Hudson Italia: High price, low sales

In the USA in the early 1950s a new market segment was emerging for increasingly affluent and successful folk who wanted to splash out on a car as a reward for being, well . . . successful.

These cars were not your top-of-the-line convertibles or hardtop coupes.

These cars were beyond that upper level.

It was a market of evocative names, high prices and limited production runs.

There was the Eldorado (Cadillac), Fiesta (Oldsmobile), Skylark (Buick), Nash-Healey (Nash) and Darrin (Kaiser).

Plus, there was a growing list of imported exotics, such as the Triumph TR2, Jaguar XK120 and MGTD.

The Jaguar was a particular favourite of movie stars, including Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable.

In many ways these were the dream cars you could buy, if you had the money and the right connections with the right dealership.

Exclusivity was prized. 

The 1953 Italia was Hudson’s entry into this luxe market.

Not only was the Italia a limited-edition luxury sporty car, its styling was intended to predict a new generation of Hudsons.

And Hudson needed some good news, fast.

Buyers were shunning its ageing big cars and overpriced and visually-challenged compact Jet.

Its finances were not robust and the company’s dealers and bankers were starting to voice concerns about its longevity.

The Italia was supposed to give everyone some confidence that Hudson had a future.

Styled by Hudson design boss, Frank Spring it was built by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan.

Hudson sent the chassis of the Jet to the sheet metal hammerers in Milan.

Touring sent back fully built and trimmed Italias.

Announced in August 1953, a prototype toured car shows and dealerships and received a good reception.

With its wrapped windscreen, brake-cooling fender scoops, doors cut into the roof for easy entry, plenty of interior room for four and the industry’s first flow-through ventilation system, it was an up to the minute car.

However, Hudson got the pricing wrong.

They were asking potential customers to hand over 25 per cent more than a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. 

This was reaching into Eldorado price territory, America’s then most expensive domestic car.

But a Hudson was not a Cadillac in anyone’s imagination.

And then there was the performance.

Rather, the lack of it.

Saddled with an ageing 202 cubic inch/3.3-litre flat-head six-cylinder engine, it was no match of its rivals, most of which were powered by high output OHV V8s.

Plus, who’d be silly enough to buy an very expensive car from a financially challenged company? 

Not many. 

Across the entire USA only 25 people spent their hard-earned money (or 26 depending on some sources) to put an Italia in their driveway.

And the cars took ages to sell.

Although withdrawn from sale when the almost bankrupt Hudson was subsumed to form American Motors in 1954, a few did not leave dealerships until 1957.

For decades the Italia was just a foot note in the Hudson story.

Seventy years later it is a coveted classic.

You need around $1 million to gain entry to the exclusive Hudson Italia club now.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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