For 65 years, Hershey, Pa., has been the headquarters of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), whose annual Car Corral show and flea market continues to fuel the want list of collectors. The RM Sotheby’s sale on October 4 and 5 is a highpoint of this Hershey tradition, bringing a selection of automobilia, plus prewar and postwar classic cars across the auction stage. One of those is a treat rarely offered for sale, for the simple reason that so few were made.
Founded in 1909, the Hudson Motor Car Company built its last vehicle in 1957, by which time the Detroit marque had been absorbed by American Motors Corporation (AMC), responsible for another rarity—the 1969 AMX California 500 Special. The Hudson Hornet, a low-slung model launched in 1951, was successful in competition, dominating NASCAR from 1951 to 1954. It featured a sleek design that was years ahead of its time, and was followed by a pricey compact model called the Jet that debuted in 1953.
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As the latter failed to receive a particularly enthusiastic reception, Hudson design chief Frank Spring looked to Italy’s Carrozzeria Touring of Milan to infuse some of that coachbuilder’s unique aesthetic sensibility into the styling equation. With input from Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, whose father founded Carrozzeria Touring, the result was a halo car for the Hudson marque, if only for a brief moment in time.
Carrozzeria Touring’s patented Superleggera process entailed forming a thin steel-tube frame in the shape of the car, which was wrapped with aluminum panels to create a very lightweight body. The Italia used the Hudson Jet’s floorplan and cowl, negating some weight-saving benefits of other Superleggera designs. Still, with a curb weight of just over 2,700 pounds, the Italia was a featherweight compared to other Detroit iron.
A total of 10 inches lower than the Jet, from which it was derived, the Hudson Italia was one of the first American-Italian automotive collaborations, as well as the quintessential Jet Age dream car. Its design was sleek and flamboyant, but ultimately balanced and ever so tasteful. Details unimaginable from any domestic automobile manufacturer of the day included triple-stacked, tubular taillights, directional lamps, and backup lamps exiting each rear fender.
The model’s posh interior features swiveling front seats as low slung as any Eames lounge chair. Red leather seatbelts, red carpet, and a red metal dash emblazon the cabin, which even features a radio as standard equipment. Its exterior is painted an Italian Cream as rich and luxurious as any vanilla gelato. Under the hood, the Italia is all Detroit muscle, powered by Hudson’s 3.3-liter straight-six engine paired with a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission with overdrive. Two Carter one-barrel carburetors raise output to 114 hp at 4,000 rpm, and the mill produces about 166 ft lbs of torque.
Hudson’s timing for the Italia was prescient, since Chevrolet’s Corvette, Ford’s Thunderbird, and a host of Chrysler-based Italian hybrids—like Dual Ghia—were already released, or looming on the horizon. With lagging sales and wanting a slim slice of the luxury-sports-car pie, the Hudson Italia was marketed by American Motors from 1954 to 1955 in a valiant attempt to attract attention to the marque.
An undated American Motors press release lists a $4,800 price for the Italia, compared to the $3,995 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, making the Hudson a very special car, indeed. Originally planning for 50 examples, Hudson had the carpet pulled out from under it when the company consolidated with AMC in May 1954, and a total of only 26 were ultimately built (25 production cars plus the prototype). It is believed that 21 examples are accounted for today.
Making this car more special is that it’s the first production Italia, used by Hudson as a show car across the United States and Canada. It was then sold to its first owner, Earl Armstrong of Santa Barbara, Calif. During his stewardship, the Italia received custom paint and upholstery work, and the enthusiastic owner also swapped a Buick V-8 and automatic transmission for the stock power train.
Acquired by the consignor’s uncle in 1980, it was subsequently restored to its factory-correct configuration, including the reinstallation of a correct Hudson engine and transmission. It is accompanied by a substantial history file, including research materials and correspondence between the former owner and AMC. Showing a nicely patinated older restoration, chassis No. IT-10001 is estimated to fetch as much as $350,000.
Click here for more photos of this 1954 Hudson Italia.
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