1955 Hudson ItaliaH
udson beat the 'Big Three' to market with its new postwar 'Step-Down' models on showroom floors, and soon it was dominating NASCAR ovals. The 'Monobilt' semi-unit construction of the Super Six and Commodore models used a large perimeter frame that passed outside the passenger compartment and the rear wheels. It allowed for a low center of gravity, with the passenger footwells dropping inside the frame, earning these distinctive Hudsons the description 'stepdown.' Combined with reduced body height, the Hudsons handling was superior to anything else on the market.
The Super Six became the Hornet in 1952, and Hornets with Hudon's 'Twin-H' dual carburetor setup were very successful in NASCAR and AAA stock car racing circuits for the following three years. It was not long that other manufacturers, using their extensive financial and engineering resources, caught up with high compression V-8 engines.
Producing mainly 'standard' large-size models, Hudson competed directly against Chrysler, Ford, and GM, and due to limited financial resources, management decided to move downmarket with a compact-sized model instead of developing a V8 engine and refurbishing its line of full-size cars. This led to the creation of the Hudson Jet that had a solid welded unibody, a roomy interior, excellent performance, good fuel economy, and low-cost maintenance. Introduced in mid-1953, it achieved mild success in the crowded compact segment, which was experiencing a dramatic decline in overall sales during the 1952-1954 period. Achieving slightly more than 20,000 sales for the 1953 model year, the Jet is credited with effectively destroying the Hudson Motor Car Company and forcing the merge with Nash-Kelvinator (forming American Motors Corporation).
In hopes of rekindling the Hudson appeal, Chief Body Engineer Frank Spring suggested a lightweight, streamlined coupe that could continue the newly created tradition that Marshall Teague and a Hudson Hornet had established by finishing sixth overall in the grueling Mexican Carrera Panamericana race. Racing regulations required that a minimum of 25 examples be built to qualify, and at the time, Hudson was unable to produce such a small quantity cost-effectively. Following general conceptual renderings by Art Kibiger and a small Hudson design staff, Italy's Carrozzeria Touring began work on a prototype. A complete Hudson Jet was sent to Touring, who removed the external bodywork and re-clothed it in a lightweight aluminum interpretation of the streamlined concept laid down by Spring and the Hudson designers. Touring's construction used a thin-wall-tubing superstructure covered by hand-formed aluminum panels, similar to other period-European racing models.
The special was called 'Super Jet' and introduced numerous original features and design cues, including inverted vee motifs derived from Hudson's longtime 'white vee' emblem. In the front was a large inverted vee grille integrated guard and front bumper, reinforced by raked vee-shaped air intakes located above the headlights which fed air to the front brake cooling ducts. Another set of brake cooling ducts was positioned just behind the doors, built into the leading edges of the skirted rear fenders. Similar design elements were later incorporated into future Touring designs including the Pegaso Z-102 and Alfa Romeo 'Type 55' design study. The taillights were housed in three chrome tubes at the rear of the fenders.
The Italia Concept was 10-inches lower than the Jet, had doors that cut 14-inches into the roof allowing easier entry and exit, used a wraparound windshield similar to the one found on the 1953 Corvette, rode on Center-lock Borrani chrome wire wheels, and had a column-mounted three-speed transmission with an overdrive unit. Hudson reportedly spent a mere $28,000 to build the concept that was completed in September of 1953, after which Spring and his wife drove it around Italy. It was then shipped to the United States and displayed at numerous Hudson dealerships through the U.S. It was shown at automobile shows in the U.S. and some in Europe, and the International Sports Car Show held in January 1954.
Initially called the 'Super Jet,' the interior of the Italia had bright red deep-pile Italian carpeting, a radio, form-fitting bucket seats made from foam rubber of three different densities for maximum comfort and covered in red and white leather, reclining rear seats made from two contoured bolsters (one fo the lower back and the other for the shoulders), and a non-reflectin dash finished in red. The exterior color was 'Italian Cream.' It used unusual flow-through ventilation with three vent slots above the rear window to exhaust cabin air into the low-pressure area behind the roof. The only way to access the trunk was from inside the car from behind the seats with straps to hold cargo and lockable storage compartments on either side of the luggage platform. Seat belts were standard equipment, an unusual feature at the time but one championed by Spring who was an accomplished pilot and understood the safety ramifications. The 'Super Jet' used the stepdown footwells of the Jet but the Touring designers added even more depth to them to complement the low roof design.
Power was from Hudson's 'Twin H' 202 cubic-inch, L-head straight 6, with a higher 8:1 compression ratio, and dual one-barrel, single choke downdraft carburetors. It developed 114 horsepower and was equipped with a three-speed manual transmission with a column-mounted gear shift lever. Stopping power was by four-wheel drum brakes.
Hudson management approved the 'Super Jet' for production and 25 knocked down Jets were shipped to Touring (some sources state that components for fifty examples were shipped to Touring). The European coachbuilder improvised a production line and began work on creating the now designated Hudson 'Italia.' The public was formally introduced to the Italia at the Detroit Auto Show in December of 1953, and production did not begin until August 1954, months after Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors and only a few months before the last Detroit-built Hudson left the line in October. Hudson dealers began taking orders on September 23rd of 1953, but the response was less than anticipated, with only 18 or 19 firm orders. Part of the drawback for these hand-built, labor-intensive vehicles was the steep price, which was listed at $4,350 at the New York port of entry according to an AMC press release, or $4,800 FOB Detroit.
The management of the newly-formed automaker set a deadline for its dealers to receive pre-paid orders form customers for the cars. Due to the steep price, its 'orphan' branded car status, and sluggish orders, AMC committed to another 15 Italias built, bringing the total to twenty-five plus the prototype. Currently, twenty-one of the twenty-six Italias has been accounted for. There are theories, and some supportive proof, that perhaps those five cars (series numbers 5 through 10) were never delivered to the United States and may have been sold in Europe.
The early-1950s was a period of dramatic, bold, and futuristic designs inspired by the jet age and the space race. Further influences were sourced from the rapidly evolving airplane industry, including the advancements made during wartime. The Hudson Italia is emblematic of what Frank Spring and his staff of Hudson designers may have created had the company's fortunes and future been brighter.by Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2020
Related Reading : Hudson Italia History
Produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, the Hudson Italia was a compact car with limited production capacity. It was designed by Frank Spring and in cooperation with Carrozzeria Touring of Italy, during the 1954 and 1955 model years. Toying around with the design for an Experimental Sports Car, Frank worked closely with Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, the chief designer of....Continue Reading >>
GT Sport Coupe
Designer: Frank Spring
Chassis Num: IT10010
In the early post-WWII era, Hudson had beaten the Big Three to market with its Step-Down models and on NASCAR ovals. However, their fortunes and their image as an innovator began to degrade with the poorly received 1954 Jet. In response, Hudson's Chi....[continue reading]
GT Sport Coupe by Touring
Chassis #: IT10010