So I’m surfing eBay Motors, and I find this 1956 Hudson*, and I think, “If I want to own a Hudson, this is the one I would want.” Now some of you may give me a disgusted “Why?” and use a certain 4-letter word used to describe these Hudson/Nash hybrids (a word which I won’t use because it’s so déclassé!) So if you want to hear me make my case, read on . . .
*Listing has since been removed from eBay.
In 1954, Hudson (whose sales had been declining for years) was acquired by Nash to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). The original Hudson factory was closed, and both Nash and Hudson automobiles were built off a common Nash-based platform. Because Hudson still had a loyal following, AMC made efforts to give the Hudson version its own distinctive personality, albeit on a rather tight budget.
The first AMC-built Hudson (1955) featured a very Hudson-like grille, and retained some traditional Hudson features like unit construction, the 202 and 308 cubic inch Hudson-built flathead sixes, a Hudson instrument panel, and a few other details.
But because this is the 1950s and all cars had to be “all new“ every model year, the 1956 Hudsons received a, shall we say, “distinctive” new grille design, which differed greatly from the companion Nashes. This grille has garnered a lot of criticism here at CC, being likened to a “Joker smile,” among other things. Actually, it kind of reminded me of a radio speaker from the ’50s, and sure enough, Motorola produced a portable radio that looks a lot like this Hudson:
And not only that, this “V-Lined” Hudson was in a way prophetic. Have you seen the latest Acura XLI?
Truth is, my favorite American ’56 sedans are Mercury, Oldsmobile, Clipper, Packard, and Lincoln. However, this ’56 Hudson still has a certain special appeal.
So let’s now look at the actual car for sale:
This is claimed to be a 29,000 mile original car, with one owner up until recent years, located in the town of Bristow, Indiana, a cluster of buildings along the highway (a “one-horse town” way out in the country where you’d expect to find a well-preserved car like this).
This is a Hornet Custom, the top-of-the-line model (the anodized gold side trim tells you that). In fact, this is the most costly and luxurious car AMC offered that year. Hudsons were always considered higher-end cars, like Chrysler and Buick.
This one has the optional hood ornament, which I like.
And it lacks the “continental kit”! I like that too.
The upholstery, while stained or dirty, appears intact. The “V” theme is apparent everywhere.
Hudson had a totally unique and novel dashboard, very different from the Nash. The speedometer is the thermometer type, with numbers 0, 3, 6, 9, & 12 taller than the others, for unknown reasons.
This example even has power brakes and steering, which will make driving this car so much more pleasant!
Not to mention the “Selecto-Lift Starter”–you start the car simply by pulling up on the shift lever.
“Triple-Safe Brakes”– another Hudson exclusive, going back to the 1930s, I believe. How many lives has this feature saved?
This being an American Motors car, the front seat backs fold down all the way. This is called “Twin Travel Beds”, but I would use this if I had to haul a large and bulky object (like a piece of furniture) which wouldn’t otherwise fit. I think I would spring for a new headliner.
PAINT No. 81-72-81. Solitaire Blue, Frost White, Solitaire Blue–it checks out!
Finally, the pièce de résistance–that’s a gen-yoo-wine Hudson 308 “Championship” six cylinder engine–just like in the previous Hornet Step-Downs, WITH “Twin-H Power” dual carburetors, giving 10 more horsepower than standard (up to 175 HP). And, the original air cleaners WITH the original “Twin-H” decals (or is it silk screening) are STILL INTACT!
You could get a ’56 Hudson with either the Hudson flathead six teamed with Hydra-Matic or a Packard-built V-8 with Ultramatic. I would prefer the six. For one thing, everyone knows what a great engine it is, famous for all those Hudson stock car racing victories. And it’s even better for ’56 because it now has hydraulic valve lifters, which will make it run even smoother and quieter. Everything looks accessible and easy to work on.
Both the 308 six and the more modern Packard V8 weighed the same, right about 700 lbs. Four-speed Hydra-matic should be a good match for Hudson’s six, taking good advantage of the engine’s low-end torque. And Hydra-Matic itself is improved this year, with much smoother shifts.
This charming little commercial explains another benefit, “Deep Coil Ride”. The Hudson’s springing was tuned a little firmer than the Nash’s, since Hudsons were always known for good handling and flat, smooth riding.
So when you add it all up, there’s a lot here to like. There’s the snug, solid single unit body with the widest seats and windshield of any car, and the most headroom. There’s the Selecto-Shift starter, the unique dashboard, the brakes with mechanical reserve, the fold-down seats, the excellent and quieter Hudson engine with Hydra-Matic, power steering and brakes, the fine ride and handling, beautiful two-toned paint. I bet it drives like a dream! If I were buying Hudson in ’56, that’s the way I would have it equipped.
It’s cute, isn’t it? However, this Hudson won’t be making a new home in my garage. The ad is down; Bristow, Indiana is too far. Too many possessions can be a burden. But it was a nice little dream. And the dream is often nicer than the reality. (But not always.)
So what happened to Hudson? The next year, 1957, brought a new AMC-designed 327 cubic inch, 255 HP V-8 and improved handling via a lower body and revised steering and front suspension. Styling, however, was not significantly improved. Sales dropped from 10,671 in ’56 to 3,876 for ’57. Hudson actually outsold the companion Nash model, which only eked out 3,561 units, which isn’t saying much.
In 1958, the Nash and Hudson models were superseded by the new “Ambassador”. This was essentially a Rambler with a longer, more elaborate front end and luxury interior. A little Hudson V-Line DNA remained in the form of the “V” shaped grille guard. Ambassador sales reached 7,000 in ’58, about the same as Nash/Hudson’s combined ’57 total. Rambler sales, however, took off–159,000 in ’58!
So why did the last Hudsons and Nashes fail? It’s not that they were bad cars, they were just not competitive. Why buy a car with early ’50s looks and technology when you can buy a jazzy, all-new Forward Look Dodge, DeSoto or Chrysler; a snazzy all-new “Rocket” Oldsmobile or super-smooth Buick; or an out-of-this-world Big M Mercury?
Rambler succeeded because it was an all-new form of all-new–a slightly smaller, but still roomy and practical family sedan–a market segment that had been neglected by the Big Three.
The lesson I learn from this is that producers have to constantly innovate and improve their products to beat competition. And they have to not just follow but anticipate new trends. What worked in the past may not work now. The market moves, nothing stays the same. This may be a hectic way to do things, but hey, “That’s progress!“