Curbside Classic: 1955 Hudson Hornet Hollywood – A Step, Down?

It’s been a while since I’ve read H.G. Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine, but the end of the world was a funky place with little to recommend it, as evidenced by a large crustacean with nefarious designs on the main character, the time traveler himself.  Therefore, I’ve always maintained that anyone who wants to see the future is nuts.  Even today, it’s hard to feel anything but sadness about this top-of-the line Hudson, knowing its fate as the withering end of its generations-old family tree.  Isn’t it better to remember the good times?

After all, the Hudson of 1955 was only a couple years removed from the Step Down heights of NASCAR fame and Twin-H-Power.  Doc Hudson from Pixar’s Cars was not modeled after a Hash from Kenosha, for crying out loud.  It’s always sad to pull back the curtain; I still can’t read Billy Durant’s biography without a certain melancholy awareness that he ended his life as a small-time bowling alley owner getting by with some help from his old pals in the industry.  Suave and sardonic British actor George Sanders committed suicide at 65 rather than commit to a slow decline; that’s always in the back of my mind any time I watch his films.  Sir John Falstaff is banished by King Henry V in the old Shakespearean chronicles, no matter how many times I read them.  Heck, you know what happens to any one of the 27 Club whenever you listen to their classic songs.  What a waste.

That’s no reason, however, to live one’s life in avoidance of anything painful.  If people behaved in that cowardly manner, they’d miss out on the great joys in life, such as looking over this perfectly imperfect old Hudson.  A few weeks ago, my lovely bride was working on a Saturday, and she forgot something important at home.  No problem, I’m always up for a drive…but especially when there’s an old car I’ve never seen near my destination.  The Hudson was parked at a local repair shop, where it’s evidently been sitting for quite some time (according to said lovely bride).

If the license plate isn’t telling tales out of school, this Hudson’s whereabouts have been unknown for over 50 years, and the general condition evinces that assertion.  I didn’t look underneath, but the body was in decent shape for a car that has ostensibly spent its life in Michigan.  Interestingly, the continental kit was standard in 1955 on Custom models, of which the Hornet Hollywood is one, although the buyer could opt to delete it when new.  As the most expensive Hudson in the line, whitewall tires were also standard.

In addition to the indignity of losing its marque-specific platform for 1955, the Hornet also suffered the ignominy of Packard-propulsion, although anyone in his right mind would see this as a “step up.”  The Hornet’s standard engine was still the 308 cubic-inch flathead six from the Twin-H-Power days, but the optional 320 cubic-inch V8 borrowed from the Packard Clipper is under the hood of this car.  According to Don Butler’s The History of Hudson, Packard engineers required the use of a two-barrel carburetor and lowered compression to avoid Hudson-centered competition with the Clipper.  Rated at 208 horsepower but actually producing 220 (according to Butler), the Hudson trailed the four-barrel Packard’s 225 horsepower by just a little.

The drivelines were also a potpourri in this transition year: Six-cylinder Hudsons continued to use GM’s Hydra-Matic, while V8 models used Packard’s Twin Ultramatic drive, although a three-speed manual and overdrive were still available.  This Hudson’s interior doesn’t look to be beyond redemption, and the lack of a clutch pedal tells us that the Ultramatic rests under the transmission tunnel.  I hope the engine and transmission are serviceable in this example, as repairing a Packard V8 and Ultramatic might foretell a tragic end for this Hudson, or at least an endless moratorium.

Even if this Hudson is a not-so-sought-after example of a model from a not-so-well-known-these-days marque, the details are endlessly fascinating.  The “H” on the gas filler cap acts as a handle for its removal.

The Hudson emblem still evokes memories from the good old days of the company, and the C-pillar, from this angle at least, looks somewhat European, perhaps like a large-scale Hofmeister kink before Hofmeister kinked.

The little evidence from owners past also add to the bittersweet aura of this particular car: a past owner joined the “Circle of Safety.”  Was this a gas station promotion?  Does anybody recognize it?

Hudson designer Frank Spring apparently added the Hudson grille to the 1952-54 Nash body in an effort to differentiate it from the freshened 1955 Nash, but there was no hiding the design’s origins.  The Nash’s basic styling had been around for three years at this point, and three years was about the shelf life of a bodyshell in those heady days of the 1950s.  It wouldn’t be long before George Romney decided to shelve both august nameplates forever and focus on the smaller Rambler, which in hindsight made all the sense in the world.  But it’s still hard not to feel a little wistful for this forlorn old hardtop, since we all know now what it couldn’t have known then.  With just over 20,000 Hudson Wasps and Hornets sold in 1955, on the other hand, this car was whistling past the graveyard.

As I was taking pictures, someone drove up and asked if this Hornet was a Studebaker.  When I mentioned it was a Hudson, he replied “Oh, like from the movie!”  Yep, Hudson’s been gone for awhile, and Cars is now over 15 years old, but there’s still a chance that this car will be saved from tragedy.  Its story will be so much easier to take if it is.