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A Hooniverse Thanksgiving Turkey – The 1953-54 Hudson Jet (Or how to kill a Car Company with one model…)

Jim Brennan November 27, 2014 Hooniverse Thanksgiving Turkey 12 Comments

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Thanks for checking on Hooniverse during your Thanksgiving Holiday. We know that between the Parades, the Football Games, Thanksgiving Dinner, and of course, Thanksgiving Drinks, we realize that the Hoons that come here during the week might want some automotive frivolity, if only to take a break from their family for a few moments. So, in honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday (and for the fourth year and counting…), we thought we would roll out a few Hooniverse Thanksgiving Turkeys, as in Automotive Turkeys…

The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded in 1909 with eight Detroit businessmen that started building the company with capital from Joseph L. Hudson, a Detroit department store entrepreneur and founder of Hudson’s department store. The company was named after Mr. Hudson and hit the ground running on February 20th, with the business plan of producing a motorcar that would sell for less than $1,000. By 1929, Hudson was the third largest U.S.Car Maker behind Ford and Chevrolet. Hudson had many memorable models throughout the years, but they were always just a bit more expensive than comparable makes from both Ford or Chevrolet. This really didn’t matter after the war years of 1942-45 when production resumed with warmed over pre-war designs that all the major car companies were then producing, because demand far outstripped supply.

However, the Hudson Motor Car Company decided to introduce a revolutionary new model in the form of the “Step-Down” Hudson models for the 1948 model year. Basically, these cars were built with the passenger compartment that was built inside the perimeter of the frame. Passengers simply stepped down into the passenger compartment, and was surrounded by the steel superstructure. The results were spectacular as far as handling, ride height, and to some degree, performance. One consequence of the design was the fact that it couldn’t easily be restyled. Factor in the price wars ignited by both General Motors and Ford during the 1952-54 time period, and the smaller independent automakers were struggling, including Hudson. So what did Hudson do at this point? It introduced the Hudson Jet, a compact car looking like a 3/4 scale 1952 Ford sedan, that was short, narrow, yet taller than any of the “Step Down” Hudson models of the period. It was the antithesis of what Hudson was suppose to be, and that’s why I call it my Thanksgiving Turkey…

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It has been written that the Hudson Jet had a twelve million dollar development plan, and the new model made it’s debut in December of 1952. The Jet could have been a success if the designers and engineers were left alone, but that really didn’t happen. The project was hampered by then Hudson President A.E. Barit who was 63 years old by this time. He insisted that the compact Jet offer full-size car amenities and would not back away from features such as chair high seating for passengers, and a “tall” greenhouse with a ceiling that would allow riders to wear their hats while in the car. The design was further enhanced because of the input of one of the more successful Hudson Dealers, Jim Moran of Chicago Illinois. He wanted the rear of the car to mimic the 1952 Ford wrap around rear window, and Mr. Barit ordered the stylists to make it so…

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Timing is everything, and the Hudson Jet was the only “New” nameplate to be introduced for the 1953 model year, at least among the domestic automakers. The Jet was also in the middle of a four-way competitive market, with the Nash Rambler, the Henry-J, and the Willys Aero that were vying for sales within the new compact car market. Compared with each of the competitors, the Jet was shorter that either the Henry-J or the Willys, and it was narrower and taller than all three models. To further add insult to injury, the Hudson Jet was priced higher than base-level full-sized Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth sedans, even though it was a well appointed car. Standard equipment for the smallest Hudson was at a high level for a car of this era. These features included a heater, theft-proof locks, rotary door-latches, defroster vents, dual horns, full-wheel covers, ashtray, and a lighted ignition switch that were typical extras on almost any other car make. Through it all, Hudson managed to sell 21,143 Jets for the 1953 model year, which really wasn’t a lot in the overall scheme of things.

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So, as a follow-up, Hudson doubled-down on he Jet, and introduced a new trim package called the Jet-Liner. This was basically a Super-Jet with some additional upgrades. These include chrome trim around the windows and body side, gravel shields, as well as upgraded color-keyed vinyl interiors featuring foam rubber seat cushions. Of course the model script on the side of the front fenders announced to the world that you are driving a Jet-Liner. It was also pricey, with the Jet-Liner 2-Door Sedan starting at $2,046, while the 4-Door was priced at $2,057. Both of the Jet-Liners were around $100 over the Super Jet series, and around $200 more expensive than the base Jet. This sounds like a small increase, but remember, this is in 1954 dollars, and the pricing of a standard Jet ($1,858) would bring an equivalent of $16,442 in today’s dollars. Hudson was able to sell 14,224 Jet Models for the 1954 model year.

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Because of the $16 million investment to make the Jet happen, the future looked especially bleak for Hudson, and left the company without the funds to update the senior line of Hudsons. The idiot who insisted that the Jet be designed the way it was, then Hudson President A.E. Barit, convinced the Board that a merger with Nash-Kelvinator represented the best chance of protection for Hudson’s stockholders. When the merger of the two companies was completed and Barit assumed his seat on AMC’s Board of Directors in 1954, the first Hudson model to terminate production was the Jet. Hudson dealers would sell badge engineered Ramblers and Metropolitans in place of the unloved Jet.

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However, there were two engineering marvels associated with the Jet during this time period that almost (notice I said Almost…) saved this car from being the Turkey it turned out to be. One was the marvelous Twin-H Power Option, available on any Jet model. Hudson engineers simply added two one barrel down-draft carburetors to the 202 Cubic Inch (3.3L) flathead six, and increased power output from 104 HP for the basic engine, to 114 HP for the Twin-H setup. An aluminum head with a compression ratio of 8.0 to 1 was part of the mix, and this produced more power than what was available in the standard Ford, Chevrolet, or Plymouth engines at that time.

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The Jet also served as the platform for the sleek Hudson Italia 2-seat sports coupe. The Hudson Italia was designed by Hudsons chief designer, Frank Spring, with the objective of using the body for the Hudson Jet. But it was once again Hudson’s meddling president A.E. Barit who insisted that the Jet be a conventional automobile, so the Italia saw limited production. The Italia featured a body built by Carrozzeria Touring of Milano, with the Jet’s standard drive-train including the I6 engine. There were only 26 Italias built, not including a single 4-door sedan which was speculated as a true replacement for the “Step-Down” senior Hudson models.

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The one and only Jet Convertible, Purchased by Hudson’s Sales Manager at the time…

So, I open the floor to our Hooniverse faithful fans on this Thanksgiving Holiday. What do you think about this Thanksgiving Turkey called the Hudson Jet? What are your thoughts as to the damage it may (or may not) have caused to the Hudson Motor Company? Do you think the capital should have been spent to develop a replacement for the “Step-Down” Hudson models? And do you think Hudson would have survived even if this car wasn’t produced? Let me know.

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

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  • Devin

    I wonder how well the Jet would have sold if they weren't forced to make it look like a doofy shrunken '52 Ford. I imagine it would have had trouble anyway given the price war, but I can't imagine it doing any worse.

  • $kaycog
    • Joe Dunlap

      Hmmmmm. Thats "cold" $kay. :-).

      • $kaycog

        I couldn't resist. 😉

  • Joe Btfsplk

    Hudson missed the opportunity of a lifetime by not developing a pickup instead of the Jet.

  • Sjalabais

    Without much detailled knowledge, I'm under the impression that the real issue was the forcefully applied market power of the big car companies. Price wars, enabled by economies of scale, were the bigger issue. It didn't help that the small Hudson didn't mimic the bigger ones though, it really does look a bit clumsy. Imho this is nicely done by Audi: The different cars are hardly distinguishable.

    Happy Thanksgiving on the other side of the pond!

  • dead_elvisCantLogIn

    Happy Thanksgiving, you turkeys!

  • I'll take a meddling, myopic company honcho over a marketing department's focus group any day. Both seem to produce the same number of turkeys, but the company presidents also foster some absolutely brilliant creations; something no all-things-to-everyone focus group can do.
    Marketing can market anything production spits out, they don't need to have a hand in the design process.

    (Why don't car companies just consult internet commentators before making these decisions? Save so much time.)

  • Vairship

    Developing a new full-size instead of the Jet would have produced much the same ending, I think. Don't forget the price wars the "near luxury" Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury, Edsel, DeSoto, Chrysler and Packard got engaged in. A new full-size Hudson wouldn't have done better than Packard or DeSoto.

    Whereas if the Jet hadn't died when it did, it would've run into the Falcon, Comet, Valiant, Duster, Corvair, II/Nova, Lark and Rambler and lost out. The US car market in general just got really crowded in the late '50s and the '60s.