DISCLAIMER: The following article was provided courtesy of Auto Age Magazine, October 1953, p.12-14, 68-69. Written by John Bentley. Photos by Bernard Brown.
The HYDRAMATIC HUDSON JET
|Back in 1948, the Hudson Motor Car Company shook the Industry out of its complacency by retooling at fabulous cost for an entirely new car with a much lower center of gravity than any other domestic automobile could offer, and a resulting roadability that was far superior. This was at a time when manufacturers could (and did) sell practically anthing, and it took courage to introduce the "Step Down" design to a public conditioned by a generation of advertising to high-built cars of needless bulk and to "conventional' styling dictated by costing departments without much regard for artistry of line. But the venerable firm of Hudson always was a rugged individualist as its almost unique record of worthwhile Firsts shows since the original Hudson appeared in 1909.|
Now, with the new "Jet" and "Super Jet" models introduced in March this year, Hudson has done it again; for the "Jet" is a new - a really new - car, seeking to pioneer new (and long overdue) concepts in a family automobile of reasonable proportions and snsible weight. As opposed to some of the mastodons cluttering up today's overcrowded highways with nearly 100 sq. ft. of sheet iron, the Hudson "Jet" is a small car, bu the manufacturers prefer to call it a "compact" car and I readily concur with their definition. Relatively, with its 105-inch wheelbase, the "Jet" may appear small; but in fact it is of entirely adequate size and will carry six passengers with all the comfort one has the right to expect outside of one's bed or favorite armchair.
Perhaps I should have prefaced this report by saying that I am primarily a sports car enthusiast, conditioned to the superior roadability and responsiveness of this type of thoroughbred machine, and that furthermore I dislike automatic transmissions not only because they reduce control over a car to the danger point, but also because they detract from the fun of driving. Necessarily, therefore, my acceptance of the joys of motoring in a family sedan is tempered by a certain skepticism that cries "Show me!" in perhaps a louder voice than the average driver would bother to use. However, I confess that during a long weekend of some pretty hard driving, including all kinds of tests, the "Jet" completely won me over. In every major respect, I have nothing but praise for it, and in looks it is very pleasing. Last fall, while in Detroit, I had a factory kodachrome preview of the prototype model which even then looked pretty good, and the production version has entirely fulfilled that promise.
The model lent me for testing by Hudson's New York salesroom was the "Super Jet" with "Twin-H" (dual carburetor) power and all the trimmings; but the "Jet" which costs about $100 less has identical specifications, the difference being solely one of "tinsel" and interior luxury. Actually, the design for this new model was "frozen" almost two years ago, but tooling up for it was a very expensive business that took a long time because it required a completely new set of dies and the Defense set-up makes it difficult to get them. Not one of the 2,000 parts in the "Jet" model is interchangeable with either the Hudson "Wasp" or "Hornet" lines.
So much for that. Now let's get behind the wheel and drive. Turn the ignition key to the right and the engine starts; to the left and you can play the remarkably sweet-toned radio without cutting in on the ignition circuit. The first of many agreeable things that obtrude on you is that, by raising your chin a little, you can see both front fenders and judge exactly where you are going. The (adjustable) front seat could, perhaps, use an inch more depth than the 18 inches from back to edge, yet it cannot hoestly be said that this detracts from the driving comfort of an individula of average height. the driving position is very good; the steering wheel falls nicely to hand and its horizontal spokes allow easy reading of the instruments at all times. The worm and roller steering is light but positive, and the reasonable ratio possible with the "Jet's" modest weight enables you to place the car where you want it, quickly and accurately, without that "cranking" feeling which has made it necessary for heavier cars to resort to power steering. Even with two passengers in the front seat (which is 56 inches wide) the driver has adequate elbow room and in an emergency could freely swing his arms. The antiglare curved windshield, green-tinted to a depth of two or three inches all the way across the top edge, does a nice job of cutting down sun glare and also takes the bite out of blinding headlights left on by inconsiderate or forgetful drivers. After several hours at the wheel, the usual feeling of eye strain is noticeably reduced.
On the car tested, the shocks were unfortunately out of adjustment and allowed excessive up and down movement (horseback) over bumpy roads or when tackling humps at speed; but this, the service station assured me, is not a normal characteristic of the suspension which, otherwise, is entirely worthy of a car with a 15 inch longer wheelbase and 1,000 pounds more weight. There is none of the fore-and-aft pitching usually associated with short wheelbase cars, although necessarily - because the suspension is soft enough to concede to popular feminine taste - the nose of the car tends to dip when the brakes are slammed on really hard. And, believe me, those brakes are good. Take a look at the stopping figures. Nor was it necessary to stand on the brake pedal to get them. The "Jet's" nine-inch drums provide over 132 sq. ft. of lining area for a curb weight of well under 2,850 pounds. Compare these figures with those of other Detroit products lugging from 500 to 1,000 pounds more with no larger brakes, and a lot of things come clear.
Not the least of them is the "Jet's" gratifying wallop when you tromp on the gas, even though the engine has to overcome the "marshmallow" effect of the Hydra-Matic drive. I can think of at least three sports cars that won't hit 60 mph any sooner from a standing start, despite their faster shifting gearboxes. What's more, the power-weight ratio of this new Hudson is far superior to that of any other domestic sedan and the equal of several top-notch European automobiles.
For those who are too lazy to shift, the Dual Range Hydra-Matic on the "Jet" (optional for an extra $178) offers a range of four speeds in three different combinations with automatic shifting up or down. The DR-3 range provides first, second and third; the DR-4 range an additional (fourth) speed; and the Lo range first and second speeds only for emergency climbs or digging out of soft soil. However, the car tested would not shift out of first when Lo was selected.
The highest ratio in DR-3 is the same as the second highest ratio in DR-4, and you can move from one range to the other merely by flicking the control lever. DR-3 is intended for fast traffic getaways which, I discovered with pleasure, are considerably helped by the "Jet's" sensible width and length. You can duck through and away, safely utilizing traffic gaps too narrow for most other cars, and you can squeeze up to 70 mph out of it. DR-4 is the highway touring range which provides a useful flat-out (speedometer) speed of 90 mph; and that's plenty fast enough when you're toting the wife and kids. Bearing down hard on the gas treadle from a dead stop, DR-4 (see graph) will take you up to 60 mph in third gear before it shifts into high.
If I have gone into this Hydra-Matic business at some length, it is as much to make it clear to myself as to you, because, in the ordinary way the symbols on an automatic shift dial are about as revealing to me as Chinese characters.
In DR-4, you can cruise the "Jet" all day long at 70 to 75 (speedometer) mph without any feeling of engine strain and, above all, without any gnawing doubts as to whether the car is going to stay right side up. There is none of that sickening feeling of "keeling under" found in all too many sedans, and fairly tight curves can be taken at 70 or even 80 mph in perfect safety. Of course, if you try to scald through a right-angled turn using sports car technique, you can evoke tire squeal and body lean, but the "Jet" is not designed for that kind of thing, any more than a sports car is designed to carry six people and their luggage. Correct tire pressures, by the way, are 24 pounds front and 22 pounds rear; a point to watch on any car if you want to get maximum comfort and expected tire life.
Having sampled the driver's seat through all the tests and some good, fast travel, I let my wife take over while I relaxed in the back and sampled the "Jet" from the sit-point of the friend or mother-in-law. As a matter of fact there were four of us in the car throughout the entire trip and during all stopwatch runs. Well, if we chose to be fincky, I guess a very tall passenger could use an extra inch of depth in the rear seat as well (it is only 17-1/2 inches from back to edge), and a little more leg-stretching room, too. The distance between the forward edge of the rear seat and the back of the front seat is a modest eight inches, and despite the foot recess in base of the front seat squab (which, by th way, features a nice robe rail and a spacious map pocket), leg space would be a mite cramped for a six-footer or over.
But of headroom there is a surprising amount, despite the car's low overall height of 60-7/8 inches. The space between the forward edge of the rear seat (its highest point) and the interior of the roof is 34-1/2 inches, and though a patriarch of the Greek Orthodox might not be able to wear his hat without some expectancy of hitting the roof, an average person has 5-1/2 inches clearance from bare head to roof, which is sufficient for any ordinary hat and more than can be found in many sedans priced much higher.
If I haven't already said that the "Jet" is a quality automobile of excellent detail finish, I am saying it now. This is particularly true of the interior. The seats, which have firm but kindly springs, are upholstered in a very pleasant duotone woollen material of soft yet obviously durable texture; but if you own a dog or a cat I would strongly advise you to install seat covers. Wool has a magnetic attraction for stray hairs, whether animal or human. In this respect, the less plush worsted upholstery of the "Jet" is more practical than that of the "Super Jet."
Rear window vision in this car is truly panoramic, with the glass curving well into the sides to provide a parcel shelf 12-1/2 inches deep, and the only suspicion of a blind spot in the entire body stems from the center door pillars which appear to be a shade wider than necessary.
To state that a given car is anything less than perfect might be regarded by some manufacturers as a solecism (yes, I can think of at least one board of Detroit directors who would purse their lips with cold disapproval!), but not a progressive firm like Hudson. What criticisms I have to offer regarding the "Jet" are largely a matter of opinion or of service adjustment, and only one or two of them are put forward as factual errors. Anyway, what's the use of a Road Test if not to give you the bad with the good, or in other words to tell the truth?
Starting up front, the hood of the "Jet" has a rather tinny feeling when raised. It probably could be bent out of shape with one hand. A slightly thicker gauge of metal would make all the difference. This is a pity because the gold-painted cylinder block and bright red air cleaners present a very attractive appearance and show an honest desire to provide good out-of-sight finish. But the dummy airscoop on the front of the hood, shaped like an airplane - that's for the birds. Hudson can hardly put forward the excuse that there are other offenders on the market. Company stylists should know better. It is this kind of useless, footling ornament that irks the lover of good automotive styling beyond endurance.
Next, I personally don't care for vacuum windshield wipers. They go crazy on the overrun but stall out when you accelerate - which is when you need them most. The constant change of rhythm of the blades in traffic is irritating. How about an electric wiper? On the car tested, the turn indicators did not cancel, and despite illuminted, green arrows on the speedometer dial a forgetful driver might easily leave his turn lights flashing. However, the fault was not inherent in the model; it stemmed from an electrical defect on this car.
Moving to the back, I don't care for the position of the gas tank filler outlet. It's too horizontal and encourages spilling of gas which then collects in a small trough seemingly provided for that purpose in the apron between bumper and body. There doesn't seem to be much point to the idea and a needless fire hazard is created. Are you still reading? If so, let's agitate for a trunk handle on the "Jet." As things are, you turn the key, then have to push down on a chrome hand grip before the latch clicks open. At least on this car you do. I am told the lid is supposed to spring up automatically, but if the device fails to operate then it doesn't belong in there.
Again, on the car tested it seemed as though the Hydra-Matic drive needed adjustment. It often would not shift down, no mtter how hard you tromped on the gas pedal. This obviously wsn't the fault of the car and should not be construed as an actual defect. The right mechanic with the right wrench could fix it in no time. And that aobut deals with the gripes.
As to luggage space - a vital consideration for so many family drivers - the "Jet" has more of it than one might expect from a car of its compact dimensions. The approximate interior measurements of the trunk are 63x44x23-1/2 inches, providing a theoretical space of 37.6 cubic feet, but a proportion of this is absorbed by the wheel arches, spare wheel and gas tank filler pipe bulge. About two-thirds of this space (25 cubic feet) seems like a reasonable estimate of how much room you have for your suitcases, golf clubs and baby carriage. If you favor fishing and carry an outboard motor in your trunk, the "Jet" will still eave room for a goodly bulk of weekend kit. Even a You-Know-What, costing three times as muchas the "Jet" won't carry your grand piano in the trunk.
To sum up a fairly critical try-out of the "Jet," or rather the "Super Jet," I think it's a really outstanding family automobile, destined to become a big seller. There is about it a quality of gallantry and nimble gameness that I found particularly endearing. This new Hudson has a stout heart that beats with the hushed whisper of a much larger v8. You can turn it on a dime and park it almost anywhere. Despite the automatic shift (which you don't have to buy), it's fun to drive and will do everything you want. What's more it will do it quickly, consistently, economically and without fuss. The gas consumption figures obviously could be bettered by a good deal under normal driving conditions, using DR-4 range. Our test were not intended to save gas; they were devised to find out what the car would do and how it would behave. And they involved not only a lot of acceleration, but also a great deal of idling during which, incidentally, the temperature gauge hardly shifted a point upward.
At a base price of $1954, this car is a wonderful value for the money and an attempt to lead the field towards automobiles of sane proportions that deserves to succeed. For without a doubt, Detroit designers and stylists will soon have to put their products on a severe reducing diet. It'll be alot easier than widening streets and highways.
As I have said, the "Super Jet" is an eye-catcher. The number of interested glances we got on the highways and byways was legion. Several drivers even stopped to ask about the car, and at one filling station I believe I made a sale! Congratulations, Hudson.