Whatever Happened To…the Hudson Hornet?

Glenn Arlt

March 13, 2014

In the latest installment of a series examining extinct marques and models, Glenn Arlt takes a “short and sleek” look at a truly charismatic American car with a powerful racetrack pedigree.

Hudson began producing cars in 1909, but one of its most memorable models didn't come along until almost 40 years later with a strong and formidable unit—construction vehicle called the Commodore, the starting point for the legendary Hornet.

Inspired by engineer Frank Spring, a veteran of famed California coachbuilder Walter M. Murphy Company, the Commodore was the most luxurious example of a modern and low “step-down” car in 1948. It garnered rave reviews from the automotive press and public alike and, at least for a while, Hudson sales soared.

1951 Hudson Hornet ad

All Hail the Hornet

By the 1951 model year, the Commodore saw a styling update, new engine and a new series name to go with it: the Hornet. While all other American car companies began creating cars with modern OHV V-8s, Hudson had no funds for such an endeavor. They continued development of its relatively outdated Hornet L-head six instead, albeit with a larger displacement and performance upgrades. Despite relatively antiquated technology, this engine could (and did) go out and win race after race against Hemi-powered Chryslers and everything else.

At the high-end of the Hudson line was the 1951 Hudson Hornet Hollywood hardtop coupe (priced at $2,869), the company’s first try at the fashionable body style combining a steel roof with convertible-style doors and side windows. The 145-horsepower car was in direct competition with models such as the upper-middle class DeSoto Custom Sportsman hardtop coupe (116-horsepower, $2,761) and the Oldsmobile 98 Deluxe Holiday hardtop coupe (135 horsepower, $2,882), both equipped with the more modern OHV V-8s.  

Marshall Teague

A Racer for the Road

From 1951 to 1954, the Hornet quickly became a name synonymous with sleekness and style among average car buyers. But racers also took notice when the Hornet repeatedly proved it could out-handle and out-accelerate much of its supposedly more powerful V-8 competition.

The car’s engineering advantages allowed Marshall Teague to take home the AAA Stock Car Driver of the Year in 1951. In, 1952, Teague dominated the AAA stock car circuit behind the wheel of a Hornet, clocked at speeds of up to 112 mph and captured the National Stock Car Championship. In the contemporary NASCAR series, a Hudson Hornet was equally successful, capturing 27 of 34 races. In 1953, the tally was 22 of 37 and, in 1954, 17 of 37. Legendary racer Herb Thomas piloted a Hudson to many of these victories during this time and placed himself as one of the top drivers in NASCAR history for his incredible four-year success by winning 39 races.

CARS

The Hornet Today

For a brief time during the post-war years, the step-down Hornet was the standard by which most of the competition was judged. But in late 1954, Hudson merged with Nash and by 1958 the Hudson name was retired. By the end of the 1950s the Hornet’s success was already largely forgotten as attention moved on to the newer race cars, all of which had massive V-8s.

But the Hornet never left the minds of real car lovers. If there was ever a doubt to the “cool” factor of the Hudson, one need only look to the famed King of Cool, Steve McQueen, who owned a number of Hornets. In the 2006 Pixar movie, CARS, Paul Newman gave voice to a blue Hudson Hornet named Doc. Today, the cars are cherished by enthusiasts all over the world. 


Comments

  1. mike Baer Venice, Fl

    Keep these great stories coming so we don't forget these greaT OLD CARS.

  2. Randall Hash Bluefield, VA

    My Dad had a Hornet in 1952...He bought it new...I think it was the first " new " car that my family had back in those days....I still have B & W photos of the Hornet...I was too young to remember it back then, but, I really enjoy looking at the pictures. Thank you for featuring this automobile. I now have a restored 1953 Willis Jeep...Is really fun to drive and show. It too has Cool Factor.

  3. frank opalka chicago,il

    Just bought a 1952 Hornet off internet, always wanted one, now I am very happy. Cruising down lifes highways now in my retirement yrs. Try it, Youll like it.

  4. Mary Olivent Tennessee

    I now have my Dad's 1957 Hudson Hornet Hollywood all still original. My Dad bought it new in 1957 and I have many great memories riding in it and helping Dad work on it. It is a cherished member of our family and my grandson already has his eyes on it.

  5. Michael Campbell United States

    My Grandfather had 2 Hudsons, the later was a 52 Wasp. He kept that car well into the 60's. Cool story, keep up the good work.

  6. Phil Austin

    I do currently own a '51 Hornet coupe, complete with the Twin-H motor. photos and story on my blog: http://www.austinmotorscene.com/doc-rolls-again-hudson-hornet-coupe/

  7. Matt Ohio

    Of course, AMC put the Hornet name on a later, and forgettable, vehicle in the 1970s, I believe.

  8. Robert Herrington Delaware

    My friend, Mr. Brittingham, was stationed in the Air Station at Boloxi, MS in 1952 or 53 and got this wild idea to race home over a weekend pass back to Delaware to see his family. He was driving a hotrodded Ford, with a hemi conversion engine from a donor wrecked Chrysler. He never made it out of Alabama, because he could not outrun the Hudson Hornet copcar that got on him! I think I remember he said his folks had to wire him money to get loose from the jail. As he told the story to me, he couldn't believe a six cyl. police car outdid him. My mother owned a 51 Pacemaker (Hudson) and she said it was the fastest car she ever had, and it worried her because she'd get up to illegal speeds and not even realize it, it drove so well... She never had that problem with subsequent Ramblers she owned after that Hudson.

  9. Al Weiss Prescott, Az.

    I had a '53 Hudson Hornet coupe that I bought in 1969. It had 32,000 miles on it. I sold "Old Blue" after thirty seven years with 49,000 miles on the speedo. I loved that car and was sad to see her go !!!

  10. Sally United States

    Visit the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Ypsilanti MI to see the 1952 Hudson Hornet driven by NASCAR driver Herb Thomas in 1953 as well many other nice collectibles.

  11. Cap'n Sandy Melbourne, FL USA

    Did they mention teh dual carb model. The Hornet with "Twin H Power"

  12. Johnny Raleigh

    My grand-father and father worked at the Hudson dealership here in Raleigh and they eventually became the place to get your Hudson fixed in town once they owned their own business. My father had a 49' Commodore and my grand-father owned a Hornet. My father sold his Commodore to a friend that drove it back and forth to the west coast while he was in school. He gave it back to my father when it had over 300K miles on it because it was such a good car and he wanted my Dad to have it back. My brother talked my Dad into letting him have it back in the early 60's to run in the "stock" 6-cylinder class on a local track. He put the dual-carb 308 cu. inch Hornet motor in it and ran it as 51' "stock" Hornet. The bodies were almost identical as the 49' commodore. He dominated the 6-cylinder class back then. He lost a protest one night for it not being a real 51' (even though there was basically no difference). After some modifications where he used a cutting torch to modify the differences ( One of the main differences was the location of the rearview mirror) along with a Hornet serial plate and no one could prove it. He continued to dominate with his main competition coming from the Dodge slant-six's. In the beginning he had handling problems, because a Hudson was narrower in the rear than the front. He solved that problem by putting a Plymouth rear-end in it to make it wider. Lot's of other people tried to get Hudson's to compete, but they never figured out how he made his handle. What a sweet car that Commodore was... I remember as a kid the back seat was huge...

  13. marshall watson tallapoosa ga.

    my first car 1949 hudson with a 1954 hornet eng.it ran at 115+ 1n 1954 i still have a 1951 hudson just for fun belong to Hudson,Essex,Terraplane Club,

  14. Wayne Graefen Under the X in Texas

    Hudson Hornet? What will they think of next in newfangled contraptions. My memory is long enough to recall the TERRAPLANE. Now there was a name for a car. A plane that skims along the earth. Hot diggity. Have to get my '34 out of the barn as we are meeting other Terraplaniacs for dinner !

  15. Exnimo United States

    I took my driver's license test on my grandmother's 1952 Hudson Hornet . I had occasion to drive it many times, and it was a great handling car. It may not have been as fast as an Olds '88, but would run circles around one in traffic. In 1951, the first year of the "Hornet", Oldsmobile was in it's third year with the OHV V8, but Desoto wouldn't get the V8 'til 1952. At least the Desoto could be ordered with stick shift, and even overdrive, unlike the totally "clunky" Chrysler semi-automatic all Chryslers and most Desotos were stuck with. One of my best friends in high school had a '51 Hornet coupe (single carb) and it was the fastest car in school, bar none!

  16. Gene O Pittsburgh Pa.

    I owned a 51 Hornet that I bought in 53. Added spots and a visor, dechromed the hood and trunk, tinkered with the motor a bit, and went out and sucked up all the big 8's that ford and merc had out there.. Won many a drag race on Carson st...and won many a pretty girl as well.. they loved the step down... We called my Hudson black beauty, and she really was. Wish I had kept her......

  17. roger w. Carlson canton, Ga.

    I was a personal friend of B B Blackburn, Atlanta Ga. He was the mechanic for Tim Flock, who drove no.91, 1952 Hudson Hornet. He was Grand National Champion for 1952. Look at pictures of No. 91 you see it is serviced by Blackburn Auto Service, Atlanta, Ga. BB was the type of gentlemen that, if you are fortunate, you may meet once or twice in your life.

  18. Uncle Bill Missoula,MT

    Greetings

  19. Dave Clemente Janesville, WI

    You should see Jack Stewart's beautiful Blue (Doc) Hornet. What a car both inside and out. These cars were so ahead of their time with such beautiful interiors and dash appearance. Simply wonderful cars!

  20. RODGER BLACK PERRY MI

    YES; I REMEMBER HUDSONS VERY WELL, WINNING SEVERAL RACES. I HAD A 1953 FORD INLINE SIX THAT I RACED AT AT 6 MICHIGAN DRAGSTRIPS RUNNING SIX TENTHS OF A SECOND UNDER THE NATIONAL RECORD, YOU CAN NOT WIN ALL. I WAS BEAT OUT BY A HUDSON THAT WAS IN MY CLASS.

  21. Ernest Berry SUFFOLK,VA.

    I own a 52 hornet hollywood and enjoy driving it frequently and taking it to car shows.

  22. Lance North Carolina

    I enjoy watching the kids faces in their Hondas when I pass them in my 51 Hornet. The look of 'deer in the headlights' has to be the best description that comes to mind .That is one fast old sedan. I love it.

  23. Larry Cramer, aka Uncle Josh Northville, NY

    I've driven a Black/Boston Creme Twin H 52 Hornet for the last 11 years.., rebuilt the motor., carbs etc. Hated to see it go but had too many Hudsons and it's now funding the 40 Hudson Straight Eight I'm restoring. It always drew a crown at shows. I also have a 36 Terraplane, a Red/Maroon 49 Hudson Commadore I restored with only 39,000 mi on it, as well as a 47 Hudson pickup with a 39 straight eight, and a 46 Hudson Pickup waiting in the shed. Having a blast.

  24. Charles Malone Huntsville AL

    Back in the late 50's one of my pals had a Hornet with the Twin H option. We were heading down a country road at something over 100 MPH, and topped a hill into a flock of chickens in the road. Some went into the grill/radiator, some streamed up the hood and windshield and down the top. Took us about half a day to clean it. that car would fly, and handled well.

  25. Bob Maine

    I remember my dad replacing his '41 Chevy for a dark green 4-dr '50 Hornet ~1954. It was after WWII, so my father, having built up a lot of leave time after working at the Springfield Armory, decided to take a grand tour of the U.S. We started from Western MA, drove through Las Angeles and back again with a more northerly route. Not one bit of trouble with the car! He replaced it some years later with a blue & cream, 4-dr Super Wasp. As a kid, I was embarrassed our family had a Hudson while all my friends' families had Chevy's, Fords, Olds, etc. Hudson didn't sponsor any TV shows! Now, I wish I could have one for my very own.

  26. jerry jeup mich.

    I remember my dad buying a 1946/47 new Hudson. Our first "new" car... Because of WW II our car was delivered to us with NO back seat and it had Wooden 2x10 or 2x12 front & rear bumpers painted silver.. We had to wait until the dealer received the back seat and the bumpers from the factory.. OH such great memories.....

  27. Leo Dougherty Tampa, FL

    When I was just starting school, my second cousin had a Hudson Hornet in his back yard that he intended to restore. He also had a Packard that he fixed up and drove. I remember riding in the Packard. It seemed like a luxury car to me but I never had a ride in a real luxury car. The ride was smooth and I remember the car was quiet. My second cousin was quite a mechanic and had owned or installed engines in other older cars that had gone out of business. As car bodies changed over the 50s I remember thinking that the Hornet had better lines. My brother and I waited patiently for him to start working on that Hudson Hornet but by the time we were old enough to go in to the service, he still had not started work on it. In the end, I believe it ended up in the junk yard.

  28. Tim Heckel Gillette, WY

    The Hornets were alittle before my time, but I sure think they were the real deal. I did get to cruise around in a 1949 Ford sedan in my high school days though. Keep those stories coming they are great. As a real car nut I sure enjoy any car story. Just relaxes me if you know what I mean!

  29. Bob C. Port St Lucie, FL

    Wouldn't the successes of Marshall Teague and Herb Thomas in Hudson Hornets have something to do with having one of the greatest "engine" men in racing (Smokey Yunick) preparing their cars?

  30. Rudy Bennett El Paso Tx

    In 1951 I was watching Hudsons at The Darling S.C. Track and in 1955 my 35.00 dollar Hudson a pacemaker with Hornet 308 eng in it went to the Drags and that started it for me. Then the 1954 hornet came along in 1958 Twin-H- Hydro and the rest many years of Racing. My driver today is a 1951 Super-6-2-door sedan,Hornet Powered. for the past 46 years. It don't get any better than this.

  31. Richard Polese Santa Fe, NM

    My Hudsons are a '51 Hornet sedan and a '49 Super Six coupe with '54 Hornet power. At college in Indiana in 1964, I traded my '51 Rambler Country Club Hardtop that I'd driven across the whole country for that '51 Hornet. (By that time the Rambler front end was disintegrating - no surprise in that otherwise pleasant little car). The '51 Hornet is still very much a drivable dream. I've been hooked into the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club for decades, writing "The Ship and Castle" column for the club magazine, the White Triangle News. A ship and a castle adroned the well-known Hudson triangle emblem in the marque's later years.

  32. E Hood IL

    Love the stories! I'm a non-typical 30 yr old gal who would rather have a Hudson Hornet than a BMW or anything else - any day. Gorgeous cars. Too bad I wasn't around during that era. Truly special compared to the "metal boxes" being produced today. Can't wait until I own a Hudson Hornet or Wasp one day.

  33. ray nc

    hi bought a 1955 Hudson hornet Hollywood with continental kit a couple years back. The car is had one repaint but everything else is pretty much original. It has the twin H power in line six. it has an American motors identification tag with serial number X1692. Body number 1191. And model number 35567–2. can anyone confirm that this is a 55 Hudson? I can't seem to decode the numbers to confirm. thanks!

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