CC Field Trip: Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum – Part I, The Hudsons

Michigan is well-populated with cities and towns that have played an enormous part in America’s automotive mosaic.  Ypsilanti is best known for its proximity to Willow Run, where Ford built the enormous B-24 bomber plant during World War II, and where Kaiser-Frazer and later General Motors built cars (and even transmissions).  It is also home to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, which is housed in an old Hudson dealership.  Because of this, the museum is home to a nice collection of Hudsons, in addition to the aforementioned Kaiser-Frazers and a half-dozen or so Corvairs, and I recently took advantage of a nice spring day to visit the collection: Here are the Hudsons.

My personal favorite car at the museum on this sunny March day was this “Golden Jubilee” 1946 Hudson Super Six convertible.  According to the placard, it was a prize at Detroit’s “Golden Jubilee” in 1946 (a 50th anniversary celebration of the Detroit-built automobile), and was the first convertible built after World War II.

It was also the only gold-painted Hudson convertible built in 1946, although to be fair, there were only 1037 Super Six convertibles manufactured in total.  The Golden Jubilee featured a big parade, which is why this car is presented in this manner at the museum.

Normally, I hate parades, but I would have loved to attend this one.  The video above is courtesy of Mac’s Motor City Garage.

Hudsons of the 1940s have never been high on my list of cars to own, but if someone in charge of something would toss me the keys to this one for a week, I’d be a happy man.  It has that cool 1940s Hudson “chopped” look, with a big, domed hood and hastily concealed running boards.  It’s not traditionally beautiful, but it has charisma.  The close-coupled interior with that great big steering wheel and symmetrical dashboard layout looks like a perfect place for a cruise with your sweetie with the top down on a warm summer evening.

Sitting nearby was the last of the “step-down” Hudsons, this 1954 Hornet Hollywood hardtop (Hudson was big on alliteration, apparently).

Sadly, Hudson put a lot of effort into updating the old step-down for 1954, but it wasn’t enough to survive the Ford-Chevrolet onslaught that “did in” a lot of independents in the 1950s.  The 1955 model would look far different, with a Wisconsin flair.  This ’54 looks fantastic in red/white.

Cars of today are far better and far safer than the cars of 1954, but none of them have a steering wheel that looks this good.

This special ’51 Hornet limousine was originally owned by the wife of Hudson’s chairman.  It was later updated to 1953 body specifications, and it has to be one of the few times a Hudson was converted to a limousine.

Parked nearby were two Hudsons that make me a little sad: the Hudson Jet (the nicest little ’52 Ford you’ve ever seen) and an example of the final Hudson, the quirkily-styled Nash with a Hudson nameplate.  Both were very nice examples of the breed, but the Jet played a not-insignificant role in Hudson’s downfall and the tacked-on tailfins of the ’57 are visual metaphors for what happens when you try to keep up with the times and can’t afford to do it.

Cue sad music here.  Still, this ’57 Hudson was in fantastic shape and is a fine addition to a museum that spans the history of Hudson.

The other bookend of Hudson history rests here as well, a 1909 model.  In 48 years, this jaunty roadster became that blue ’57 in the next room.  There’s no doubt which car is more romantic, but which one would you rather drive on a 30 degree morning on your way to work?

Of course, Hudson was among the first to do something about that situation with its lower-priced Essex Coach (this example is from 1925).  All of a sudden, those 30 degree mornings did not require getting up an hour early to put on your costume, because you now had roll-up windows and a roof.  Life was not a recreation of events back then, and cars weren’t always a simple hobby, and the Essex deserves a lot of credit for making cars what they are today.

The Hudson (or Essex, depending on the year) was a well-known factory hot rod in the early 1930s, following the now-time-honored tradition of putting your big engine in your smaller body.  Apparently, John Dillinger preferred Terraplanes as getaway cars, and bluesman Robert Johnson sang about his Terraplane Blues (although that was probably – wink, wink – a metaphor for something else).  This is a 1934 model.

No Hudson museum would be complete without the most famous Hudson of all, the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet,” a fabulously successful NASCAR stock car that has now been memorialized by the fine Pixar movie Cars as “Doc Hudson.”  This Hornet is apparently the last surviving Hudson stock car from those heady days of 1951-1954.

This 1952 model apparently sold at the Hostetler Hudson Museum auction of 2018 for over 1.2 million dollars.

The interior appears to me to be trimmed out like a street car rather than a race car, but whoever restored this car probably intended for it to be used on the street; after all, stock cars back then were much more stock than they are today.

No Hudson stock car display would be complete without an example of the “Twin-H-Power” engine that stock cars used.  With 308 cubic inches and two carburetors, the “7X” racing package could belie the flathead architecture of this hoary old six by producing over 200 horsepower in race trim.  Besides, it was a great looking engine with its red air cleaners.

Photo courtesy of Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum

Although Hudson had few ties to the Ypsilanti area, the museum building’s status as the last surviving Hudson dealer makes it an obvious choice for Hudson memorialization.  Stay tuned for coverage of the Kaisers, Frazers, and Corvairs in an upcoming installment.