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The Hudson Hornet is an automobile that was produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan between 1951 and 1954. The Hornet was also built by American Motors Corporation (AMC) in Kenosha, Wisconsin and marketed under the Hudson brand between 1955 and 1957.
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 accented by streamlined styling. The car's "unique, low slung appearance and silky handling earned Hudson an image that – for many buyers – eclipsed luxury marques like Cadillac's."
The second-generation Hudson Hornets became a restyled Nash that was 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. The design merged body and frame into a single structure, with the floor pan recessed between the car's frame rails instead of sitting on top of the frame. Thus one "stepped down" into a Hudson. The step-down chassis'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 hardtop coupe. The models were priced the same as Commodore Eight, which was priced from US$2,543 to $3,099.
All Hornets were powered by Hudson's high-compression straight-six "H-145" engine. An L-head (flathead or sidevalve) 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. 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 these cars were over engineered and over built, made them unbeatable in competition on the dirt and the very few paved tracks of the 1950s.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.
Hudson Hornet 1951 model year production totaled 43,656 units.
In 1952 the "Twin H-Power" version now standard equipment with dual single-barrel carburetors atop a dual-intake manifold, and power rose to170 hp (127 kW). 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 near-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.
Hudson Hornet 1952 model year production totaled 35,921 units.
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.
Hudson Hornet 1953 model year production totaled 27,208 units.
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 in top-line Hornets produced 160 hp (119 kW) and the racing-inspired 170 hp (127 kW) "Twin-H-Power" (7-X) version was optional from the factory.
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 updated Hornet Brougham convertible, the sole convertible available from Hudson, was attractive but overpriced at US$3,288 for a six-cylinder car in 1954.
Hudson Hornet 1954 model year production totaled 24,833 (the final year before the Hudson merger with Nash-Kelvinator).
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. Sedan and hardtop body styles were offered, but the coupe and convertible were no longer available.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.
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 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. However the car's design failed to excite buyers and Hudson Hornet sales skidded to 8,152 units, off 4,978 units from 1956's 13,130.
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. Although the price was reduced and the power was increased by way of AMC's new 327 cu in (5.4 L) that was rated at 255 hp (190 kW) with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, consumers reacted by buying only 3,108 units.
Production of the Hornet ended on June 25, 1957, at which time the Hudson brand was dropped and all of AMC's products took the "Rambler" name.
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.
For the 1970 model year, American Motors resurrected the Hornet name for their new compact that replaced the Rambler American (see AMC Hornet).
In 2006, a small, front-wheel-drive concept car called Hornet was designed and developed by Dodge (see Dodge Hornet).
The Disney Pixar film Cars and several spin-off video games featured a Fabulous Hudson Hornet named Doc Hudson, a retired Piston Cup (the franchise's version of the Sprint Cup Series) champion.
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.
Hudson was the first automobile manufacturer to get involved in stock car racing. The Hornet "dominated stock car racing in the early-1950s, when stock car racers actually raced stock cars."
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.