SORTING THROUGH THE WRECKAGE
The Ford-Chevrolet sales blitz continued through 1955, cutting a bloody swath through the independents. Few of the compacts survived the storm. The Henry J expired in 1954; its final-year production was only about 1,100 units. The following year, Willys, which had merged with Kaiser in 1953, decided to abandon the passenger car market and focus on Jeeps. U.S. production of the compact Willys car ended in 1955 (although it survived overseas for years afterward).
Although the market for American compacts was still small, AMC now had it all to itself. The 1955 Rambler, now sold through both Nash and Hudson franchises, sold about 56,000 units, up almost 55% from 1954. Sales for 1956 were more than 66,000 units. By 1958, AMC was selling around 150,000 compact Ramblers — very close to the combined sales of the Henry J and Rambler back in 1951. Thanks to the Eisenhower recession, Rambler sales increased sharply over the next few years, prompting the launch of the Studebaker Lark and the first Big Three compacts. By the late sixties, compacts accounted for nearly 30% of the U.S. market.
The Hudson Jet gets a very bad rap from a lot of automotive historians; both Dick Langworth and Ken Gross call it the car that killed Hudson. Many observers insist Hudson would have been better off spending the money on a redesign of the Step-Down cars or on a V8 engine. The problem is that Hudson desperately needed both and the $16 million cost of the Jet would not been enough for both. Packard spent some $20 million on development and tooling for its V8 and we doubt Hudson could have done it for much cheaper than that.
Even if it had, we’re not at all convinced that a V8 alone would have revived sales of the aging Step-Down cars. A full-size version of the Italia without a V8 would not have been a salable proposition either; the mediocre sales of the attractive but underpowered 1951–1955 Kaiser makes that clear enough. Even without the Jet, Hudson probably couldn’t have survived much longer than it did.
As for the impact of the Jet’s styling, we suspect it’s been a little overstated. The Jet is admittedly rather homely, but we’d be hard-pressed to say the 1953–1954 Rambler was better-looking. Moreover, the Willys Aero, which had more felicitous styling, didn’t sell particularly well either. As tempting as it is to cast aspersions on A.E. Barit and Jim Moran’s influence on the Jet’s styling, the lukewarm response to the Italia suggests that Frank Spring’s original design wouldn’t have done any better in the U.S. market.
In all, the Jet seems like the right car at the wrong time. Had it appeared five years later, it probably would have sold very well, dowdy looks and all. Unfortunately, Hudson no longer had that kind of time.
Former Hudson president A.E. Barit resigned from the AMC board in 1956 to protest the decision to terminate the Hudson and Nash brands. He died in 1974.
Norm VanDerzee, Hudson’s VP of sales, also left AMC in 1955. In September 1956, he became assistant general sales manager of Ford’s new Edsel Division. He died in 1973.
Jim Moran, the Hudson dealer who had shaped the styling of the Jet, abandoned Hudson for Ford in 1955; within a year, he had become the world’s largest Ford dealer. He retired for health reasons in 1964, but made a remarkable recovery and returned to auto sales in 1968, selling both Pontiacs and Toyotas. He added a Lexus franchise in 1989, becoming the world’s largest Lexus dealer. His family business now encompasses a variety of automotive enterprises with revenues of around $10 billion a year. Moran died in 2007 at the age of 88.
Carrozzeria Touring, which built the Hudson Italia, suffered financial problems in the sixties and went out of business in 1966. In 2006, Caronno Pertusella-based coachbuilder Marazzi, which had employed many former Touring workers, acquired the “Touring” and “Superleggera” trademarks and reorganized as Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera srl. It recently launched the Bentley Flying Star, a Bentley Continental shooting brake, and the four-door Bentley Bellagio Fastback, a sporting estate in the mold of the Reliant Scimitar GTE and Volvo 1800ES.
Murray Corporation of America, which built the Jet and the Aero Willys, left the auto business after the demise of those cars. It sold its automotive plant to Dana in September 1955, although Murray continued to do design and manufacturing work for other industries. It was later bought out by Household International, a subsidiary of HSBC Bank.
AMC revived the Hornet nameplate in 1970, but it never built another Jet. The company stumbled through the seventies, its sometimes innovative ideas failing to prop up the bottom line. In 1980, American Motors fell into an ill-fated alliance with Renault, which ended with the company’s sale to Chrysler in 1987. Chrysler quickly phased out the AMC brand. Its successor, Eagle, lasted until 1998. The last remnant of AMC was its inline six-cylinder engine, originally introduced in 1964, which survived in some Jeep products until 2006.
Frank Spring stayed on for a little while after the AMC merger, but he retired in 1955. In August 1959, he and Clara Spring were driving to Detroit for a meeting with AMC’s Roy Chapin, Jr. when their souped-up Metropolitan was hit head on by a Ford station wagon. Spring was killed, although Clara survived with serious injuries. Spring was 66.
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NOTES ON SOURCES
Information on the history of the Hudson Jet and the state of Hudson and the auto industry during this period, came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Cars that Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1981); “Autos: Hudson’s New Car,” TIME 29 September 1952, www.time. com, accessed 2 June 2010); Arch Brown, “1939 Hudson 112: Heir to the Essex,” Special Interest Autos #83 (September-October 1984), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books), ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 36-43, “1946 Hudson Super Six: Hudson’s Postwar Success,” Special Interest Autos #72 (November-December 1982), reprinted in ibid, pp. 48-56, “Essex: The Tail that Wagged the Dog,” Special Interest Autos #99 (May-June 1987), reprinted in ibid, p. 8; “Business: Too Many Cars?” TIME 6 June 1954, www.time. com, accessed 2 June 2010); Floyd Clymer, “Report on the Hudson Jet,” Popular Mechanics October 1953, pp. 118-122, 304, 306; Trevor J. COnstable, “Frank Spring’s Too-Soon Hudson — The X-161,” Car Life Vol. 8, No. 8 (November 1961), pp. 32–35; “Controls: Strength Through Pain,” TIME 18 December 1950, www.time. com, accessed 3 June 2010); David R. Crippen, “The Reminiscences of Robert F. Andrews,” 2 August 1985, Automotive Oral History Project, Benson Ford Research Center, www.autolife.umd. umich. edu/ Design/ Andrews_interview.htm (transcript), accessed 14 May 2010; Ken Gross, “Hudson Jet: There was nothing wrong with this early compact…except that it killed the company,” Special Interest Autos #60 (November-December 1980), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons, pp. 68-75; Maurice D. Hendry, “Hudson: The Car Named for Jackson’s Wife’s Uncle,” Automobile Quarterly’s Great Cars & Grand Marques (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly/Bonanza Books, 1979), pp. 70-85; John F. Katz, “SIA comparisonReport: Independent Thinking: 1954 Nash Rambler, Willys Aero, and Hudson Jet,” Special Interest Autos #159 (May-June 1997), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine,ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 112-119; Beverly Rae Kimes, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, Inc., 1989); Harry F. Kraus, Sr., Fun at Work, Hudson Style: Tales from the Hudson Motor Car Company (Ann Arbor, MI: Hudson Motor Car Company Home Chapter), pp. 28-29; Michael Lamm, “Italia…Hudson’s Last Fling,” Special Interest Autos #8 (November-December 1971), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons, pp. 84-89; Michael Lamm and Dave Holls, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 189-195; Matthew Litwin, “Flying Low,” Hemmings Classic Car #26 (November 2006), pp. 58–63; Richard M. Langworth and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1953-1954 Hudson Jet” (6 September 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1953-1954-hudson-jet.htm, accessed 14 May 2010), most of which originally appeared in the April 1995 issue of Collectible Automobile; Mark McCourt, “1954 Final Flight of Fancy,” and “Making It Right,” Hemmings Classic Car #8 (May 2005), pp. 24–33; Alex Meredith, “1934 Hudson Eight: Hudson Comes Roaring Back,” Special Interest Autos #106 (July-August 1988), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons, pp. 22-29; Strother MacMinn, “Frank Spring and the Murphy Connection,” Special Interest Autos #127 (January-February 1992), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons, p. 18; “STATE OF BUSINESS: Step This Way, Please!” TIME 19 May 1952, www.time. com, accessed 3 June 2010); and Mark Theobald, “Frank Spring 1893-1959” (2004, Coachbuilt, www.coachbuilt. com, accessed 2 June 2010).
Specifications for the Fiat 1400 came from the Carfolio.com Fiat 1400 page, accessed 3 June 2010, and Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001).
Information on the revival of Carrozzeria Touring came from the company’s website, www.touringsuperleggera. eu/ en/ company.asp, accessed 12 June 2010. Additional details on the life of Jim Moran came from “The History of JM Family Enterprises, Inc.,” (2009, JM Family Enterprises, Inc., jmfamily. com, accessed 13 June 2010). Additional information on the history of Murray came from Mark Theobald, “J.W. Murray Mfg. Co.” (2004, Coachbuilt, www.coachbuilt. com, accessed 2 June 2010).
We also consulted the following period road tests: “The Autocar Road Tests No. 1504: Hudson Super Jet Saloon,” Autocar 31 July 1953; John R. Bond, “Road and Track Road Test No. A-2-53: Hudson Super Jet,” Road & Track June 1953; “Road Test: Super Jet power plus–30 mpg,” Speed Age August 1953; “Threat to the Big Three?” Motor Trend August 1953; Walter Von Schoenfeld, “Hudson Tests a Sports Car,” Cars October 1953; “The Hudson Line for ’54,” Automobile Topics November 1953; “Hudson’s Italia,” Car Life February 1954; Steed Evans, “Soup Up the Hudson Jet,” Motor Life March 1954; and “Closeup of the Hudson Italia,” Motor Life September 1955, all of which are reprinted in Hudson 1946-1957 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke(Cobham, England: Brooklands Books, Ltd., 2004).
- Charge of the Light Brigade: The Last Stand of the Packard Motor Car Company
- From Small Things: The Nash Metropolitan and the Birth of American Motors
- Kaisers Never Retrench: The History of Kaiser-Frazer, Part 1
- Kaisers Never Retrench: The History of Kaiser-Frazer, Part 2
- Fashionably Small: The Compact Nash Rambler
- Step-Down: The 1948-1954 Hudsons