Should this have been the “Step-down” Hudson?

Should this have been the “Step-down” Hudson?

Read­er Brent Hinde writes about my Hud­son book, The Clas­sic Post­war Years (1977, reprint­ed 1993). Very kind of him, since it’s the first men­tion of that book in decades.

Recent­ly at an estate sale I picked up the book and found it an excel­lent read. On page 38 is a ter­rif­ic sketch of a car that should have been built, rather than the design man­age­ment chose. My ques­tion is: Who drew that sketch? Are there more draw­ings like that in exis­tence? It would make a great guide for a project car.

Hudson
1948 Hud­son: dra­mat­ic low­ness was achieved by sink­ing the floor with­in the frame rails.

Hudson’s styling team

The draw­ing (top) shows a crisper shape than the pro­duc­tion 1948 Hud­son. It was one of many Hud­son styling pro­pos­als. Com­pared to the car they actu­al­ly built, it looks more mod­ern. There’s a one-piece curved wind­shield, and the tail end is squared off rather than tapered. But I can’t say who the artist was because the Hud­son styling team was large—and impres­sive. It was typ­i­cal of the kind of diverse groups that inhab­it­ed styling stu­dios in an age when cars were shaped by peo­ple, rather than com­put­ers.

Styling at Hud­son was then under famous Design Direc­tor Frank Spring.  He had con­ceived the basic pack­age as ear­ly as 1941. Lat­er Spring would pro­duce the com­pact Hud­son Jet and the rad­i­cal Hud­son Italia. Chief of Design under Spring was Art Kibiger, who lat­er helped con­ceive of the Aero-Willys. There was Robert F. Andrews, who would be involved in the Stude­bak­er Avan­ti for Ray­mond Loewy. Strother McMinn would become a not­ed design instruc­tor and auto­mo­tive writer.

Hudson Characters

Dick Caleal and Bob Koto were Hud­son styl­ists who would lat­er con­tribute to the famous 1949 Ford. (Caleal, nick­named “the Per­sian Rug Sales­man,” baked the small clay mod­el of the ’49 in his wife’s oven before pre­sent­ing it to George Walk­er at Ford.) Art Fitz­patrick was lat­er asso­ci­at­ed with Dutch Dar­rin and Pon­ti­ac. Hud­son also had Arnold Yonkers (artist), Arthur Michael (mod­el­er) and Bill Kir­by, a bald­ing hip­pie. Kir­by was a scruffy idea man who always looked like he’d just emerged from a wastepa­per bas­ket. Yonkers, an affa­ble Dutch­man, was a part-time min­is­ter. These were the kinds of indi­vid­u­als who designed cars in those days. They were the rea­son cars then looked so dif­fer­ent from each oth­er.

Hudson
Design pro­pos­als by Bob Andrews (“RFA”) fea­tured high-mount­ed grille, fend­ers flush with hood­line, tubu­lar bumpers.

Alas Hud­son destroyed most of its images of styling pro­pos­als and clay mod­els once a car was built, and the only ones I could find were loaned by the above peo­ple for my book. The one you like bears no sig­na­ture, so we can’t pin it down. It is not Bob Andrews’ work; his style was dif­fer­ent, and he usu­al­ly signed his draw­ings “RFA,” like the one shown here.

Ideas for the “Step-down”

What both these sketch­es illus­trate are the ideas Kibiger and Andrews were pro­mot­ing: tubu­lar bumpers, a high-mount­ed grille and fend­ers almost flush with the hood­line. Rais­ing the front fend­ers was a rad­i­cal idea in 1946, when the ’48 Hud­son was designed. They didn’t reach the hood lev­el on a pro­duc­tion car until the 1951 Packard.

Kibiger and Andrews joined Willys before the new Hud­son was fin­ished. But they drove up from Tole­do to attend its debut at the Mason­ic Tem­ple in Detroit. “The work­man­ship sur­prised me,” Bob Andrews said. “It looked great. And it seemed as though the new Hud­son was going to cre­ate quite a splash….all of the frus­tra­tions of the last few years were eased. This was my first expe­ri­ence at milling through crowds who were applaud­ing some­thing I had been a part of.”

Not easy to change…

The Step-down Hud­son was so-named because you stepped down into it. The floor sat low between the frame rails, per­mit­ting dra­mat­ic low­ness. It was, for exam­ple, sev­en inch­es low­er than the 1948 Buick. The prob­lem was that it was hard to mod­i­fy. Hud­son had to stick with this basic shape through 1954. In those years, the pub­lic expect­ed a new style every twelve months. This hurt and ulti­mate­ly crip­pled the com­pa­ny as an inde­pen­dent pro­duc­er of auto­mo­biles. Nev­er­the­less, the low cen­ter of grav­i­ty made for a road­able car that held the NASCAR manufacturer’s cham­pi­onship for 1952-54—powered by a six-cylin­der engine at that.

One thought on “Should this have been the “Step-down” Hudson?

  1. Judy Kambestad writes: “Clas­sic Car’s (Sep­tem­ber 2017) Hud­son arti­cle dis­cuss­es the demise of AMC, suc­ces­sor to Hud­son. I had for­got­ten how col­or­ful cars were in the Fifties. The 1957 Hor­net V-8 Hol­ly­wood hard­top was a beau­ty. (My father liked the hard­tops but in Gen­er­al Motors’ mod­els.)”

    Those Nash-bod­ied, last-gasp big Hud­sons (1955-57) were some show­boats. I want­ed my Dad to buy a ’55, but he said it was going to be an orphan. So he bought a DeS­o­to….

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