History of Hudson

Hudson imageThe story of the Hudson Motor Car Company is one replete with automotive "first," many of which were adopted by other members of the industry; an impressive volume of production - more than three million cars built; outstanding defence activities on a grand scale; and scores of stock car racing records which emphasize Hudson's leadership in engine power development.

The story began on February 24, 1909, when eight Detroit businessmen banded together to form a corporation to produce an automobile which would sell for less than $1,000. The eight visionaries were Roy D. Chapin, who organized the group, J.L. Hudson, famed department store magnate who gave permission for the company to be named after him, R.B. Jackson, Huch Chalmers, Harold E. Coffin, F.O. Bezner, J.J. Brady and Lee Counselman.

The automobile they had all agreed there was a good marked for was called the Hudson "Twenty" was one of the first low-priced cars on the American market, selling for $900 f.o.b. Detroit. It boasted a sliding gear transmission, selective type, and a French Renault type vertical, four cylinder, water cooled motor.

The company started production at a small two-story plant in Detroit, and first car was driven out of the factory on July 3, 1909. The partners had a better reason than most Americans to celebrate Independence Day, for the "Twenty", years ahead of its time in design, was a smashing success. More than 4,000 were sold the first year, the biggest first year's business in the history of the industry up to that time. Net sales for the first sixteen months were an impressive $3,980,999, which encouraged the company to buy a tract of land at Jefferson and Conner Avenues, five miles from the Detroit City Hall. There they built a new larger plant, with 172,000 square feet of floor space. Roy D. Chapin was elected president, succeeding J.L. Hudson.

Shortly afterward, Chapin made an extended tour of European automobile factories. He was impressed with how far advanced they were over American companies is design and construction methods. Many of the observations he made during this junket were reflected in subsequent Hudson cars and plant operations.

For example, Chapin became impressed with the superiorities of six-cylinder power plants he had seen in European plants. He induced Coffin and Hudson's engineers to develop a car with a six-cylinder engine to sell at a medium price. The first new Hudson with the stepped-up power was introduced in July 1912, and was followed by a roadster, the first low-priced car to 60 miles an hour.

Chapin had also been impressed with the fact that, although European cars were made mostly of steel, they were lighter and stronger than American made automobiles with wooden bodies. He therefore had Hudson's designers and engineers create a car that was to create another sensation in the automobile world - the Six-Forty, the first six-cylinder car of moderate weight. It weighed less than 2,700 pounds, hundreds of pounds lighter than other sixes, and came equipped with a four-speed, over-drive transmission. This car had the dual advantage of greater speed, with lower gasoline consumption.

In 1916--while a major war raged in Europe and a minor one sizzled in Mexico--Hudson introduced its Super-Six, which had the first fully balanced crankshaft, turned by an engine with stepped up power with compression ratio of 5 to 1, considered a great improvement at the time. This type or crankshaft was copied by other manufacturers and became universally used.

Hudson's high compression efforts represented in the Super-Six also kicked off a power race that continued down the decades, and led to engines with compression ratios of up to 12.5 to 1. An idea of the significance of Hudson's increased compression ratio in the 1916 Super-Six is shown in the fact that it had a 76 h.p. output, against only 48 h.p. on the previous year's six-cylinder engine.

A Hudson 1916 Super-Six demonstrated its tremendous power by zooming along at a 102 mph clip in the white sands of Daytona Beach. This was to the first of hundreds of performance exhibitions and races in which Hudson cars were to be entered in the decades following.

The Super-Six's outstanding performance was largely responsible for Hudson selling 26,393 cars in 1916, a record up to that date, and for the expansion of factory floor space to 247,000 square feet.

In 1917, Chapin brought about the creation Essex Motors, a subsidiary of Hudson, which was to produce the "dream car" that he had conceived in Europe, and which he felt would revolutionize the American automobile industry - the closed coach.

Up to this time, the vast majority of American-made cars were of the open touring or runabout type, which were obviously restricted to fair weather use. Closed cars where priced $1,000 or more above open cars, which thus put them out of reach of the average car buyer. Hudson's engineers revamped their production methods to the point where they could bring out a closed coach selling at only $100 more than the comparable open car.

The Essex closed sedan and coupe were introduced in 1919 - and once again Hudson scored a sensation. Forty-one thousand were sold the first year. The closed automobile marked one of the most important milestones in automotive history - for it transformed the industry overnight from a ‘six-months' operation to a year-round affair. The Essex coach also boosted Hudson's sales tremendously, and by 1922, they were being sold in 50 foreign countries.


In that year, Essex Motors was dissolved as a separate corporation, and became part of the parent company. A year later, Chapin, satisfied that the company's affairs were running smoothly and anxious to devote most of his time to public affairs, particularly in his campaign for an improved highway system, resigned as president. He became U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Coolidge.

By 1926, Hudson was building all its bodies on a production basis in it own plants. Assembly line methods, which Chapin had studied in Europe, were put into effect.

The company celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1929, with a record of 1,779,360 cars built since it began business. The 1929 Hudson featured such innovations as an improved engine oiling system, with combination electric oil and gasoline gauge.

Although the depression which began in 1929 retarded engineering advances in many industries, Hudson's engineers still kept at it.


On July 21, 1932, Hudson introduced another famous name in automotive history - the Terraplane - which was christened by the popular aviatrix, Amelia Earhart.

The unit-engineered method of construction introduced with the Terraplane is the key to Hudson's phenomenal record of 120 official American stock car awards for performance, endurance and economy between 1932 and 1940. The record of which the company was proudest was the all-time 24-hour mark, set by a Hudson Eight on October 10, 1936, at Bonneville Salt Flats. The Eight travelled 2,104 miles in 24 hours at an astonishing average of 87.68 miles an hour.

In 1933, Chapin returned as president of Hudson which, like all automobile companies and most industrial firms, was beginning to experience heavy losses. During the next three years, through streamlining operations and refinancing, the company pulled out of its slump and was beginning to show profits again by early 1936, when Chapin died. A. E. Barit, who had been purchasing agent of the original Hudson Company, and treasurer of Essex Motors, and had worked his way steadily up the line, was elected president.

Under Barit, Hudson continued to develop styling and engineering improvements. The 1936 Hudson were equipped with patented double-safe Hydraulic brakes, and the automobile draft eliminator which equalized air pressure inside and outside the car. The '37 Hudson was the first American car to have the battery under the hood, rather than under the front seat. Auto-poise, front-wheel stabilization, air foam seats and dash-locking hoods came in the 1939 Hudson, and Drive-Master automatic transmission was the 1942 contribution. Like other automobile companies, Hudson stopped making passenger cars in early 1942, and plunged all-out into war contracts.


Immediately after V-J Day, Hudson prepared for the vast changeover back to automobile production and had cars moving out of its plants by October, 1945. The year 1947 marked the sale of the 3,000,000th Hudson.

On September 19, 1947, the company ceased production on the 1947 models to prepare to build a completely re-designed car for the 1948 season, a retooling operation that cost $16 million. Hudson hailed the '48 as the "car you step down into", the first American-made automobile with a low silhouette, combining greater beauty, stability, "hug-the- road" ride and safety, with adequate interior headroom and comfort.

Hudson cars since then have retained this low silhouette, now common in the industry, while its engines kept being improved and the line rounded out, until it had a range of seven powers. The company expanded its operations on the international front, purchasing plants in Canada and England, and establishing sales and service facilities in more than 100 countries. The selling and service organization was gradually built up to a network of 3,000 world wide outlets.


In 1951, the company outdid its previous efforts as far as engine power was concerned, with a 145 h.p., six-cylinder engine in the new Hornet. Hornets have won scores of racing car victories since then. In 1951, Hudson also re-entered defence production. Contracts to manufacture the Wright R-3350 engine, fuselage sections of the twin-jet B-57 Canberra Night Intruder bomber and fuselage sections of the B-47 bomber were assigned to Hudson.

Conditions within the automobile industry in late 1953 made A. E. Barit and Hudson's board of directors realize that if the company were to continue to make notable contributions to the automobile field, its position had to be strengthened. Accordingly, they were the mood to listen to and accept George W. Mason's suggestion that Hudson merge with the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, for the mutual benefit of both.

While competing with the likes of the more mainstream Fords and Chevrolets, the Hudson Terraplane offered a number of interesting design features that put it ahead of its rivals and marked the models as rugged and reliable transport. The chassis was incredibly strong, but whereas most cars had their bodies bolted to I lie frame, the Terraplane had its welded at around 30 points to make the whole structure very rigid and thus the ride quality better. Also, the company favored wider tyres than most, then ran them at a lower pressure to further enhance the ride. At the front the beam axle was located by radius arms which improved feel and gave a measure of anti-dive under hard braking. Finishing the car off were the brakes which were hydraulic; in case these failed and the pedal went to the floor, a mechanical set of brakes was activated on the rear only.

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