studebaker and Packard to make his new American Motors Corporation into Detroit's "Big Fourth," but that was forever forestalled by his untimely death in October 1954. Mason lieutenant George Romney succeeded to the president's chair, and soon put all of AMC's eggs into the compact car basket.

Meantime, Hudson's Detroit plant was closed and the Nash factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, retooled for an "all-new" '55 Hudson. Of course, everyone knew what it was: a restyled Nash. Still, it wasn't all bad. Hudson could not only continue to tout unit construction but also Nash's all-coil suspension in lighter, trimmer cars that promised better fuel economy.

AMC stylists hid the Nash origins well, giving Hudsons a handsome eggcrate grille, distinct trim, a different rear end, full front-wheel openings (instead of semiskirted), plus Nash's new '55 wrapped windshield. One direct link to the Step-Down was carried-over 1954 gauges.

Offerings began with Wasp Super and Custom sedans and Custom Hollywood hardtop with 114.3-inch Nash Statesman wheelbase and a 202 "Hi-Torque" six from the now-departed Jet. Hornet Six rode Nash's 121.3-inch Ambassador platform and offered the same three models with 160/170-bhp 308-cid engines. Topping the line were a trio of 208-bhp Hornets ­powered by Packard's new 320-cid V-8 (a legacy of Mason's planned four-way merger).

Twin-H Power was again available for sixes, and Nash's tiny Metropolitans and compact Ramblers gained Hudson badges to give the make broader market coverage. Yet for all this -- and a banner Detroit sales year -- big-Hudson volume continued sliding, reaching just over 20,000.

Fewer models and horrendous "V-Line Styling" arrived for '56. AMC design chief Edmund E. Anderson gets blamed for the ugliest Hudsons in a generation. These really did look like a "Hash," as some latterday wags refer to post-'54 Hudsons. The Hornet Six was otherwise unchanged, but the Wasp was down to a lone four-door, and Hornet V-8s gave way in March to downpriced Hornet Specials with AMC's own new 250-cid V-8 -- which had only 190 bhp. An anemic engine and terrible looks only depressed demand, and AMC built just 10,671 non-Rambler '56 Hudsons.

Styling didn't improve in '57, but horsepower did. The AMC V-8 was newly bored to 327 cid, netting a more-respectable 255 bhp for a four-Hudson line of Hornet Super and Custom sedans and Hollywoods.

But buyers had long since branded Hudson a loser, and all but 3876 stayed away from the '57s. With that, Hudson was put out of its misery, as was Nash. In their place for '58 was a new Rambler Ambassador line with cleaner new styling originally intended for Hudson and Nash.

In retrospect, dropping these venerable makes was just common sense. As Roy Chapin, Jr., later recalled: "…[T]he decision really was one that said we've got to spend our money and our effort and our concentration on the Rambler…" Thus expired two once-great names, with Hudson perhaps the greater, sadder loss. Given the Hornet's great performance record and the Step-Down's engineering legacy, one can only guess what Hudson might have become had things been different.

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