Being an auto enthusiast and having a stark understanding of perception versus reality goes hand in hand. Ask any major auto exec and they’ll tell you that, for better or worse, perception of their brand lags the reality of their products by about 10 years. Unfortunately, some embattled entities literally can’t afford to wait for customers to finally see the light. And that added pressure creates the need for a Hail Mary product; a vehicle that’s so focused it either sparks a turnaround or creates a legend. In 1993, a struggling Chrysler Corporation’s short-term strength was instantly galvanized by the radical, second generation Ram. In 2008, the moribund Pontiac division’s last brush with greatness came via limited GXP production. And currently, the Lincoln Motor Company is forwarding their flagship MKS sedan while teetering on the brink of irrelevance. By definition, Hail Marys are a brilliant act of extreme desperation. And one such act is the striking coupe presented here. Titled as a 1953 model, and christened ''01 Prototype'' by its storied Italian builder, this 100% complete, largely authentic survivor is designer Frank Spring’s original prototype for Hudson’s rare Italia sports car. If you’re a serious collector who’s looking for a one-of-a-kind, concours-winning classic, here’s your chance to own the most famous Hudson of all time!
Production of the storied Italia was a result of two automotive forces combining their skills to create something mutually beneficial. In America, Hudson styling director Frank Spring believed his brand needed a car that would shake consumers out of their Big Three-induced haze. In Italy, Carrozzeria Touring, now in possession of both Weymann and Superleggera coach patents, was looking to expand its business. Spring, a Paris-educated engineer, had consistently pushed his corporate leaders to position Hudson as an innovative brand. This resulted in several industry breakthroughs including the first balanced crankshaft, the first application of dual brakes, the first ‘step down’ unit-body and, of course, Hudson’s famous ‘in motion’ design theme. On the other side of the partnership, a post-war Touring had successfully filled contracts for Alfa Romeo, BMW and Ferrari and, knowing his serious background in coachwork, was actively courting Spring for Hudson projects. Finally, in 1953, Hudson management agreed to budget an ‘experimental’, Spring-designed sports car.
Spring met with Touring officials over a seafood dinner in Brussels and, with the help of a borrowed cloth napkin, completed the first Italia sketch. The inspired designer agreed to ship a fully assembled Hudson Super Jet to Touring’s Milan studio for use as a running prototype. And Touring, with the help of a custom steel tube frame, hand-formed aluminum panels, 20 layers of hand-rubbed Italian Cream lacquer and custom leather trim, created the lust worthy Superleggera you see here. Spring was thrilled with Italia 01 Prototype, and readied a swarm of very excited dealers. Unfortunately, assembly snafus made the production coupe prohibitively expensive. Worse yet, the faltering Hudson Corporation had just been bought by embattled Nash; a company with no interest in specialty sports cars. And ultimately, only 26 Italias rolled into history. When the program ended, Spring, fearing Nash overlords would destroy his beloved Italia prototype, hid the car until it could be sold. When sale approval was given, he immediately passed it to a close friend who, in addition to driving 27K miles in roughly 20 years, ordered a standard repaint and removed its custom header letters. And when that friend passed, his obituary ran in the bi-monthly Hudson Essex Terraplane newsletter giving the car’s current owner, who was very concerned about its continued preservation, a chance to amplify his Hudson collection.
In its planning stage, Hudson’s Jet compact was envisioned as the brand’s most dramatic ‘in motion’ design. But, given the company’s financial crisis, the opinions of bean counters strained that design, and leadership decided to introduce a competent but derivative alternative. After that stale offering failed to meet sales targets, Spring approached said leadership with his dream car Hail Mary, and his ‘in motion’ Jet evolved into major styling elements for the new Italia. At the front of the car, a low-slung nose hangs a hand-cut, prototype-exclusive grille behind bright headlights, small marker lamps, a small, “PROTOTYPE” branded Touring emblem and a re-chromed bumper that’s fitted with a familiar Hudson triangle. At the sides of that nose, dramatic brake ducts, which mimic traditional Hudson triangles, combine with a small mirror and prototype-exclusive antenna to frame a “Superleggera” branded hood. At the back of that hood, a 10-inch reduced greenhouse sits behind traditional stainless wipers, brass, prototype-exclusive window trim and a flow-through, prototype-exclusive cowl vent. At the base of that greenhouse, small “Italia” scripts combine with straight stainless trim to accentuate prototype-exclusive fender scallops and cleverly integrated quarter ducts. And at the back of those ducts, a second re-chromed bumper rides between a chrome tag frame, staggered, prototype-exclusive tail light tubes and a stylized exhaust tip.
One of the smallest companies in America’s stagnating auto market, Hudson certainly knew to make the most of its limited resources. The Big Three were enticing more and more customers via exhilarating and outlandish motorsports programs. And Hudson, with its race-winning design and proven powertrains, wanted to supplement its stock car success with entries in the Mexican Road Race Series. That’s why the Italia, despite its risqué appearance and decidedly slow sales, not only saw a series-qualifying 25-unit production run, but also borrowed every bit of its mechanicals from the brand’s mass-produced Jet. Hardly touched and never disassembled, this coupe’s 202 cubic inch, side-valve 6-cylinder spins strong 8 to 1 compression into a solid 114 horsepower. A little on the weak side? Not really. As it sits, the big bore mill is capable of propelling its lightweight hull to a top speed of 95 MPH and standing start times comparable to Chevrolet’s iconic Corvette. At the side of the smooth flathead, a Hudson ‘Twin H-power induction’ system mixes air from two small toppers with fuel that’s supplied by two Carter carburetors and familiar stainless fluid lines. That air and fuel travels into an “L-head” aluminum head where it’s combusted by large pistons and proven Atlas connecting rods. Fire is supplied by an original points distributor, which shoots spark through vintage plug wires. Cooling comes courtesy of an original, correctly shrouded radiator that’s cinched to pliable, corrugated hoses. Spent gases swirl through an original, factory-equipped exhaust system that’s caged between a cast manifold and classy stainless tip. And, as with most of the car, the vintage engine bay is a sentimental throwback to exactly how Italias rolled out of the factory.
Inspired by Spring’s fascination with the aeronautical industry, Hudson’s cutting edge unit-body chassis brings tangible meaning to the phrase “way ahead of its time”. Peer under the car and you’ll find a completely unrestored floor that’s straight, solid and ready to pound the pavement. The hot 202 sends power to an original 3-speed that, with the exception of possibly one other coupe, is the only Italia ever equipped with overdrive. In front of that transmission, a familiar double A-arm suspension is complete with original manual steering. Opposite that steering rack, a rebuilt leaf suspension does an excellent job increasing grip. In the middle of the car, an original, single-pipe exhaust system funnels spent gases through an original, rear-mounted muffler. At the corners of the car, 4-wheel drum brakes ensure solid stops and good handling. And all that fully sorted hardware rolls on original, Italia-exclusive Borranis which spin 6.40-15 Firestone Deluxe Champion whitewalls around classy chrome center caps.
If a classic makes claims like “The most photographed Hudson of all time”, it better have the internal goods to match its external fame. Push the button on this Italia’s trick door handles and slide through its 14-inch roof cuts to arrive in a world that, while weathered, is unique and exceptionally attractive. The car’s original ‘anatomical’ leather seats were designed with differing density, premium bolsters and reclining backs to provide both comfort and breathability. Below those seats, high quality wool deep pile has survived surprisingly well over the past 60 years. At the edges of that carpet, two-tone side panels are fitted with stylish Alfa Romeo pulls. From the driver’s seat, a rare Alfa Romeo steering wheel laps a matte-finished dash that’s complete with reliable Jet gauges, a standard Jet radio and a unique, aircraft-style tach that was installed by Frank Spring himself. And at the back of the cockpit, a stainless-lined cargo shelf anchors original luggage straps in front of an internally locked trunk, fifth Borrani wheel and fifth Firestone tire.
When this super cool super coupe makes its way to a show, it’s almost guaranteed awards. The car’s most recent accolades include:
* 1 of only 2 recipients of the Palmetto Award at the 2009 Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance
* Recipient of the Crowd Pleaser Award at the 2010 BMW Euro Auto Festival
When it came to marketing, Hudson enjoyed promoting the Italia’s ability to carry a full-size steamer trunk. And that’s exactly the kind of set up this car needs to haul its massive amount of documentation. Here’s a chronological list of the items included in our sale:
* An owner’s manual
* A mechanical procedure manual
* A stack of vintage marketing materials
* Factory photos
* A copy of the Italia program''s feature in the October 1973 edition of Car Classics magazine
* A display board featuring the Italia''s original Motor Trend cover story
* A display board featuring this Italia''s Cars & Parts cover story
* Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera registration papers
* Modern photos
* A copy of the car’s feature in the April 2008 edition of Cars & Parts magazine
* A 2009 Hudson Essex Terraplane Calendar (The only calendar the HET club has ever produced)
* A tag from the 2009 Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance
* A description and pictures from the 2010 Amelia Isle Concours D’Elegance
* A copy of the car’s feature in the inaugural edition of Mascot magazine
* Grille and decklid trim
* A pile of random papers, parts and baubles
An uncompromised example of the pure innovation that drove Detroit’s first golden age, Italia 01 Prototype is an investment grade concours winner that’s ready for primetime duty on the global show circuit. More importantly, it’s a mostly untouched, living preservation of one of America’s greatest style and technology leaders. Don’t miss your chance to own this superb piece of automotive history!