Monday, August 5, 2013

Hudson's Not-So-Italian Italia

I've tagged this post "Concept Cars," but the Hudson Italia of 1953-55 vintage was one of those cases where it was sort of a concept car while also being a car produced in very small numbers for sale to the public.  Background information regarding the Italia can be found here, here and here, but some of the details are contradictory and questionable, though the general story is correct.

By the early 1950s, Hudson, along with the other smaller American car makers, was in decline.  It was beginning to lack the financial resources needed to develop new models and the cost-per-sale of advertising its current cars was higher than that for the Detroit "big three," General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.  Hudson's management placed their financial bet on a new smaller-size car.  Nash had done so already with its Rambler, which was profitable.  Willys and Kaiser also had new small cars, respectively the Aero and the Henry J, but these were not successful.

Hudson's entry, the Jet, was too tall and too narrow for its styling theme and sales were poor.  According to the links, Hudson management placated styling director Frank Spring, who felt that his Jet design had been ruined by making it taller and narrower that he wanted.  That came in the form of allowing him to create a design for a sporty car that became the Italia.

Although Spring and his team styled the Italia in Detroit, the cars were built by Carrozzeria Touring, an Italian coachbuilder noted for its stylish, light-weight bodies.  So to that degree the monicker "Italia" was legitimate.  According to the links above, it seems that the plan was to build 50 cars, but only 26 were actually completed.  The reason given was the early-1954 merger of Hudson and Nash into the new American Motors Corporation, wherein Nash interests prevailed and the Italia was ditched.

Here is what Italias looked like.


It's too bad Hudson didn't let Touring create the design.  Although Spring began his career at a coachbuilding firm, most of his designs for Hudson were mediocre.  Perhaps some of that was because Hudson launched only three completely redesigned models after the early 1930s -- a 1936 Hudson that was heavily (and, to Spring's credit, inventively) facelifted until the new, nicely done 1948 Hudsons appeared.  The Jet was the third design.

The Italia is an awkward design.  In part, this might have had to do with the fact that the Jet, narrow as it was, served as the platform for the Italia, and even the Jet was a bit wide for early 50s vintage sports car designs.  Which might be why the fenders are a little too rounded.  Alas, the other surfaces are not well developed either; perhaps Spring didn't have the time to refine them.  The rear of the car is bland aside from the outrageous stunt of disguising taillights as exhaust pipes.  The side trim is 50s cliche, and doesn't relate well to the greenhouse, fender line and other side elements; more thought and development needed here too.  A particularly amateurish (for automobile design) touch is the shape of the opening in the rear fender where the taillight housings emerge.  The air intake "eyebrow" over the headlamps is an odd, not very functional feature that echos the long-time Hudson triangle theme, but otherwise is an intrusion on the fender line.  The grille opening shape is soft, flabby.

I could go on and on, ranting about the shape of the hood, the wheel housing openings, the form of the C-piller on the greenhouse, and more.  So I'll conclude by saying the the Italia's design is nothing more than a collection of poorly styled elements that do not relate well to one another.  It is incoherent.  Which is sad.

Perhaps three Italias were built as four-door sedans. This might have been an exercise to see if the design might be suitable for a future production Hudson.  I think this greenhouse style works a little better than the two-passenger version.  In fact, the overall design seems better because it is more compatible with its Hudson Jet platform dimensions.  Otherwise, my criticisms hold.

Here is a photo taken in Italy confirming that Italias were indeed made in small numbers.  Due to their rarity and history, Italias can commanded auction prices approaching $300,000.


Ed Cahill said...

Don, Just wanted to tell you I've enjoyed reading your blog and encourage you to write a bit more—we are reading. I have a similar background having come up in the 60's and 70's. My grandfather and dad were both car dealers so I've had my fill of the business. I to went into art and eventually advertising. I'm still a huge fan of painting and design in most of its forms, especially automotive. I enjoyed your reference to "Baroque" when talking about the new Impala—certainly appropriate. Like a lot of cutting edge looks they fade very quickly. PT Cruiser comes to mind, I thought that was cool when it first hit the streets. Keep up the good work.

Donald Pittenger said...

Ed -- Thank you for enjoying this new blog, and keep up the good work on your own blog.