(first posted 9/4/2015) Seeing this 1942 Hudson sitting for sale next to the road caused a panic of sorts. Painfully eager to stop and take pictures, I was up against the clock. It was the opening day of the state fair and my daughter had an entry to deliver with the submission deadline staring us in the face. Thinking about it, being up against the clock was the same problem faced by all the 1942 models in the United States.
Finding this Hudson fulfilled a pipe-dream; I’ve been wanting to find a 1942 model car in the wild for a while. That my long awaited 1942 model was from an independent make was icing on the cake. With my last CC being another independent (here), after a long drought of finding anything, it appears the tides have turned.
The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded in February 1909. It was named after financial benefactor Joseph Lowthian Hudson, an English immigrant who was 63 at the time of Hudson’s founding. Hudson was also the founder of Hudson’s Department Stores in Detroit. Derivatives of the Hudson Department Stores can currently be found as Target Corporation.
As an aside, Hudson’s niece Eleanor would later be known as Mrs. Edsel Ford.
While Hudson had ponied up the working capital, the Hudson Motor Car Company was founded by a consortium of eight businessmen experienced in the fledgling auto industry. Of the group, Roy Chapin, Sr. was the prime organizer and would be president of the company until 1923.
Except for a eight-month stint as Secretary of Commerce at the very end of the Hoover Administration, Chapin stayed at Hudson until 1936; he died that year at age 55.
Production began in July 1909 for models titled as 1910s. By the end of the year, the rapidly growing United States automobile industry had over 290 makes located in twenty-four states. The competition was fierce but buyers quickly realized Hudson had a good product as 1911 production volume would be 6,500 units, the seventh highest of all brands.
Hudson was never a low-priced car, however their introduction of the four-cylinder Essex in 1919 gave them an entry to compete with Ford and Chevrolet. Sales of the Essex were sufficient to propel Hudson to third place in sales by 1925.
Throughout the 1920s, Hudson built a reputation for its durable straight-six engines as found in its Super and Special Six series (1926 shown), cars that were viewed as a good value and possessing solid reliability.
In identifying a place where things started to fray for Hudson, 1924 would be a very likely culprit. Where the Essex had always been a four-cylinder car, Hudson decided to provide the Essex with six-cylinder motivation and move the Hudson brand upmarket. By 1930, this resulted in a single Hudson line, the Great Eight. Not so idealistically named, the eight-cylinder engine of the Great Eight had less displacement, thus power, than some previous six-cylinder Hudson cars and this eight was being forced to move a heavier car.
Hudson kept this engine for 1931 and 1932 in the Greater Eight (1931 model shown), but the timing was awful. The Greater Eight was a beautiful car, but eight-cylinder engines combined with stepping upmarket while the Great Depression was in full swing was not a recipe for success. Sales reflected it too; whereas Hudson had built 85,000 Great Eight’s in 1930, sales dropped to 23,000 for 1931, and to less than 8,000 for 1932.
Despite juggling names and engines, sales of Hudson branded cars weren’t that great for the next several years. In 1934, Hudson would again abandon six-cylinder engines, reserving them for the Terraplane, the successor to the Essex nameplate. The Terraplane itself would transition from being a standalone name from 1934 to 1937 to being a Hudson in 1938 and 1939, after it had served as an Essex model in 1932 and 1933.
For the most part, Hudson was able to keep its financial head barely above water for the bulk of the 1930s, primarily due to Terraplane sales. However, in an effort to keep sales going, it strongly appears Hudson cut prices to below the break-even point. Where they had scratched out a profit of just under one million dollars for 1937, the recession during model year 1938 (the cars seen in this advertisement) culminated in a loss of nearly five million dollars.
With the Terraplane name dropped for 1939, Hudson was back to being a singular brand. Sales climbed each year from 1939 to 1941, with Hudson making efforts to set itself apart as a brand. Hudson’s 20,000 mile endurance run in 1940, with an average speed of 70.5 mph, captured a new American Automobile Association record and helped bolster sales.
Anyone paying attention to world events in 1941 knew of the wars in Europe and the Pacific. While there were plenty of staunch isolationist advocates at the time in the United States, those sentiments evaporated on December 7 of that year. Upon Japan bombing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the United States officially entered World War II, waging war against both Japan and Germany.
At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the 1942 model year was just getting underway, with Hudson having introduced their new models in September. These were far from being carry-over models from the redesigned 1941, as the 1942 Hudson had a number of positive changes and upgrades.
The most notable of the features for the 1942 Hudson was Drive-Master, their answer to GM’s recently introduced Hydra-Matic transmission. A combination of Hudson’s Vacumotive clutch and a series of servos, Drive-Master allowed nearly automatic shifting. Placing the car in high gear, the driver could accelerate to around 25 mph; lifting their foot off the accelerator prompted the car to upshift to high. Depending upon the mode selected, a car equipped with Drive-Master could be driven like a typical three-speed manual or have automatic clutching with manual gear selection.
Another significant change for the 1942 Hudson was the running boards being camouflaged. While still there, the doors were now curved to minimize their prominence. The running boards had ran their course and this was the first step toward their ultimately being eliminated completely.
By 1942, Hudson officially had the Traveler and Deluxe on the 116″ wheelbase, the Super Six on a 121″ wheelbase, and the Commodore Six and Eight, both on a 121″ wheelbase. Hudson brochures simplified this considerably, as the cars were lumped into the Six, Super Six, or Commodore Series.
Our featured car does not have a lot of chrome on it, but this Hudson to be the short wheelbase, bottom rung Six. The six-cylinder Hudson was by far the most chosen engine option for the 1942 Hudson’s, of which only 40,661 were produced.
Upon taking pictures of this car, it certainly prompted a few questions, such as for what time period were the blackout models built? This particular Hudson has all its trim pieces coated in chrome, something that did not carry through for the remainder of this truncated model year.
The “blackout models”, also sometimes referred to as “victory models”, were the cars built on and after January 1, 1942, such as this 1942 Plymouth. Instead of the bumpers and trim being chromed, these pieces were painted in an effort to conserve materials for the war effort. These blackout models are rather rare; automobile production in the United States ceased on February 5, 1942, so these models were built within a span of about five weeks. Further, the United States government had capped production for each manufacturer as well as commandeered somewhere between 500,000 and 540,000 of the 1942 model cars for government use and rationing. Any 1942 model car is quite rare, but the blackout models are even more rare.
The upside is that it’s easy to determine this Hudson was built during calendar year 1941, during the sunset of peacetime and automobile production prior to the horrors of World War II.
Perhaps there was some symbolism with my being pressed for time when finding a 1942 Hudson. When this Six was produced, Hudson was pressed for time to finish producing cars prior to their quick transition to war production. Further, Hudson itself was pressed for time as only a dozen years later it would merge with Nash to create American Motors.
This Hudson was for sale in the tiny town of Tipton, likely to entice people heading west to the state fairgrounds. Advertised as running great, our Hudson Six has an appearance that is teetering the border on the low end of the patina spectrum, a breath away from a less endearing descriptor. However if one were so inclined, it’s a great survivor that literally oozes with considerable and unique history.
She’s a solid old girl, and with a little love she could easily go another seventy-three years.