After creating such a sensation on the Automotive market in 1948, The “Step Down” Hudsons found themselves left behind because of their extremely distinctive stance. The envelope Uni-Body that gave the rugged solidarity and premium prestige in the immediate post war proved a limited engineering dead end in the rapidly changing automotive market of the 1950’s.
More Film Noir than Technicolor, Hudson tried valiantly to freshen up and trim the relationship to fastback fancies of the 1940’s. Interestingly, the modernization worked to some degree better on other bodystyles, yet betrayed the aging roots on other models. For the final year of truly unique Hudson models, it proved many a fumbled opportunity.
Not only was aging styling a sore point, drivetrains were a point of contention as well. Hudson had forgone creating a freebreathing Overhead Valve V8 befitting its premium position in the marketplace. Instead it spent money developing the downmarket compact Jet line, alongside the super limited production Italia.
Although the 308 Cube Big 6 produced big numbers in the 170 to 210 horsepower range, it wasn’t as free revving or efficient as overhead valve V8s from competitors Olds, Buick, DeSoto and Chrysler. Between the elderly engine lifting weights, the borrowed Hydramatic drive and the general age of the concept, these last Step Down Hudsons reflected the hopes of the immediate Post-War troublingly close to a decade after the war. Like all independents, but especially medium and premium brands like Hudson, had far fewer resources to keep up with the rapid changes that GM, Ford and to a lesser extent Chrysler, could afford.
Granted, none of the independents had the legacy of performance the Hudson, especially in Hornet form, had in spades. Hudson was still swimming in accolades around their NASCAR wins from 1951-53, and the top spec 210 horse version of the Big Six came from a racing pedigree (with a prodigious appetite for fuel as well).
In a number of ways the substance of Hudsons was still more substantial than the style of other offerings in their field. While an Oldsmobile 88 or a manually shifted DeSoto Firedome was a competitor in a straight line, their mushy handling could come at a premium on the race track where the equally powerful with better center of gravity Hornet came into its own.
Perhaps on a number of levels the Step Down wasn’t outdated. The curse really came back to its extremely hard to modify body. Squared off rear quarter panels with high mounted wrap around tail lamps attempted to modernize the look. On Hollywood Hardtops and Covertibles, the look appreciatively modernized the cars to looking somewhat like contemporaries.
On the sedans, with their relative lack of glass area to tall sides, didn’t make the transition as well, as their trunks reminded rather round holdovers from formerly more rotund earlier Step Down Hudsons. The semi-fastback roof, short deck and long hood look wouldn’t return to sedans in force until the 1970’s.
It was a rather sad in for a car so revolutionary, and a brand so beloved. The massive attempted merger between the healthiest of independents ended up with Hudson marrying Nash without Studebaker and Packard getting in on the automotive polygamy. Actual Hudson’s became a thing of the past quicker than any of the remaining independents of 1955, as they became open front wheel well-eggcrate grilled versions of the Nash Statesman and Ambassador, with optional Packard V8s. In death, a number of things become legend. The Step Down Hudsons are more than just legend, the are American icons to love nearly 70 years after they first came to market, and more than 50 years after they departed.