The Hudson Jet was a compact automobile produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan during the 1953 and 1954 model years. The Jet was Hudson's response to the popular Nash Rambler, and Hudson, with its limited financial resources, chose to pursue a compact instead of refurbishing its line of full-size cars. However the Jet failed to capture buyers as the Rambler had for Nash. Consequently Hudson was forced to merge with Nash-Kelvinator (forming American Motors Corporation) because of the losses created by the Jet project and the falling sales of its senior line.
Early clay models of Hudson's new compact car carried the name "Bee" in keeping with the automaker's Wasp and Hornet models.
From the beginning, the Jet project was hampered by Hudson President A.E. Barit, who disregarded the suggestions of the company's stylists and other advisors. For example, Barit insisted that the compact Jet offer full-size amenities. While designers attempted to form a car that was lower, wider and proportionally sleeker to the dimensions of a smaller compact car, Barit would not back away from features such as chair high seating for passengers, and a "tall" greenhouse and ceiling that would allow riders to wear their hats while in the car. Barit also decided that the Jet's rear design would incorporate Oldsmobile-like high rear fender and small round tail light design. The design was further changed to accommodate the personal likes of Chicago, Illinois Hudson dealer Jim Moran, whose dealership became number one sales outlet for Hudson, accounting for about 5% of Hudson's total production. Moran fancied the 1952 Ford's wrap around rear window and roofline, and Barit ordered a similar design for the Jet. In fact the Jet's styling closely mimicked the 1952-54 Ford in most respects.
The new small car was powered by Hudson's inline L-head 202 cu in (3.3 L) straight-six engine that produced 104 horsepower (78 kW) at 4000 rpm and 158 pound-feet (214 N·m) of torque @ 1600 rpm. Early Studebaker body development mule vehicles suffered damage because the engine produced so much torque. A "Twin-H power" version with two 1-bbl downdraft carburetors, aluminum cylinder head, and 8.0:1 compression ratio producing 114 hp (85 kW) was optional. The 202 CID engine was basically a reworking of Hudson's 1947 "3x5" 212 cu in (3.5 L) six, slightly de-stroked and configured for full-pressure lubrication. It was a flathead design at a time when the rest of the industry was moving to overhead valves.
For the 1953 model year, the Jet was the only new nameplate among the domestic automakers. In its introductory year, the Jet was available in either standard or Super-Jet trim levels, with two- and four-door sedan body styles. Unlike the fastback "step-down" bodied Hudson full-size cars, the Jet was designed as a three-box notchback.
When the Jet emerged for its introduction, it competed with the Henry J, Nash Rambler, and Willys Aero. It was shorter than the Henry J and the Willys Aero, as well as the narrowest and tallest of all four giving the Jet "a boxy look". Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine noted that the Jet has "much to recommend it" including "riding qualities match more expensive models", good visibility, quiet operation, and more power than its competition for "excellent pickup and a high top speed". With its optional "Twin-H power", the Jet had more horsepower than any standard engine in the regular-sized Fords, Chevrolets, and Plymouth lines.
While the 1953 senior Hudsons continued to be based upon the 1948 step-down design, these cars looked sleeker than the smaller, slab-sided Jet models. Unlike the Nash Rambler, which offered premium body styles such as a station wagon, hardtop, and convertible, the Jet was available only in sedan form. Although the Hudson Jet was well-appointed, it was priced higher than base-level full-sized Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth sedans.
Standard appointments included heater, theft-proof locks, rotary door-latches, defroster vents, dual horns, full-wheel covers, ash tray and a lighted ignition switch. While the inclusion of a passenger compartment heater as standard may be odd to present day car drivers, Cadillac still counted a passenger compartment heater as extra in 1953, at an option cost of US$199.
The tea cup test
Hudson resorted to a variety of marketing ploys to get consumers interested in the Jet, including the "Tea Cup Test". This Fuel economy test utilized special kits comprising a glass cylinder, valves and rubber hoses that Hudson dealers attached to test cars. The glass cylinder was mounted to the inside of the front passenger door, with the hoses feeding into the engines fuel lines. An amount of gasoline equal to the amount held in a tea cup was added to the glass cylinder, and the car was driven away by the potential customer and salesperson that monitored the cylinder, to prove how far a Jet could travel on the minuscule amount of gasoline. However novel, the Tea Cup Test failed to convey the Jet's value as an economical car.
For 1954 the Jet received minor trim updates to its two- and four-door sedans. A new luxury model, the Jet-Liner was added making the Jet a three series model line. The Jet-Liner came with chrome trim around the windows and body side, gravel shields, as well as upgraded color keyed vinyl interiors featureding foam rubber seat cushions. Because convertibles were available in Hudson's full-sized cars, as an experiment a Jet-Liner convertible was built. This sole example was purchased by Hudson's sales manager, Virgil Boyd.
Production of the Jet series was 14,224 units, down from 1953 model year's disappointing 21,143 units.
Without any funds to update the senior Hudson line, Barit convinced the Board that a merger into Nash-Kelvinator represented the best chance of protection for Hudson's stockholders. Barit hoped that the Jet would survive the merger as the new American Motors focused on the niche market of selling smaller cars.
When the merger was completed and Barit assumed his seat on the AMC Board, in 1954, the first Hudson model to terminate production was the Jet. Henceforth, Hudson dealers would have badge-engineered versions of Nash's Rambler and Metropolitan to sell as Hudson products.
Automobile historian Richard M. Langworth has called the Jet "the car that torpedoed Hudson". While the negative effect of the Jet on the company's financial condition, it was also a time when market forces, including steel prices and labor costs, as well as the sales war between Ford and Chevrolet contributed to the demise of the smaller "independent" automakers such as Packard, Studebaker, and Willys.