Whenever I read Letters to the editor in some magazines, people complain about the relevance of the Lamborghinis, the Enzo Ferraris and the SLR McLarens: no-one can drive these things quickly, so what’s the point of having them?
In the early 1950s, the domestic automobile market was changing. The Big Three were stepping up the price wars to gain market share. Strapped for cash, independent manufacturers were having a tough time keeping up. Market shift was especially hard on Hudson, a company that started the decade in 13th place, selling only 121,408 units. By 1952, sales plummeted further to 35,921. Watching the success of Nash’s compact Rambler model, Hudson decided to follow in their footsteps and introduce the compact-sized Hudson Jet. That decision would ultimately play a large part in the demise of Hudson.
The Jet’s design was similar to Hudson’s large platform in that it used a similar monobuilt body-and-frame. Engineered by Millard Toncray, the man responsible for the big “Step Down” Hudson, the Jet was considered a well-built vehicle. Unfortunately it was quite heavy, besting Rambler by several hundred pounds and requiring additional power to provide adequate performance.
While small in size, the Jet was designed to hold six people in relative comfort.
For 1954, the upscale Jet Liner was added to the previous year’s Jet and Super Jet models. Advertised as “Luxury on Wheels,” the Jet Liner rode on the same 105-inch wheelbase as the lower-priced models. Body lines were much like those of the Big Three. The wraparound rear window looked much like a Ford rear window, and the taillamps were similar to Oldsmobile’s.
Interestingly, it wasn’t a Hudson designer who was responsible for these similarities. The responsible party was a Chicago Hudson dealer named Jim Moran. At the time, Moran sold about five percent of all Hudsons produced, and his volume gave him clout with the company. He happened to like Ford’s rear window and Oldsmobile’s taillamps. And what Jim wanted, Hudson gave him.
The exterior of the Jet Liner was pleasing to the eye. Chrome and stainless were applied liberally. The slab sided quarter panels were livened up with a horizontal faux quarter panel scoop. Twin side spears and bright rocker trim gave the illusion of the car being longer than it actually was. From the side, the Jet Liner looked much like a smaller version of a Ford.
Inside, seats were upholstered in contrasting color Plasti-Hide. Door pads were trimmed to match the seat covers. The dash layout was simple, with a large sweep speedometer and a fuel and water temperature gauge. Idiot lights took care of oil pressure and generator readings. Vision was considered excellent with its large greenhouse.
Power came from a stout “Instant Action” flathead six. The base engine pumped out 104 horsepower, barely enough for decent acceleration. Buyers requiring additional power could opt for the “Twin H” intake manifold, with two single-throat carburetors that upped horsepower to 111. Adding an aluminum high compression head increased horsepower to 114. The power was transferred to the rear axle by either a three-speed manual with or without overdrive, or the smooth shifting, General Motors-supplied Dual-Range Hydra-Matics.
Sales of Jet models fell from 1953, and on April 30, 1954, Hudson closed down as an independent automobile producer. It lost $6.2 million on sales of $28.7 million in the process. The $16 million it took to tool up for the Jet nearly emptied the bank account. In a last-ditch effort to soldier on, Hudson merged with Nash to form American Motors Corporation. Production of all Hudson-designed vehicles ended on October 29, 1954. In the end, sales were a meager 14,224. The little Jet couldn’t save the company.
This month’s cover car is the only 1954 Jet Liner ever produced. It was built as an experimental vehicle and when completed was sold to Virgil Boyd, Hudson’s sales manager.
Fuel For Thought
Uni-body assembled with over 5,000 welds Bodies were produced by the Murray Corporation of America Hydra-Matic available for $178.03 Rear axle ratios ranged from 3.31:1 to 4.56:1
Number built – 14,224 Construction – Uni-body Engines – (4) 202 cubic-inch flathead six cylinder Power/Torque – 104 horsepower, 158 lb-ft torque, 106 horsepower, 158 lb-ft torque, 111 horsepower, 160 lb-ft torque, 114 horsepower, 166 lb-ft torque Transmissions – Three-speed manual, three-speed manual with overdrive, four-speed automatic Suspension front – Independent with coil springs and anti-roll bar Suspensionrear – Semi elliptical leaf springs Steering – Worm and roller Brakes – Four-wheel drum Length/width/height – 181/67/61 inches Wheelbase – 105 inches Weight – 2,800 lbs. 0-60mph/quarter mile – 15.9 seconds, 19.8 seconds at 68 mph (Motor Trend, August 1953) Top speed – 102 mph (Motor Trend, August 1953) MPG – 14 - 22 mpg Price – MSRP - $2,048; Today – $5,875 - $17,900
Insurance cost is $164/year for a $9,250 Hudson Jet Liner. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving. *Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Engine– The Jet Liner engine was derived from the Hudson Commodore Eight with two cylinders lopped off. While its long 4.75-inch stroke played havoc with piston speed, the engine proved to be durable. Buyers choosing the aluminum head, Twin-H version were treated to good performance.
Handling– The combination of soft springs and mildly valved shocks made the Jet Liner lean heavily into corners. Vehicle bounce was excessive over high speed bumps, and washboard roads created excessive body vibration. On the plus side, the ride was comfortable when driven moderately.
1954 Nash Rambler Number built – 36,231 0-60/quarter mile –21.1 seconds, 21.5 seconds at 61 mph Top speed – 86 mph Price – MSRP - $1,980; Today – $7,400 - $22,500
1954 Plymouth Belvedere Number built – 148,334 0-60/quarter mile – 24.7 seconds, 22.7 seconds at 59.5 mph Top speed – 85 mph Price – MSRP - $2,303; Today – $12,350 - $25,700
One of the earliest compact cars Durable Hydra-Matic trans available Not your typical Ford or Chevy Twin-H power option
Somewhat stodgy styling Poor handling Low production means hard to find Aftermarket parts not available
Hudson owners delight in showcasing their vehicles at events. They are a unique group of people who recognize the importance of keeping the memory of the independent auto makes alive. The Jet Liner certainly fits the bill.
What To Pay
Hudson Jet Liner MSRP – $2,048 Low – $5,875 Average – $9,250 High – $17,900 *Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Classic Cars and Parts magazines are sold.
Complete engine gasket kit $245 Rear main bearing seal kit $25 Timing chain set $25 *Based on information from Hudson Motor Car Company 513-821-6200 www.hudsonmotorcarco.com
Roy D. Chapin: The Man Behind the Hudson Motor Car Company by Charles K. Hyde
Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors by Charles K. Hyde
Hudson Automobiles: An Illustrated History by Patrick Foster
American Motors: Nash-Kelvinator, Hudson Motor Car Company, Jeep, Renault, Chrysler, Eagle (automobile) by George W. Mason, A. E. Barit
Nineteen fifty-four was the end of the road for Hudson. While the Jet Liner couldn’t save the company from collapse, it was in fact a dependable six passenger vehicle. Today, Jet Liner owners have the pleasure of being part of a very small group who enjoy driving a vehicle from one of the Independents.