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1951 Hudson Hornet Hollywood

1948-54 Hudson "Step Down"


At one time, Hudson was one of the most respected names in American automobiles, with a rich history dating back to 1910. Unlike most of the pioneer automakers, Hudson wasn't named for the man who created the car, but for the man who financed it. The founders of this company were several veterans of the Olds Motor Works: Roy D. Chapin, Howard Coffin, George Dunham and Roscoe Jackson. Chapin and Coffin had also gained experience in other automotive adventures at Thomas and Chalmers. Having the honor of sharing his name as a new marque of automobile was Joseph Hudson, owner of the giant department store and an uncle to Jackson by marriage.

Plus Minus

Unique ride

Performance with the Twin-H

Stylish interiors

Racing pedigree

Waning interest

Above average restoration costs

Some parts can be tough to find

Created with the idea to offer improved transportation at a reasonable cost, Hudson was successful almost from the start in serving the upper middle-class motorists of the day, firmly establishing itself as one of the more successful independent car makers. In the season before automobile production was halted for the duration of WWII, buyers could choose either the Super Six or the impressive Commodore Eight. When production resumed in 1946, these two series returned with models that were tastefully face-lifted. It was a seller's market in those early post-war days, but Hudson knew that customer tastes were and that the competition was busy with updated designs. As such, a radical new vehicle was proposed.

Under the direction of Hudson's chief stylist Frank Spring, the first post-war design set out to revolutionize the way Americans thought about cars. With slab-side styling, a low silhouette, wide stance and tasteful use of chrome, the 1948 "Step-Down" Hudsons practically shouted "all-new". Introduced in December 1947, these new models were new and fresh, and they forshadowed the direction most all American cars would soon follow.

What's Available

Almost immediately, the new Hudsons became known as the "Step-Down" models, due to their lowered floorpan that allowed passengers to be cradled between the built-in frame rails, achieved through unibody construction. In its initial year, the new post-war Hudson was marketed in two basic series, the Supers and Commodores. Under the hood, buyers had their choice of a 262ci in-line six rated at 121 horses, or an in-line 254ci eight with 128hp. With a wheelbase of 124" and an overall length of 207.5", these cars were long and low. Sporting a 58.5" front tread with a 55" rear stance, they handled better than other sedans in their class.

In that first season the Super line fielded five different models: four-door sedan, Business Coupe, six-passenger Club Coupe, two-door Brougham, and a Brougham convertible. Prices ranged from $2,069 for the small coupe to $2,836 for the convertible. The eight was offered only in the Club Coupe and Sedan for and additional $35.00.

Commodore buyers, which could choose the six or eight-cylinder engine, had just three body styles to select: four-door sedan, Club coupe or Brougham convertible. Less than 115 of the latter were produced for the 1948 model year. In its first year, Hudson's new step-down models saw a total of 117,200 units roll off the assembly line--a great kick-off for a new body style.

Hudson Hornet
The big Hornet with its 308ci six and Twin-H power.

After the success of the first year of the "step-down" models, Hudson was on it's way to even better production totals for the 1949 model year. The most notable change in the line-up was the addition of the 8-cylinder option for the Super Brougham in addition to that series' sedan and Club Coupe. Base prices actually saw a slight drop as production rose to 159,000 units.

As the 1950s dawned, Hudson decided to re-vamp its marketing tactics by offering a less-expensive model, the new Pacemaker 500. This new step-down model sat on a shorter 119" wheelbase, which took the bumper-to-bumper measurements to 201.5". The existing models grew a little to just over 208 inches. This new series was offered in the same five basic body styles as the Super with a four-door sedan, two-door Brougham, Business Coupe, Club Coupe and a convertible Brougham. The Pacemaker models could be ordered in both Base and Deluxe trim. Commodores were also marketed in two trim levels, Base and Custom, while the Super line was available in a single trim level.

Powering the Pacemaker 500 was a new smaller in-line 232ci six with 112 horsepower and a 6.7:1 compression ratio. Both the Super and Commodore lines continued to use the same engines that had been available in the previous year.

Hudson already was considered a big and roomy family sedan with enough power to scoot around town as well as the open road. However, in 1951 Hudson brought things to a new level, and a new era for these cars was about to arrive.

52 Hudson Hollywood
A sharp '52 Hollywood hardtop.
54 Hudson 2dr sedan
Hudson updated the styling for '54, with mixed results.

Entry level Hudson buyers could order a Pacemaker Custom Six, which continued to be offered in the five basic body styles as in the previous year. For those customers ready to move up, there was the "Super Custom-Six" line, which featured five body styles: the four-door sedan, Club Coupe, two-door Brougham, the Brougham convertible, and new for 1951, the Hollywood hardtop, a model offered in all series on the 124" wheelbase. The Custom Commodore line was offered with both the six and eight, and with the same body offerings as the Super series.

An all-new series was also available for 1951, the Hornet Six. Sharing the 124" wheelbase with the Commodore and Super, this powerful car was propelled with a 308ci L-head in-line six. With a boosted compression ratio of 7.2:1, it sported new “Twin-H” power with two Carter 2-barrel carbs, solid lifters, and a healthy 145 horsepower. Four basic body styles were available to Hornet buyers including four-door sedan, Club Coupe, convertible Brougham, and the Hollywood hardtop.

Twin-H Rules

In 1951 racing circles, the "Step-down" Hudsons made most everyone else feel "Stepped-on". Opening at the Daytona 500, Marshall Teague got the ball rolling by taking the checkered flag in a basically all-stock Hudson Hornet. Yes, stock cars were exactly that -- stock! Going forward, Herb Thomas took Hudson to the victory circle on enough occasions to win the NASCAR Grand National Circuit Championship for 1951. These racing victories weren't just by accident, they were the result of planning and guidance by M.H. Toncray, Hudson's Chief Engineer.

Despite the wins at the track, showroom traffic didn't pick up as much as was hoped. Fighting to re-build sales after a drop in 1950 to 121,405 units, 131,915 Hudsons rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit for the 1951 model year.

Hudson Twin-H engine
The 308ci 145hp Twin-H six.

The following year, 1952, Hudson executed a very minor face-lift to their cars. While the base Pacemaker series was downgraded in trim and appointments, a new more powerful and slightly larger Pacemaker Wasp package was available. Replacing the 112hp 232ci six with the 127hp 262ci six, the Wasp package became a popular choice in the Hudson sales department. Effectively, the Super series was deleted, leaving the Commodore and Hornets still buzzing around the Hudson hive.

The larger Commodore line still offered at extra cost the 128-horsepower 254 cid in-line eight, while the Hornet continued to lure customers with its 145-horse, 308 cid in-line six with the Twin-H Power. To help bolster Hudson's new "Performance" image, a special catalog of engine items was issued. Buyers could select higher compression aluminum heads for the Wasp and Commodore sixes, and even the Commodore eight. In addition, the Hornet's big six could also be equipped with the Twin-H set-up employing a special manifold and dual carbs. Technically not available to the general public were several other items affecting suspension and shifting that were prepared just for those involved in racing.

The Decline Begins

But there was trouble on the horizon at Hudson. Production fell to just 70,000 units for the model year, and with that fall went all the profits. Another car that had presented the "bathtub" like styling of Hudson was the Nash Airflyte. This same model year, Nash was sporting all-new and updated sheet metal giving the car a fresh look, while the Hudson tried to dress up its now four-year old concept. Consumer tastes--and expectations--were changing rapidly in America's postwar expansion.

Further refinements in trim was about all that Hudson could afford for the 1953 step-downs, as they were joined by a new breed of Hudson, the Jet, a half-hearted attempt at producing a compact. The Jet ate up precious development money that could’ve gone to Hudson’s mainstream models.

1952 Hudson Wasp convertible
'52 Wasp convertible

All models sported a less-busy twin-bar grille accompanying by a simulated hood scoop. There were a few series-name swaps in 1953 as the new low-priced full-size model was now christened the Wasp. Built on the 119" wheelbase formerly used by Pacemaker, the Wasp Six used the proven 232ci in-line six with its 112hp at 4,000 rpm. A Super Wasp edition was also offered which upgraded both interior and exterior trim and ornamentation.

The Commodore name was also retired this year with the Hornet taking top position, still sporting its big 308ci in-line six with power unchanged from 1952. A very special engine package marketed as the "7-X" was available for "severe usage" applications, also known as stock car racing. While Hudson was lagging in showroom action, they were still burning up the NASCAR circuit taking 22 of the 37 officially sanctioned events. However, with just 66,143 units produced, including 21,143 Jets, profits were non-existant (so much for "win on Sunday, sell on Monday!) and the company was awash in red ink. Something had to be done.

Fielding the step-down design for a seventh season, there were some notable changes for the model year. Redesigned rear quarter panels helped bring the big Hudsons into the early 1950s, but unfortunately it was 1954, and time was running out. Returning on the 119" wheelbase was the Wasp and Super Wasp series, still available in five basic body styles.

The Hornet returned with the same five body styles as the Wasp, but was still mounted on the 124" wheelbase and powered by the big 308ci in-line Six. In the Spring of 1954 a budget-minded Hornet Special was released that cut-down on trim, used the Wasp's interior appointments and was in fact, a last-ditch effort to bolster sales. Even with the compact Jet, things were not going well for Hudson.

Step-Down Market

Overlooked by most collectors, these cars languished in the collector car market until the mid to late 1980s. At that time, only the first Hollywood hardtops and Brougham convertibles were sought after with any degree of enthusiasm, leaving the coupes generating mild interest and the sedans becoming parts donors.

Hudson people aren't your typical "old-car buff", for they know their vehicles well, and often wear blinders to other makes and models. (This is typical for a number of orphan connoisseurs -- they only know, and care about, their beloved marque). As a result of this attitude, a Hudson expert usually owns more than one (with some collectors owning dozens), usually deals with club members at a discount, and usually has an impressive source of original spares, even though the car was discontinued 50 years ago.

Prices have seen some sharp increases over the past ten years, and are far ahead of the curve when it comes to many other makes of the same era. Much of this has to do with the fact that they had lagged the market for so long, but it also reflects a growing appreciation among the mainstream hobby for these wonderful cars.

1954-55 Hudson Italia
Not part of this profile, the Hudson Italia was a somewhat oddly styled limited production model based on the Jet platform.

Above all, look for Twin-H power. Other important options include the hydramatic, and factory original accessories such as wire wheels, deluxe radio, power steering and power brakes. Factory trim items also boost the interest of step-down collectors.

As expected, convertibles are the ones with the most appeal, with values for the Commodore models from 1948 to 1952 generally ranging in the mid to high $40,000 range when in prime condition, and fully decked out with equipment.

Coupes no longer lanquish in the shadows, with top-condition examples from all years seeing prices in the high-teens to low twenty-thousand dollar range, while the later Hollywood hardtops can go even higher. Generally the shorter wheelbase models have a slightly lower value over the full-size cars with the exception of Wasps when decked out in full performance regalia.

Loyal Following

Another thing we have found with Hudson collectors is that they enjoy finding someone new to share their hobby with. When in the market for a new collector car that comes from this era, there are several clubs and organizations out there to help you locate the vehicle of your dreams and to educate you on what's hot and what's not.

If do you take the plunge and purchase one of these well-engineered and unique looking cars, as a Hudson owner, you'll be glad that you "stepped-up to a step-down".

Current Values

Hudson Hornet

(C) Copyright 2002- VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the March 2002 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.

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