In a little over a year, originality and brains rocketed a $20,000 investment to millions.
The Hudson car entered the automotive field later than most of its present-day contemporaries, but its designers and backers hit the nail right on the head with their first attempt. One good reason was that the original Hudson 20 embodied features well ahead of its day. The aim was to produce the first low-cost automobile with a selective sliding-gear type of transmission, with ample power and a price tag of under $1,000.
Besides J. L. Hudson, seven other outstanding men were in on the venture--including Roy D. Chapin, late of Oldsmobile, whose drive from Michigan to New York in a Curved Dash model, nine years earlier, had been one of the sensations of the New York Automobile Show.
In February, 1909, with the designs for the new Hudson car finalized on the drawing board, the men incorporated their firm under the laws of Michigan. A two-story plant with 80,000 square feet of floor space was purchased and 500 workers were hired to build the car--all this on a working capital of $20,000! Not much margin in case of error!
On July 3, 1909, the first production model of the Hudson 20 rolled off the line to become an immediate success. More than 4,000 cars were built and sold by the end of that year, setting up a first-year business record for the automotive industry at the time. Sales during the first 16 months of the company’s existence totaled nearly $4,000,000.
Perhaps this was partially due to the fact that the company did not overlook the importance of advertising. On June 19, 1909, a Hudson advertisement appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, heralding the arrival of the new car. The cut showed a rakish roadster-type automobile with bucket seats and a gas tank mounted behind them--creating a distinctly sporting effect. The text said: “Here’s a car that is good looking. It is big and racy. Note the graceful and harmonious lines. Observe the sweep of the fenders and the frame. The Hudson 20 has a sliding gear transmission, selective type, three speeds forward and reverse. The motor is vertical, four-cylinder, four-cycle, water-cooled and known as the Renault type. . .” All this for $900, f.o.b. Detroit. No wonder the Hudson was on its way like a skyrocket, from the very beginning.
The following year the company purchased part of the ground occupied by its present-day plant, at Jefferson and Conner Avenues, about five miles from Detroit’s City Hall. The enlarged building, put up in 1910, provided 172,000 square feet of space, with plenty of room for expansion.
From the outset, a policy was adopted of concentrating on as many new features as possible, instead of on a vast number of new models. Hudson engineers were quick to respond with several interesting “firsts.” Through the years, the company has pioneered nearly 60 new features in cars.
In 1910, Hudson came out with the first die-cast bearings and the first fluid-cushion clutch to be used in the industry. These were embodied in the Model 20 roadster, the open roadster, the touring car and the “fore-door” roadster, all of which had one chassis in common. It was very similar to the previous year’s design and of identical engine power.
For 1911, Hudson introduced the Model 33, with four cylinders cast in bloc. This was the debut of the “unit power plant” idea, in which engine, clutch and transmission are assembled as one compact and rigid unit. The chassis was simplified and an improved multiple disc clutch with cork inserts was used.
Public approval was expressed by a sale of 6,486 units for the year. Prices ranged from $1,000 for the roadster to $1,450 for the Torpedo, and demand was so great that immediate plans were drawn up for the addition of factory buildings covering another 128,000 square feet. Work on these started late in the year.
The popular Model 33 was retained for 1912 with a choice of seven body styles on the same chassis. Price range was $1,600 to $2,250. Meanwhile, long impressed with the superiority and added smoothness of the six-cylinder engine, Hudson engineers set to work producing the first quantity-built six-cylinder automobile to sell in the medium price field.
The car was ready for testing in July and went into production for 1913 as the 54 Model. It was offered in six body styles, priced from $2,350 for the roadster to $3,750 for the limousine. The 145-inch wheelbase offered ample scope for roomy body work: Hudson quickly became the leading producer of sixes. That same year saw the introduction of another idea pioneered by Hudson--the first low-priced roadster offered for sale with a guarantee of 60 mph. Known as the “Mile-a-Minute Roadster,” this car was evolved on the Type 33 four-cylinder chassis and was priced at $1,600. Over 5,700 Hudsons were sold in 1912 and 6,401 cars found customers in 1913. During the latter period, the company also came out with the first production sedan and cabriolet-type cowled bodies which broke away from the tradition of the ugly vertical dash--a relic of the buggy days.
By then, the over-all weights of the cars (which had begun with a modest 1,900 pounds in 1909) were starting to run a bit high. The Model 54 six-cylinder limousine, for example, scaled over 4,100 pounds. Accordingly, Hudson turned its attention to the weight problem and came up with the answer just prior to the 1914 New York Automobile Show. This was the Model 6-40, first six-cylinder automobile of moderate weight built in the United States. The car was displayed on a platform scale at the show and attracted much favorable comment. Though the scale showed 2,680 pounds, this was still several hundred pounds lighter than other contemporary sixes. Hudson sales for 1914 topped 10,260 cars: the record was bolstered by another company “first”--the four-speed overdrive type of transmission. Two body styles were available on the Model 54 and four on the 6-40. The mounting of the spare tire on the front fender was standardized. Hudson had left the four-cylinder field for good.
While these models were being continued for 1915 and attained a sale of 12,864 units (more than a 300 per cent sales increase in six years!), Hudson brains proceeded to develop another history-maker. When the new Hudson Super-Six engine appeared in the 1916 New York Show, it contained the first fully balanced crankshaft and the first high-compression, non-detonating cylinder head. Today, every automobile built uses this type of crankshaft; and while Hudson “high” compression was then low by modern standards, the 5 to 1 ratio offered that year was several notches higher than that of any other competitor. Smoothness and increased power were so marked on the first Super-Six engine that the output jumped from 48 to 76 bhp without increasing either bore or stroke. The new design also resulted in greatly increased running economy and much longer engine life.
Demand for the new car was so great that 1916 sales topped 26,390 units and company activity expanded hard on the heels of the builders who were pushing at top speed to enlarge factory space to 847,000 square feet.
The Hudson now staked its reputation on the speedways of America where tough competition offered no quarter. The result was the greatest string of victories ever achieved by any stock car manufacturer.
In a sense, J. L. Hudson may be compared to the great tycoons of America--men who formed railroads, drilled wells, sunk mines and built bridges. It was their foresight, their ability to organize and direct the minds of technicians as well as the efforts of laborers that lifted this nation out of a vast and formidable wilderness.