Frank Spring was such a talented designer, but was crushed when he was forced by executives to make the compact Hudson Jet tall and dumpy. As a consolation, management allowed him do what was getting Virgil Exner so much attention at Chrysler with his Ghia specials: have a sporty coupe built in Italy, with the idea of putting it into limited production. Carrozzeria Touring offered to realize the car of his dreams for a mere $28,000, so he sent them his drawings and they built it. His initial idea was to create a world-class performance car based around the Hornet and its big stock car racing dominant 308 inch six, but that got killed early on. It had to be based on the compact Jet, with its much more modes 202 inch six.
The result has a lot of stylistic redeeming qualities, if not exactly a tour de force. The prototype was shown to dealers and the public and orders were taken: all of 18 or 19 of them. The biggest problem was its price: $4,800 FOB Detroit, which was a thousand more than a Cadillac, and also more than a Nash-Healey, Kaiser Darrin or Corvette. Hudson was seen as a failed brand, and the performance wasn’t there either. The odds were stacked against it.
A total of 26 (including the prototype) were built. The merger of Hudson with Nash hammered the final coffin nail.
Always love this car. Thanks for the essay with history.
I have always found this a maddening design – I still cannot decide if there is more good than bad or vise versa. The thin pillar roof and low-placed headlights are well ahead of their time and very well executed. But so many of the details – the exaggerated scoops around the front wheels, the tube taillights and those air inlets over the headlights are gingerbread that clutter up what could have been a really beautiful car.
I have concluded that the car’s best angle is from the inside, which was really nicely done.
Agreed. What’s a bit ironic re the low front wheel openings, as if anticipating the marriage with Nash.
The front end has a certain Germanic vibe. Reminds me of a few sporty coupes made there in the 50s.
The Hudson Italia is best described as a “gorpy hodge-podge”. Spring should have had a second go at designing it, kept only a few of the features.
It still was destined to fail either way.
I cannot unlearn this factoid: Liberace owned one.
Wayne Carini, of Chasing Classic Cars, owns one.
And what’s wrong with Liberace?
Liberace scares many men because he was open and honest .
Just mental clutter, that’s all. I live in Milwaukee and made it a point to see his childhood home. (Only from the outside, there’s no shrine or museum or anything.) It’s in a nearby neighborhood. More mental clutter.
Well, Liberace did have excruciatingly bad taste. Just thought I needed to ask the question on principle…😀
Liberace’s taste—or, more to the point, the public presentation of his taste—made the money roll in for him. His fans (the “I don’t care what they say about him, he’s a marvelous performer” set, the remaining few of whom still insist he died of a watermelon diet) ate it up with a fork and spoon.
Perhaps in Liberace’s honour we need a CC column to ask the question: “what is the gayest car ever?”. Sorry, the Valiant is clearly not in the running – much too sensible.
That kind of trafficking in stereotypes is best left to 7th-graders; let’s be grownups on here.
Sorry Daniel – I didn’t mean to offend you. Liberace’s flamboyant bad taste may not be your or my style, but he is an indelible part of gay history. And that style lives on in certain circles. (Drag queens anyone?) It would be good to think we could ask as an irreverant question about “the most gay car ever” without worrying that we are reinforcing stereotypes among the disapproving or uneducated. Perhaps we are not there yet.
I used to dislike characters like Liberace because I saw them as reinforcing stereotypes. But I have grown to recognize their ground-breaking role of being “out there” when no one else was. (Of course he wasn’t completely honest because he always pretended to be straight.) It’s easy to get caught up in internalized homophobia. That’s why I asked the question: “And what’s wrong with Liberace?”
This is certainly a detour from any discussion of the Hudson Italia. It wouldn’t be my choice for the gayest car ever. Maybe the second generation Seville?
Not that I would ever own one.
Most of the body kills itself
It would have been easier to follow GM’s sporty giants like the Fiesta and Skylark and Eldorado. Start with a Hornet convertible, cut a dip in the door, and max out the Twin-H.
I actually saw an Italia back in 1963 when I was stationed at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois. It was parked at the Officers Club. I wonder who owned it?
I looked at one of these in the West San Fernando Valley a few years back, it’s interesting and I hope the restoration is on going, it was a bit rough around the edges .
Just no, its a mess, the Goliath imspired front doesnt do it any favours and the Nash bathtub sides are not great either I can see why orders were few and far between, that some survive is great but its an oddity that wasnt going to sell well.
That body design appear to have been working its way to become the 2002 T Bird with some sculpturing here and there.
For me, the design isn’t as unified as the best of the Big Three’s 1950s one-off cars, but looks better than many a home-brew “custom” of the period. Motor Trend (1953) says it was aluminum-bodied; I didn’t know that.
Here’s a handful of them—no idea where photo taken:
Yes, Touring had originated the “superleggera” construction technique of aluminum panels fastened to a very light grid of supports.
Most/many Italian coach-built cars were aluminum. The Italians were masters of hand-working with it.
Nice proportions, but the details are wacky.
For maximum wacky, check out the tail lights!
Wow. Kind of reminds me of the 6 .50’s in the nose of an F-86 Sabre!
I have a book of prototype and really limited production cars from the 1950’s that included the Italia, as well as the Kaiser Darrin, and the Nash Healey. Of the three I prefer the Nash, though the Italia’s roof line is very clean, with lots of glass and the air craft type doors. I suppose that the six tubular tail lights was to indicate that there was a six cylinder engine under the hood, but it’s a busy feature. There was an “Italian” look that dominated the ‘early 50’s specials that still exerted it’s influence into the early ’60s.
If you will recall the post that featured the interview with Raymond Loewy, it featured his modified ’59 Cadillac. Despite the rather unfortunate front end restyling, it did have smooth flanks to go along with it’s factory roof line. Somewhat reminiscent of Pininfarina’s Cadillac Jacqualine of a few years later.
While prowling around the Net, I stumbled across this Loewy sketch for the Avanti. I find it better than the production Avanti. It is exquisite!
I believe there was one four door version, also?
There was, built on the full-size Hudson chassis. It’s around and has been restored. A previous owner had parked it in his yard and used it as a doghouse. It’s known as the X-161, after the paint code for its original green paint.
There’s no accounting for taste.
I love it. Wouldn’t change a thing.
Here’s a video of an Italia (and the Timbs Special). This particular Italia wound up with a 265CID small block Chevy, which I’m sure was good for performance. Sadly, both cars were destroyed in the November 2018 Malibu fire.
By way of stressing how hungry Hudson was at the time, our county fair in Marshall, Illinois was gaced with one of these, in a very attractive café au lait brown – much nicer than the yellow shown here. It was also not roped off at all, but just stuck there where greasy-fingered kids could smear the finish all they wanted to. I was excited of course, having seen pictures (probably in Road & Track), but I could not bring myself to love it. But my cranky aunt, who was stuck with us for the day, surprised me by saying, “Touring? Oh, that’s Touring of Milan!”