Darin Schnabel ©2019, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
Always one for creative thinking, Hudson designer Frank Spring thought he had just the right idea to improve sales of the small Jet. Spring worked with Italian coachbuilder Touring to design the Super Jet, a prototype that looked like nothing else on American roads in 1953, with its wraparound windshield, doors cut into the roof, deep air scoops in the front fenders and a futuristic interior with ergonomic front bucket seats, not to mention jet-fighter-like exhausts. The Super Jet was enough of a sensation that it was put into limited production the following season with very few styling changes and dubbed the Italia. Unfortunately, the Italia had the bad luck of being rolled out just as Hudson merged with Nash to form American Motors in 1954. The new management ceased the project after just 25 production cars had been built, putting an end to the brief life of the sexiest, most unusual Hudson ever produced.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1955 Hudson Italia
Years Produced:1954–55
Number Produced:25, plus one prototype
SCM Valuation:$323,500
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Firewall plate and stamping under passenger’s carpet
Engine Number Location:Upper right front side of block
Club Info:Hudson Car Club
Alternatives:1954 Kaiser Darrin, 1951–54 Nash-Healey, 1951–54 Alfa Romeo 1900C Sprint
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 2226, sold for $362,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection sale in Elkhart, IN, on October 24, 2020.

In 1948, Hudson turned the automotive industry on its ear with edgy, slab-side, “step-down” designs. The new cars were sleek, low and aerodynamic, with the body welded to the frame. The floor was then dropped between the frame rails, making it the lowest part of the vehicle. This resulted in a center of gravity that was the lowest in the U.S. and a car that was only 60 inches high.

In 1951 the Hornet appeared and Hudson went racing. They had 12 NASCAR wins in the first year and gained an enormous amount of free publicity. In 1952 the Hornet was the hottest stock car on the circuit, with Bill France, president of NASCAR, commenting, “A few competitors had more horsepower, but they couldn’t touch Hudson in acceleration and handling.”

Add lightness

But the market was changing, and Hudson sales declined despite its “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” NASCAR success. The Nash Rambler and the Henry J were selling well, and those in the corner offices decided that Hudson should build a “light” car. Frank Spring, chief body engineer, presented a new step-down design with Twin H-Power and ample brightwork. Management, however, approved a final design for the new Jet that must have been by committee, as it was boxy, chunky and several inches taller, abandoning Hudson’s sleek look. It was a miserable failure, with production ending in August 1954.

Frank Spring, however, was not finished with the Jet. He was a racer at heart and had designed a 2-door sports coupe based on the Jet. After extended negotiation with Hudson management, he was granted approval to produce a limited number of the sports cars with the intent of winning the Mexican Road Race. As 25 had to be built in order to be eligible and tooling up for limited production was certainly not feasible in Detroit, Spring turned to Italy.

He soon had a Jet on a boat to Milan, where Carrozzeria Touring set to work creating Spring’s design in aluminum over tubular framing. It was 10 inches lower than the Jet, weighed in at less than 2,000 pounds and was capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph with the Hudson H-Power Hornet engine installed.

Flamboyance by Touring

Saying the Italia’s styling was flamboyant is an understatement. Large V-shaped scoops over the front fenders gave the impression that they cooled the brakes, but in fact they ventilated little more than the top of the fenders. The front bumper featured a large inverted V and three stacked chrome tubes emerged from scalloped cut-outs on the rear fenders. The tips incorporated the brake lights, turn signals and backup lights. The car also featured a wrap-around windshield and doors that were cut 14 inches into the roof. The design was and is sensational.

Twenty-five Italias were produced in addition to a prototype, and it is thought that 19 have survived. Six remained unsold in Europe when it all came to an end. Spring followed up with a design for a full-size, 4-door Italia, the “X-161,” but just one was produced.

The Italia could not have been introduced at a worse time. Hudson was in discussion with American Motors regarding a merger — better stated as a takeover, as few from Hudson would survive. The Italia cost $28,000 to produce and sold for $4,800, so no one was willing to explain to the new powers that be how this was prudent. Sales manager Roy Chapin was instructed to simply “get rid of those cars.”

As spectacular as the Italia was, it was rather poorly constructed. The tubular-frame body lacked rigidity and the mid-section and front cowl were notoriously weak. A friend restored 10021 a number of years ago and bemoaned the time and expense involved in correcting the structural deficiencies.

A pricing anomaly

The Italia that was sold as part of the Elkhart Collection, s/n 10010, was the 10th example built and was in long-term ownership for 44 years. It was presented with no signs of wear or even use.

In 2015 it had passed to Italia expert Ed Souers, who restored the car to an impeccable standard. It was then acquired by the famed Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum, before being sold by Worldwide Auctioneers in August 2018, when the museum was dissolved. It made $682,000 then, when it was acquired by the current owner.

That’s some $300,000 more than was realized here; however, the Hostetler’s sale was an outrageous outlier. Over the past few years, several well-restored Italias have been offered at public auction and generally sell in the range we see here. The price paid was market-correct. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

Comments are closed.