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.
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.
Thanks for the tour. It’s on my list of things to do, a list I never seem to get to. The orphan car show is on that list too.
You’re welcome! I haven’t been to the orphan show in a few years, but I’ve heard it’s been smaller than it used to be (which Steve verified below).
Aaron: Some pretty unusual Hudsons there. I don’t know much about Hudsons but I do notice them on the very rare occasion I see one.
I can not remember ever being aware of a step down Hudson two door hardtop and I know the idea of a Hudson Jet convertible never crossed my mind. Yet there it is.
A bunch of us from the CC Meet-Up in Detroit in 2017 went to this museum. It was terrific; I rather prefer small places like this that are informal and allow close interaction with the cars.
I remember dropping by there decades ago (like somewhere in the 90’s) on one of my motorcycle trips to, well, who knows where. Not a lot of memories of the place, but any museum heavy on Corvairs and Hudsons certainly got my attention.
Being local to me, I stop at that museum from time to time. Was in there last December. Noticed they no longer had a Tucker movie car. Collection seemed a bit thin compared to before the plague. The museum sponsors the annual Orphan Show in Ypsi each fall. The Orphan show has been a bit thin the last couple years too.
Apparently, the Corvair club opened its own museum and took some of the Corvairs with them. I also noticed that the fake Tucker was gone…no idea where that one went.
Huh! I lived about 9 miles from that museum in ’97-’00, but I never heard of it. What a shame; looks like a nifty place.
Miller Motors sold and restored old cars, specializing in Hudson’s, so there were always interesting things around, but I don’t think it had actually opened as a museum yet at that point.
Hudson seemed so ahead of trends; I’m surprised they ultimately couldn’t make it. Essex and Terraplane are well-remembered names even today, both playing a significant role in automotive evolution, as did the standard Hudson. Terraplane’s slogan was “on the sea that’s aquaplaning, in the air that’s aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, hot diggity dog, that’s Terraplaning!“. Sounds even more suggestive to my ears than anything Robert Johnson cooked up.; I think our favorite Delta bluesman was just bummed his new car was unreliable…
We should try to reintroduce “hot diggity dog” to our vernacular. 🙂
Hudson is pretty far up on my hierarchy of independents. If the right one were to find its way into my path, I could see becoming a Hudsonite. Or is it Hudsonut? Hudsophile?
I remember a couple of those cars from the CC meet there in 2017 (I’m glad Paul remembered the year) but some have swapped in for others. That golden convertible would be really easy to love. And was that a Jet convertible? If the Jet was offered as a convertible, I had forgotten all about it.
I should have paid more attention: The Jet is a prototype and never went into production.
And put me down for Hudsonite. It sounds a little like Fordite.
And put me down for Hudsonite. It sounds a little like Fordite.
Isn’t Hudsonite the fluid Hudson used it it’s wet clutch? Fordite is the built-up layers of paint in the paint booth.
Looks like it!
Hudsonaut? Hudsonian? Hudsonaire? Hmm, the latter sounds like a vocal group.
Hudson chief engineer Millard Toncray used to say that if a car was safe enough for his family, then it was safe enough for the public.
Road & Track editor-publisher John R. Bond once termed the Hudson Jet “an outstanding American car that was far ahead of its time.”
“Twin-H Power and the Hudsonaires.”
They’re here all week singing their megahit, “Popping the cork.”
Very neat place!
The golden Hudson has an interesting story. It was offered as first prize at the 1946 Golden Jubilee, awarded to someone who drove to the Jubilee the longest distance in the oldest car. The winners were a 60-year-old New Jersey machinist and his wife, who drove to Detroit from NJ in their 1904 Oldsmobile. After the Jubilee, they continued on to California and then drove back home (Hudson had the new convertible shipped to New Jersey for them) – 13,000 miles in total. It was evidently the couple’s second transcontinental trip in that car.
Below is a picture of the driver (George C. Green) with his Oldsmobile in the 1960s. He evidently kept the Hudson as well, though his daily driver through the 1960s was a 1932 Studebaker.
Thanks for sharing that, Eric. Mr. Green seems like a pretty cool guy.
Just wonderful, thanks for showing us Aaron!
When Dad came back from the war he got a ’27 Essex coach (which must’ve been a comedown from the ’35 Chevy he had before he joined up), and I still have the registration paper for it. So I was quite interested to see the Essex you showed us. Apparently Dad’s was blue with black fenders. He replaced it in ’50 with a new Morris Oxford; I wonder how long he had to wait for that?
Back in my teens a friend had a ’49 Hudson where someone had tried to emulate that limousine roof treatment, filling in the rear quarter windows with crunched-up newspaper and bondo. We lost touch, but as Col went on to be prominent in local HET circles I’d assume he undid that.
In the yard of the place where I grew up, there was a four car garage for the six flats. The end one had been extended about eighteen inches – apparently the owner lived in one of the flats then, and his step-down Hudson wouldn’t fit. Once I started driving I was amazed he got it down the driveway without scraping it.
With all those Hudson memories, naturally CC-in-scale has a Hudson. Several, actually, all step-downs. Here’s my favourite.
You’re welcome – great engine detail!
When I was a little kid and we drove into Michigan from northern Indiana I remember being puzzled upon my first sight of Hudson Jets on the road. I knew every make and model but this was one was an enigma – a miniature Ford? I’d never seen an ad for one and though there were many Hudsons in northern Indiana, I never saw a Jet. I guess they sold so poorly due to their price/value not being competitive during the Ford/Chevy price wars that most were purchased closer to home. Fun fact: one made it to D.C. In her book about the First Lady, Mary Barelli Gallagher, Jacqueline Kennedy’s personal secretary, brags about being able to park her little red Hudson Jet in a very tight space in the White House personnel lot, impressing the National Park Service employees in charge of parking.
Thanks, Aaron. This museum has long been on my bucket list. Hope to see it one of these days. I agree with Paul that small car museums that allow close observation can be the most fun.
You’re welcome! We certainly have a decent number of car museums in Michigan; this is a nice one where you can spend an hour or so wandering around.
Nice selection – thanks.
I remember my cousin, who is about 15 yrs older than me, having a Dinky or Meccano Hudson step down that really intrigued me, as it was not a stereotypical American car to our eyes, but also pretty stylish at the same time.
First family car I remember was Dad’s well used Hudson. Not sure of the year since I was just a little kid. I do remember being able to stand up on the front seat and look out the windshield. The one feature of the car I recall was that it had a sun visor and was some 2-tone shade of tan and brown. It was a huge car compared to the Rambler American that eventually replaced it.
Derelicts in the desert are not exactly curbside fare, but I enjoy finding them anyway. I did take note of one unusual Hudson thanks to the engine. I knew Willys had F-head engines, but until I stumbled across this old derelict, I never realized Hudson also offered such an engine at one time.
A couple years ago they had an Italia parked where (I think) the ’54 Hollywood is. Because it is a lighty visited museum had a chance to study the car in detail. A low-key place that allows a great experience.
Wondering how that ’54 Hollywood would have fared in ’55/56 with a Packard V8 and Torsion-Level, and a 4-door hardtop added to the line-up.
I just finished Up Jumped the Devil, Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow’s biography of Robert Johnson. I highly recommend it. Johnson occasionally got back to see his family in Memphis, and at one point their neighbor had a fairly new Terraplane that was thought to be hot stuff. But yes, it was probably a metaphor for something else.