Hudson Hornet Gen 2
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
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.
1955 Hudson Hornet
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 litre) 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 bonnet 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 the single unit welded body, high quality braking system with added mechanical backup system, roadability, general handling
, and maneuverability; as well as excellent acceleration and power for emergency situations.
1956 Hudson Hornet
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.
1957 Hudson Hornet
, 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 litre) 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 Hornet could be optioned with one of the sweetest automatic transmissions
then going, the Hydramatic. It also endowed the car with a good performance when urged along by the large V8 engine. The Hudson was a pleasant car to drive on straight highways, where its cruising speed and tremendous power could be put to best advantage. On the other hand, it was not an ideal instrument for carving up fast and winding mountain roads. This was mainly due to the excessively slow steering, which required five full turns from one lock to the other. As a consequence, you had to work really rapidly on the wheel to get the car around the corners when travelling quickly – particularly on the crappy Australian roads of the time.
On the Road
The Hudson was clearly intended to be driven in the style usual in America - slow into and through-the corners, then rapid acceleration on the straightaway. Handled in this manner, the Hornet would put up good touring speeds, and had sufficient sheer power to overtake just about every other car then found on Australian highways. The braking was power-assisted, and was a particularly good feature for normal use. The Hornet was also quite stable and safe when cornered fast, even if it was a handful to get around the bends.
Hill climbing with the aid of the Hydramatic transmission was also very rapid on fairly straight ascents. Acceleration was sizzling by any standards – and compared to the British cars then dominating the Australian motoring landscape, the Hornet was akin to a bolt of lightning. For some reason perhaps better known to the designers, the brake and throttle pedals were set at very different levels, which meant the driver would have to lift their foot five inches up from the throttle each time the brake was applied.
But you would forgive that problem on a rainy day, when you discovered that the vacuum-operated wipers did not actually stop when the throttle was fully opened, but their action did slow down noticeably. The Hydramatic automatic transmission had four forward speeds, and manually selected positions wherein all four gears were available (D4), or wherein top was locked out (D3), or wherein only first and second gears were available (L). Normally the Hornet was driven in D4, after starting the engine in neutral. The lever could be left in the one position through all driving circumstances, or when stationary, and in fact until the engine was to be restarted. In full-throttle acceleration the lower ratios were held up to the safety maximums, postponing the change to second until 15 mph was reached, to third until 38 mph was recorded, and to top until the car was travelling at 75 mph.
Hudson Hornet Performance
On light throttle acceleration, however, the up-changes occurred at 10 mph., 15 mph. and 30 mph. respectively. If D3 was selected, it locked out top gear, as on a winding hill to eliminate the otherwise inevitable changes between top and third as the throttle was opened and closed. There was, however, a safety change-up to top if 75 mph was exceeded. Low range was used only for very cautious manoeuvring or when travelling slowly on a bad track, or in mud or sand.
There was a safety change-up to third if 55 mph was exceeded in L range. The transmission was naturally fitted with a kick-down throttle switch, which allowed a kick-down change to third gear below 45 mph, and to second gear below 15 mph. A parking lock was also included.
The four-speed Hydramatic transmission would normally climb steep hills in third gear below 45 mph, but above that speed it used top gear. It was not until speed dropped to about 15 mph that second gear was engaged. Thus drivers soon learnt that most moderate speed climbs were best made mainly in third gear, more or less regardless of the severity of the ascent.
The power-to-weight ratio, with a load of 3 cwt, was particularly high at 136 bhp per ton. The great power of the Hudson, and its high gearing, allowed the car to cruise very quickly on fairly straight country highways. If safety considerations permitted, the car would settle down to a steady 80 mph. The gearbox kept the car flexible down to any speed, so that there was always ample response available on opening the throttle. On winding highways, the driver would find their cruising speed greatly reduced by the bends and corners.
The engine developed a very high torque (pulling power) of 345 Ibs-ft, and this was applied to good advantage by the transmission, which effected full-throttle up-changes during hard acceleration. From stationary, the engine at full throttle would spin the rear wheels on dry bitumen. The Hudson, in spite of its great size and weight, had acceleration up to good sports car standard, as the performance figures showed. Using D4 range, the following times were recorded during road tests conducted in 1958, with the gears automatically selected were: 20 to 40 mph, second and third gears, 3.5 seconds.; 30 to 50 mph, second and third gears, 3.6 seconds.; 40 to 60 mph, third gear, 4.2 seconds.
The riding comfort afforded to its passengers by the Hudson was very good. The weight of the car, and its resilient suspension
, took the bumps out of most roads. It was only on very bad potholes, hit fast, that the suspension
showed any sign of bottoming. The suspension was not, however, spongy enough to permit much body roll on corners. It was strange for an American car to corners virtually without roll at moderate speed – but the Hornet sure did. Road adhesion was good, the car was stable, and it was only the slow steering that made it difficult to corner fast in this car. The squeal of the larger tyres
(8.00 inch) was moderate when cornering. The worm-and-roller steering mechanism had been geared down to make it light under all conditions, and this object was achieved. There was not any reaction felt in the hands over bad roads. The turning circle of 42ft, whilst not out of proportion, was still pretty large.
The Hudson would not have been an ideal car to navigate the local supermarket car park in. The Bendix hydraulic brakes
were power-assisted by a servo system of the same design. The brakes
gave excellent results in normal use, with extremely light pedal pressures, and yielded startling results if required. Without power assistance (engine disengaged and stopped), the car could be controlled with a heavy pedal pressure. There was, however, pronounced fading and unevenness of the brakes
(in spite of the power assistance) if you let them heat up too much during a long descent. The brake lining area was 198 sq. in, but brake cooling and heat capacity were evidently insufficient. The handbrake was of the twist and pull type.
The seating and steering wheel position were comfortable enough, but the brake pedal was, as mentioned above, some six inches above the floor, and five inches above the throttle pedal. Despite the weird setup, it was intended to be operated by the right foot. Vision was good, and you could see the fins on all four guards, an advantage when manoeuvring. The driver's window required only two turns of its crank for full movement. The instruments were well placed, directly before the driver. They comprised a ribbon-type speedometer
(which surged badly even on then brand new cars) and gauges for engine temperature and fuel contents.
Commendably large and arresting warning lights were fitted for generator and oil pressure. A noisy clock was fitted before the passenger, which was also the inconvenient location of the wiper switch. The handbrake could be reached easily, but there was some difficulty in using the sun visor and the rear vision mirror at the same time. The mirror was pleasingly wide, and was of the night-dipping type.
The large engine (5.3 litres) had a bore and stroke of 101.6 x 82.5mm (over-square), and it operated on a compression of nine to one, which was particularly high by Australian family-car standards of the time. You needed to take care with your fuel purchases and the engine needed to be kept reasonably free of carbon. Specific power output was remarkably high at 47.6 bhp per litre. Hydraulic tappets were an expensive refinement. In spite of the size of the engine, great care was taken to locate accessibly all those ancillaries needing regular servicing. An oil-bath air-cleaner enveloped the four-throat Carter carburettor, and the engine oil was circulated through a by-pass filter. Front suspension
of the integral unit was by double wishbones with coils above and an anti-roll bar
. The torque tube rear axle was located by radius arms and a Panhard rod, and was suspended through coil springs
. Telescopic dampers were used all round.
The principal characteristics of the body interior were its great width and space. The bench seats were 62 and 63 inches wide, and the divided front squabs folded down to make a single couch on the passenger's side. There was a capacious drawer in the centre of the facia, but no door pockets. The boot was very large, with an approximate gross capacity of 28 cub. ft. The spare was carried flat on the boot floor. Both the engine bonnet and boot lid were counter-balanced.