Hudson Hornet is a full-sized automobile that was manufactured by Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan from 1951 until 1954, when Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson merged to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). Hudson automobiles continued to be marketed under the Hudson brand name through the 1957 model year.
The first-generation Hudson Hornets featured a functional "step-down" design with dropped floorpan and a chassis with a lower center of gravity than contemporary vehicles that helped the car handle well — a bonus for racing. The Hornet's lower and sleeker look was accentuated by streamlined styling, sometimes called "ponton" styling. Hornet owner Spencer Blake, writing for Popular Mechanics in 1999, notes that "the car's unique, low slung appearance and silky handling earned Hudson an image that — for many buyers — eclipsed luxury marques like Cadillac."
In order for American Motors to build Hudson cars on the newer factory assembly line for Nash Statesman/Ambassador unibody chassis, all second-generation Hudson Hornets became restyled Nash automobiles that were badge engineered as a Hudson.
The Hornet, introduced for the 1951 model year, was based on Hudson's "step-down" design that was first seen in the 1948 model year on the Commodore. Unlike a unibody, the design didn't fully merge the body and chassis frame into a single structure, but the floorpan footwells recessed down, in between the car's chassis rails, which were in turn routed around them – instead of a conventional floor, sitting on top of straight ladder frame rails – a body on frame design that later became more widely adopted, and known as a perimeter frame. Thus one "stepped down" into a Hudson. Thanks to the step-down chassis and body, the car's "lower center of gravity...was both functional and stylish. The car not only handled well, but treated its six passengers to a sumptuous ride. The low-slung look also had a sleekness about it that was accentuated by the nearly enclosed rear wheels."
Hudson Hornets were available as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, a convertible, and a pillarless hardtop coupe. The models were priced the same as Commodore Eight, which was priced from US$2,543 to $3,099.
All Hornets from 1951 to 1953 were powered by Hudson's high-compression straight-six "H-145" engine. Starting in 1952 an optional "twin-H" or twin one barrel carburetor setup was available at additional cost. The newly introduced "Twin H-Power" was available in November 1951 as a Dealer installed option at the cost of $85.60. An electric clock was standard. A L-head (flathead or side-valve) design, at 308 cu in (5.0 L) it was the "largest [displacement] six-cylinder engine in the world" at the time. It had a two-barrel carburetor and produced 145 hp (108 kW) at 3800 rpm and 275 lb⋅ft (373 N⋅m) of torque. In 1954, power was increased to 170 hp (127 kW) from 145 hp (108 kW). The engine was capable of far more power in the hands of precision tuners, including Marshall Teague, who claimed he could get 112 miles per hour (180.2 km/h) from an AAA- or NASCAR-certified stock Hornet, as well as Hudson engineers who developed "severe usage" options (thinly disguised racing parts). The combination of the Hudson engine with overall road-ability of the Hornets, plus the fact the cars were over-designed and over-built, made them unbeatable in competition on the dirt and the very few paved tracks of the 1950s.
Hudson Hornet 1951 model year production totaled 43,666 units.
In 1952 the "Twin H-Power" version now standard equipment with dual single-barrel carburetors atop a dual-intake manifold, and power rose to 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS). The hood featured a functional scoop that ducts cold air to the carburetors and was considered "ventilation" in 1954, rather than ram air. The engine could be tuned to produce 210 hp (157 kW) when equipped with the "7-X" modifications that Hudson introduced later. During 1952 and 1953 the Hornet received minor cosmetic enhancements, and still closely resembled the Commodore of 1948.
The Hornet proved to be nearly invincible in stock-car racing. "[D]espite its racing successes...sales began to languish." Hudson's competitors, using separate body-on-frame designs, could change the look of their models on a yearly basis without expensive chassis alterations" whereas the Hornet's "modern, sophisticated unibody design was expensive to update," so it "was essentially locked in" and "suffered against the planned obsolescence of the Big Three [General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler] automakers.
A total of 35,921 Hornets were produced for 1952, with approximately 2,160 hardtops and 360 convertibles.
The 1953 model year brought minor changes to the Hudson Hornet. The front end was modified with a new grille and a non-functional air scoop hood ornament. four different body designs: two-door club coupe, Hollywood hardtop, Convertible Brougham, and a four-door sedan.
Eventually, for the 1954 model year, the model underwent a major square-lined redesign. This entailed extensive retooling because of the way the step-down frame wrapped around the passenger compartment. The front had a simpler grille that complemented the now-functional hood scoop and a new one-piece curved windshield, while the sides gained period-typical fender chrome accents, and the formerly sloped rear end was squared off. The front to rear fender line was styled to make the car look longer and taillamps were also redesigned. The interior was also updated with a new dash and instrument cluster that were surprisingly modern.
There was still no V8 engine available, but the 308 cu in (5.0 L) six-cylinder was standard in Hornets and produced 160 hp (119 kW), the racing-inspired 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS) "Twin-H-Power" (dual carburetor) option was very popular, and a 7-X version of the engine was offered as a factory option, producing over 210 hp (157 kW; 213 PS) using a high compression head, special camshaft, and other "severe usage" parts designed for racing. The 308 cu in (5.0 L) engine produced high torque at low RPMs and had a fairly flat torque curve, which helped the Hornet beat V8s from other makes whose power advantage came only at much higher RPMs.
Although the Hornet's redesign put it on par with its contemporaries in terms of looks and style, it came too late to boost sales. The news that Hudson was in financial difficulties and had been essentially taken over by Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors Corporation during the 1954 model year was known by the car-buying public.
Hudson Hornet 1954 model year production totaled 24,833 (the final year of "step-down" design production, overlapping Hudson's "merger" with Nash-Kelvinator).
During 1952, Marshall Teague finished the 1952 AAA season with a 1000-point lead over his closest rival, winning 12 of the 13 scheduled events. Hornets driven by NASCAR aces Herb Thomas, Dick Rathmann, Al Keller, Frank Mundyand, and Tim Flock won 27 NASCAR races driving for the Hudson team.
In the AAA racing circuit, Teague drove a stock Hornet that he called the Fabulous Hudson Hornet to 14 wins during the season. This brought the Hornet's season record to 40 wins in 48 events, a winning percentage of 83%.
Overall, Hudson won 27 of the 34 NASCAR Grand National races in 1952, followed by 22 wins of 37 in 1953, and capturing 17 of the 37 races in 1954 — "an incredible accomplishment, especially from a car that had some legitimate luxury credentials."
The original Fabulous Hudson Hornet can be found today fully restored in Ypsilanti, Michigan at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, a facility that was formerly home to Miller Motors, the last Hudson dealership in the world.
In its final three model years, the Hornet became a product of the newly-formed American Motors Corporation (AMC). Following the 1954 merger of the Hudson Motor Car Company and Nash-Kelvinator, Hudson's Detroit manufacturing facility was closed and production of Hudson models was shifted to Nash's Wisconsin factory. No longer built on the "Step-down" platform, all Hudsons were now based on the senior Nash models, but featuring distinctive Hudson styling themes.
The new models were delayed to a January 1955 introduction, "as American Motors engineers work out the problem of making two completely different looking automobiles with identical body shells."
The first entirely new car from American Motors, the 1955 Hudson emerged as a conservatively styled car compared to the competition. The 1955 Hornet was the cleanest model with a broad eggcrate grille and distinctive two-toning. Sedan and hardtop body styles were offered, but the coupe and convertible were no longer available.
The 308 cu in (5.0 L) straight-six engine continued in 160 bhp (119 kW) or 170 bhp (127 kW) versions. For the first time ever, the Hornet could be ordered with a Packard-built 320 cu in (5.2 L) V8 engine producing 208 bhp (155 kW) and Packard's Ultramatic automatic transmission. The rear suspension now incorporated a torque tube system for the driveshaft and coil spring rear suspension along with front springs that are twice as long as most other cars.
Along with Nash, the new Hudsons had the widest front seats in the industry. The Weather Eye heating and ventilation with an optional air conditioning system were highly rated in terms of efficiency. The integrated placement of major air conditioning systems under the hood and the price of only $395 (about half the cost as on other cars) also won praise. Automotive journalist Floyd Clymer rated the Hudson Hornet as the safest car built in the United States because of (1) the single unit welded body, (2) high quality braking system with added mechanical backup system, (3) roadability, general handling, and maneuverability; as well as (4) excellent acceleration and power for emergency situations.
Production for the 1955 model year totaled 10,010 four-door sedans and 3,324 Hollywood two-door hardtops.
For the 1956 model year, AMC executives decided to give the Hornet more character and the design for the vehicles was given over to designer Richard Arbib, who provided the Hornet and Wasp with one of the more distinctive looks in the 1950s which he called "V-Line Styling". Taking the traditional Hudson tri-angle, Arbib applied its "V" form in every conceivable manner across the interior and exterior of the car. Combined with tri-tone paint combinations, the Hudson's look was unique and immediately noticeable.
The legendary 308 cu in (5.0 L) straight-six engine, with and without Twin-H Power, was offered and gained 5 hp (4 kW) for 1956. However, Packard's V8 engine was available only during the first half of 1956. At mid-model year Hornet Special was introduced featuring a lower price and AMC's new 250 cu in (4.1 L) 190 hp (142 kW) V8 engine. The Hornet Special models were built on a 7-inch (178 mm) shorter and slightly lighter Statesman/Wasp four-door sedan and two-door hardtop platform with Hornet trim.
The 1956 design failed to excite buyers and Hudson Hornet sales decreased to 8,152 units, of which 6,512 were four-door sedans and 1,640 Hollywood two-door hardtops.
In 1957, the historic Hudson name came only in a Hornet version in "Super" and "Custom" series, and available as a four-door sedan or a two-door "Hollywood" hardtop. For the second year the V-Line styling featured an enormous egg-crate grille, creases and chrome strips on the sides, and five tri-tone schemes for the Custom models. There was more ornamentation to the cars, including fender "finettes" atop the rounded rear quarter panels for 1957, as well as very unusual twin-fin trim on top of both front fenders.
The price was reduced and the power was increased by way of AMC's new 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 that was rated at 255 hp (190 kW) with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts.
Prompted by Automobile Manufacturer Association ban on factory supported racing beginning some time in 1957, production of Hudson Hornet ended on 25 June 1957 with only 4,108 units made, at which time the Hudson brand name with its racing heritage was discontinued and all American Motors Corporation automobiles were then marketed as being made by "Rambler" Division.
The 1951 Hudson Hornet was selected as the "Car of the Year" in a book profiling seventy-five years of noteworthy automobiles by automotive journalist Henry Bolles Lent.
The Disney Pixar film Cars and several spin-off video games featured a Fabulous Hudson Hornet named Doc Hudson, a retired Piston Cup champion. The Piston cup is the film franchise's version of the Winston Cup Series, which changed names several times since its inception.
- Steve McQueen — 1953 Twin-H powered sedan
- A. E. Barit — 1951 Hornet Derham Limousine
- Victor Haydon — referenced in the song Pena from Trout Mask Replica
First-generation Hudson Hornets are legendary for their NASCAR racing history and Jay Leno lists the 1951-1954 models as one of the "top ten of America's most collectible cars". "One of the great postwar landmarks - a true champion" gives it a big edge in collector appeal. Richard M. Langworth describes the first-generation Hornets in his book Complete Book of Collectible Cars: 70 Years of Blue Chip Auto Investments as "the most remembered Hudson of the postwar years, one of the industry's all-time greats." For example, prices on the Club Coupes, the body style used by the winning NASCAR drivers, have greatly appreciated in the last several years where several nicely restored examples have broken the $75K barrier in several cases. The convertible versions have also increased in value with a restored 1953 bringing $150,000 in 2013.
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- "Remembering victor haydon: the mascara snake, fast & bulbous". Retrieved 3 May 2010.
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- Hudson Car Club
- Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club
- Doc Hudson from the Disney movie Cars is a Hudson Hornet mk1
- Hudson Hornet at the Internet Movie Cars Database