The Hudson Jet was a compact automobile produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan during the 1953 and 1954 model years. The Jet was Hudson's response to the popular Nash Rambler, and Hudson, with its limited financial resources, chose to pursue a compact instead of refurbishing its line of full-size cars. However the Jet failed to capture buyers as the Rambler had for Nash; consequently Hudson was forced to merge with Nash-Kelvinator because of the losses created by the Jet project and the falling sales of its senior line.
From the beginning, the Jet project was hampered by Hudson President A.E. Barit, who insisted that the compact Jet offer full-size amenities. While designers attempted to form a car that was lower, wider and proportionally sleeker to the dimensions of a smaller compact car, Barit would not back away from features such as chair high seating for passengers, and a "tall" greenhouse and ceiling that would allow riders to wear their hats while in the car. Barit also decided that the Jet's rear design would incorporate Oldsmobile-like high rear fender and small round tail light design. The design was further changed to accommodate the personal likes of Chicago, Illinois Hudson dealer Jim Moran, whose dealership regularly sold about 5% of Hudson's total production output. Moran fancied the 1952 Ford's wrap around rear window and roofline, and Barit ordered a like design for the Jet.
For its introductory year, the Jet was available in either standard or Super-Jet trim levels, with two- and four-door sedan body styles only. Unlike the aging step-down bodied Hudson full-size cars, the Jet was designed as a true notch-back. The car was powered by Hudson's inline L-head 202 in³ six, which produced 104 horsepower (78 kW) at 4000 rpm. (This engine, while wonderfully "torquey", was basically a reworking of Hudson's 1947 "3x5" 212 cid six, slightly de-stroked and configured for full pressure lubrication. It was a flathead design at a time when the rest of the industry was moving to overhead valves and further established Hudson's image as that of a company stuck in the past.)
Standard appointments included heater, theft-proof locks, rotary door-latches, defroster vents, dual horns, full-wheel covers, ash tray and a lighted ignition switch. While the inclusion of a passenger compartment heater as standard may be odd to present day car drivers, Cadillac still counted a passenger compartment heater as extra in 1953, at an option cost of $199.
However when the Jet emerged for its introduction, the product lacked the appeal of the Rambler, largely because of the car's relatively high price and its blocky, too-tall-looking styling. While the 1953 senior Hudsons continued to be based upon the 1948 step-down design, these cars looked sleeker than the smaller, slab-sided Jet models. Consumers also recognized that, unlike the Nash Rambler, which offered premium body styles such as a station wagon, hardtop and convertible, the Jet was available only in sedan form, and although very well appointed, it was priced higher than base level full-sized Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth sedans.
The tea cup test
Hudson resorted to a variety of marketing ploys to get consumers interested in the Jet, including the "Tea Cup Test". The "Tea Cup Test" utilized special kits comprised of a glass cylinder, valves and rubber hoses that Hudson dealers attached to test cars. The glass cylinder was mounted to the inside of the front passenger door, with the hoses feeding into the engines fuel lines. An amount of gasoline equal to the amount held in a tea cup was added to the glass cylinder, and the car was driven away by the potential customer and salesperson that monitored the cylinder, to prove how far a Jet could travel on the minuscule amount of gasoline. However novel, the Tea Cup Test failed to convey the Jet's value as an economical car.
For 1954 the Jet received minor trim updates. A new luxury model, the Jet-Liner was added making the Jet a three series model line, however, no new body styles were added.
Production of the Jet series skidded to 14,224 units, down from 1953's disappointing 21,143 units.
Without any funds to update the senior Hudson line, Barit convinced the Board that a merger into Nash-Kelvinator represented the best chance of protection for Hudson's stockholders. Barit hoped that the Jet would survive the merger as the new American Motors focused on the niche market of selling smaller cars.
When the merger was completed and Barit assumed his seat on the AMC Board, in 1954, the first Hudson model to terminate production was the Jet. Henceforth, Hudson dealers would have badge-engineered versions of Nash's Rambler and Metropolitan to sell as Hudson products.
Automobile historian Richard M. Langworth has called the Jet "The car that torpedoed Hudson". While the effect of the Jet on Hudson's financial health can not be overstated (it was a catastrophe), it must also be remembered that market forces, such as steel prices and labor costs, which contributed to the demise of all the "independents" (Packard, Studebaker, Willys, etc.)in the '50's and 60's, were among the real culprits in Hudson's demise. Ultimately, poor management decisions that mis-judged the market and didn't keep Hudson's product line up to date took their toll as well.
- Gunnell, John, Editor (1976). The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975. Kraus Publications. ISBN 978-0-87341-096-0.
- Conde, John A. (1987). The American Motors Family Album. American Motors Corporation. ISBN 1111573891.
- Langworth, Richard. "Hudson Jet: the Car That Torpedoed Hudson" Collectible Automobile, April, 1995. Volume 11 No. 6, pp.46-55
- "1953-1954 Hudson: Crash Landing During Take Off" No Author Credit. Collectible Automobile, August 1989. Volume 6 No. 2, pp.74-77