Saturday, March 15, 2014

1955 Hudson Wasp 4-door Sedan

"Twice as rigid, twice as safe! American Motors' exclusive Double Strength Single Unit car construction is all-welded, rattleproof — with twice the torsional strength of bodies bolted to separate chassis frames in all other cars. You're protected all around by box-section steel girders — makes Hudson a great trade-in value!"

Not often do you come across a Hudson in Cuba. Just 367 Hudson Wasp were exported worldwide in 1955, and seeing one of them in Havana's Miramar district, definitely made our day.

Hudson was a rather small, but influential player in the automotive industry, as it broke new grounds with the unibody construction of its famous "Step-Down" Hudsons. These postwar models became quite legendary as they appealed to both, discerning customers and motorsport enthusiasts, because of their superior handling, due to a stiffer and lighter unibody construction and a lower center of gravity. From 1952 through 1954, these Hudsons could dominate America's NASCAR racing events.

The downside of the unibody design was a very limited potential for body changes. It didn't matter in the late 1940s, when the American car market was still a seller's market and everyone made good business. But already in the early 1950s, the "Big Three" began to push for extensive yearly styling changes, and the customers became so much used to an annual "all-new" look of their cars, that the Hudsons soon looked very, very dated. Sales plummeted severely. On top of that, the costly development of the ill-fated compact Hudson Jet ate up most of Hudson's cash reserves. Consequently, Hudson had to merge with Nash to form American Motors in early 1954. As a stipulation for this merger, all original Hudson models were dropped, and thus, the "all-new" 1955 Hudsons should become merely badge engineered Nash cars. Designed by Ken Samples under supervision of Nash styling chief Ed Anderson, these Hudsons looked actually pretty good: an formal egg-crate grille and the Nash body with its wide wraparound windshield made the cars look pretty stately. Even the mid-level Wasp, despite running on a shorter wheelbase, looked well-proportioned and decent. But good looks weren't enough for Hudson's fan base. The customers didn't buy into the pretense and rejected these disguised, slouchy Nash cars, which they soon derisively nicknamed "Hashes". In an attempt to make them more individual, Ed Anderson and his team restyled the Hudson once again for 1956. The result was too garish for most, even by the time's standards. Customers now completely ignored the brand, and in 1957 Hudson and Nash were given up, leaving Rambler as AMC's remaining make.

There's a certain irony in the fact that the 1955 Hudson still sported an unibody construction, albeit inherited from Nash. Had they had the choice, Hudson engineers would certainly have dismissed the Nash body as being too heavy and generally inferior.

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