1954 Hudson Italia

For Hudson Motor Company to survive against the Big Three in the early 1950s, they needed both new models and major revisions to their existing product line. But limited resources meant Hudson management chose only to develop a new small car to compete with the likes of Nash’s new Rambler. The new compact Hudson Jet first appeared in 1953. This small four-door sedan had tremendous promise thanks to its unibody construction and a torquey 202 cubic-inch inline-six. In reality, it was a major disappointment as the design was hampered by excessive meddling from upper management. Hudson’s President, A.E. Barit insisted on changes that turned what could have been an innovative small car into a conservative, somewhat dowdy facsimile of a 1952 Ford. Nearly all of Hudson’s available resources went toward the project, ultimately causing their undoing. By 1954, Hudson had merged with Nash in order to salvage what they could for investors.

However, the story of the Jet was not utterly dire. Hudson’s design director, Frank Spring, somehow managed to convince the board that a sporty version of the Jet would be a hit for America’s young, sports car hungry buyers. Spring was best known for the famous “Step Down” Hudson designs of the 1940s, and his career stretched back to the 1920s when he served as general manager of Murphy Coachbuilders. In 1953, Frank Spring traveled to Brussels, Belgium where he met with Carlo Felice Anderloni of Carrozzeria Touring, Milan. Over dinner, they discussed building a sports car utilizing Hudson underpinnings, with lightweight Italian coachwork. They even sketched the concept on a dinner napkin which, incidentally, still exists in Touring’s archives! Agreements were made, and soon, the Hudson Italia project was underway.

It is with great pleasure that we offer this, the very first Hudson Italia prototype. The fascinating story of this automobile began when Frank Spring arranged for the shipment of a complete Hudson Jet to Touring’s workshop in Milan. After the Italians tested the standard car, they commenced to transforming it into this dramatic two-door coupe with scoops, vents, jet-age faux exhausts, and sparkling Borrani wire wheels. Built in the Superleggera style, the car utilizes a steel wire skeleton skinned in hand-formed aluminum, then finished in a lovely shade of crema lacquer with bold chrome accents. The drama didn’t stop inside, either. Unique form-fitting seats trimmed in two-tone red and white leather faced a red wrinkle-finish dash and, on this prototype only, a wood-rimmed steering wheel from an Alfa Romeo 6C Ville d’Este; grabbed off the shelf for testing purposes and never replaced. The engine is suitably updated for sports car duty with Hudson’s Twin-H Power carbs, boosting output to 115 horsepower with a generous wave of torque.

Frank Spring tested this very prototype in Italy before returning it to the ‘States. He personally demonstrated the car to dealers and distributors to drum up sales. It was used in promotional material, and it traveled the show circuit as a highlight of the Hudson stand. While the initial plan was to build 100 cars at the cost of $2,000 each, a miscommunication meant that Hudson, instead of shipping running chassis to Italy, sent only the parts to build a complete car, forcing Touring to scramble to assemble them. With that, the price spiked to $4,800 and dealers balked. Back in Detroit, the new bosses at Nash wanted nothing to do with sports cars, and ultimately just 25 production Italias would follow this single prototype. Today, the Hudson Italia remains one of the most sought-after products of this brief, yet brilliant period of Italian-American design cooperation. It is to date, the only American production car bodied by the great Carrozzeria Touring.

Following Hudson’s merger with Nash, Frank Spring became concerned his beloved prototype would be destroyed per Nash’s policy with show cars. He was able to rescue the car from Hudson’s design department (one story suggests it was under cover of darkness) and he hid the car away, eventually selling it to his close friend Victor Racz, the car’s first official owner. The Hudson stayed with Racz until his passing in 1976. That’s when avid Hudson enthusiast Ray Pshirer saw Mr. Racz’s obituary in the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane newsletter, and he wrote to Racz’s widow about the Italia, sharing his desire to continue the preservation and care of this historically significant vehicle. She appreciated this recognition of the car’s significance and agreed to sell it in 1977. For the next 36 years, Ray and his family cared for the Hudson in its unrestored state. The car’s current keeper acquired it from the Pshirer family in 2013 to become only the third official owner.

Without a doubt, this is the singular most important of all 26 Hudson Italias constructed. Several distinguishing features set this car apart standard production versions. From the front, the square mesh grille is a single cast piece instead of a multi-piece egg crate style. The Hudson letters on the nose are spaced more closely than production models, and the cowl scoop is much narrower (widened after the third production car). Windscreen trim is of chromed brass instead of polished stainless, the chrome front wheel well inserts of the production cars are noticeably absent, and the front wheels are slightly smaller due to clearance issues. At the rear, the taillight “exhausts” are staggered instead of in-line. The cockpit also has several differences, with the ignition switch behind the wheel, a trunk release behind the driver’s seat, and of course the Alfa Romeo 6C steering wheel, complete with the original horn button! Mechanically, it is the only Italia with overdrive fitted to the 3-speed manual gearbox.

Thanks to the efforts of three passionate owners, this highly significant Hudson remains in remarkably well-preserved condition. The paintwork is faded yet sound, the chrome is attractive and straight, and the leather remains supple even after 66 years and 30,000 miles of careful use. It rides on the original, special-built Borrani wire wheels, and the engine bay remains tidy and exceptionally correct, down to the Twin-H power intake and original oil filter housing. A grille badge officially recognizes this as Italia #00001 by the Registro Internazionale Touring Superleggera. A recent mechanical refurbishment ensures the car is ready to drive and enjoy. It runs, drives and stops beautifully and it was meticulously prepared for the 70 mile Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance.

Previous owners have shown this car at several of the world’s most prestigious concours, including the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the 2014 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este where it was awarded the Best Preserved Car, and in the preservation class of  2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The exhaustive history file includes several magazine articles featuring this car, copies of ownership history, a copy of the original dinner napkin sketch (provided by Touring), numerous period promotional images of this car, FIVA Registration, ultra-rare original keychains, and many other Italia-related photos and information.

This is a one-off opportunity to acquire the very first example of the Hudson Italia; spectacularly preserved in original condition. It is a must-have for serious collectors of post-war Italian coachwork, and it is ready to take preservation-class honors in virtually any prestigious concours.

 

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Stock number 6258

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