Curbside Classic: 1950 Hudson Pacemaker – For Best Results, Use Daily

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To varying degrees, all of us have likely contemplated having an older car as a daily driver.  Whenever such discussions arise around here, there is always a degree of hesitancy due to the inherent downfalls that come with ownership.  Like being a nudist or running for political office, having an older car is one of those things that simply isn’t for everybody.

However, Bob is swimming against the current of opinion by using this Hudson Pacemaker as a daily driver.  For cars from this era, he picked a good one.

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Hudson had had a long, colorful history by the beginning of World War II (here).  Coming out of the war, Hudson, like everyone else, recycled their pre-war design to fully enjoy the buyer’s market while buying time to design a new car.  People were clamoring to replace their old cars and the auto industry was happy to oblige.

Frank Spring is credited for the design of the unibody Hudson of 1948.  Spring, the son of a wealthy west coast family, had earned a mechanical engineering degree from the Ecole Polytechnic in Paris in 1914.  Coming to Hudson in 1931, Spring’s managerial methods have been likened to those of Harley Earl from GM as Spring rarely put pencil to paper.  Strother McMinn, an employee in Hudson’s design department, has stated Spring gave assignments on design activity while supervising the undertaking, but he was generally more interested in gadgetry on the car.

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The first sign of Spring’s on a Hudson appeared for 1932, in the guise of the v-shaped grille.  Another potential sign of Spring’s involvement are the doors being hinged on the B-pillar, an element he frequently used during his tenure at the Walter Murphy coach building company; this is a design he modified from Swiss coach builder Gangloff.

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One of the legends surrounding the Step Down models is the genesis of the design.  A highly entertaining, yet totally bogus, version says Spring had constructed a prototype Step Down prior to United States involvement in World War II.  The idea was nixed by one of his superiors at Hudson, who had a streak of Chrysler’s K.T. Keller in him, insisting cars have a roof tall enough to allow wearing a hat while driving.  In turn, Spring had this prototype placed on the roof of a Hudson facility only to revive it after the war where it then went into production.

Great story, but it’s as mythological as can be.

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The real story is Spring had benchmarked the 1942 Buick for the appearance of the new Hudson.  Upon giving the assignment to surpass the Buick, the Step Down is what Hudson’s designers created with the first scale model being produced in 1943 with prototypes coming along after the war.  According to others within Hudson’s design department, Spring announced success to the staff at the point he believed their design had surpassed that of the Buick.

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While a visually pleasing car, the real story of the Step Down Hudson is in its being an engineering triumph with its unibody structure and floorpan being within the frame rails.  This design provided the lowest center of gravity of any American car of the day; even the rear tires were within the unibody structure.  The unibody allowed lowering the height of the car by around 12″ (30 cm), reducing the center of gravity, while still providing copious passenger space.

The British automotive magazine The Motor called the new Hudson “a daringly original innovation which enables an outstandingly low car to be roomy, strong and of normal weight.”  One could effectively argue Hudson was far ahead of their time, as few cars today aren’t built using similar, although refined, construction techniques.

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Lest anyone think having a car named Hudson Pacemaker is akin to having something contemporary named the Toyota Insulin Pump, don’t fret.  The first implantable pacemaker was attached to Mr. Arne Larsson in 1958, a Swedish gentleman who outlived both his surgeon and the inventor of that particular type of pacemaker.  Mr. Larsson died of melanoma in 2001.

The base trim Pacemaker seen here was introduced for 1950, well before Mr. Larsson helped change our perception of the word.  “Pacemaker”, much like Chevrolet’s Fleetmaster, had an entirely different meaning back then.

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When the 1948 Hudson was introduced there were four series of car, the Super Six, Commodore Six, Super Eight, and Commodore Eight.  These cars helped propel Hudson into having its best post-war year in 1949 when it netted $13.2 million on sales of $274 million.  For 1949, sales were just over 70% higher than they had been in 1947.  It just didn’t last.

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The addition of the Pacemaker and Pacemaker Deluxe series in 1950 expanded Hudson into having six models.  All Pacemakers were planted on a 119″ wheelbase and were motivated by a destroked version of the Super Six, a 232 cubic inch (3.8 liter) version rated at 112 horsepower.

With the Pacemaker tipping the scales at around 3,500 pounds, it would seem like its 112 horsepower engine would be insufficient to ably move the car.  When thinking of it in modern terms, that would indeed be the case.  However, for those times, the performance of the Pacemaker was comparable to Nash’s Ambassador and was better than some competitors who were also in the just under $2000 range.

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That this Pacemaker doesn’t have the top engine offering, or the more readily remembered Twin-H power engine that came along later, is of no consequence to Bob, this Hudson’s current owner.

I had seen Bob’s Hudson parked in front of a house a week or so prior to getting these pictures.  Seeing any Hudson outside of a museum is a rare treat and I was hopeful to learn more.  As I was driving through Bob’s small town soon thereafter, I saw his Hudson parked in front of an auto parts store.  This time I went back to look.

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As I approached the Hudson parked by the front door, Bob walked out.  I asked if this was his car; he said it was but he was more curious if I actually knew what it was.  As I told him it was a Hudson from around 1950, give or take a year or two, he smiled and whipped a Hudson nameplate out of his pocket.  Bob seemed happy to see somebody who actually knows what his car is and I figure the nameplate in his pocket is likely a habit from talking to the delighted yet uninformed crowd.

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Bob and I had a nice, yet brief talk.  He lives locally and, with where he lives being small town America, he was trying to determine what clan I was related to.  There are a preponderance of Shafer’s in this area, but most are using more letters in their name.  Further, there is also a small yet distinct number of Schaefferkoetter’s in Bob’s part of the world.  My stock answer about being a transplant to central Missouri consistently throws people off although I do temper that by disclosing my great-grandfather was the 18th of 21 children and changed the spelling, so there could be some distant kinship.

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When I told Bob about my involvement with CC, his face lit up.  While he had not heard about us, he now has and immediately offered me a look inside his Hudson.  I hated to be rude and refuse his offer.

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Bob is rehabilitating the Hudson a bit, adding a heater and replacing some wear items.  His only concession to modern times is adding the cupholder to place his ashtray.  And, yes, the seats are quite comfortable with ingress and egress being a snap.

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The car is going to remain stock.  In fact, Bob is actually working backward as he is going to remove the side pipes.  He told me they are dummies and just get in the way.

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For using any old car as a daily driver, a big factor not often discussed is the environment where one resides.  That does not mean weather so much as it does terrain and population.  Bob lives near a town of 1,545 people, all the highways are two-lanes, traffic is relatively light, and he isn’t going to create an imposition for too many when climbing any hills.  This is an environment in which this old Hudson will thrive.

Were Bob to live in any urban or suburban area, the age of his Hudson would likely be more apparent.  I salute Bob for taking the plunge and realizing what is needed for the proper care and feeding of a vintage Hudson.  He chose very well.

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Found July 2016, Belle, Missouri