Fragments on forgotten makes

No. 23 Hudson-Essex

THE Hudson Motor Co. was founded in 1909 by Roscoe B. Jackson, R. D. Chapin and others, financial backing having come from Joseph L. Hudson of the great J. L. Hudson Company of America, Mr. Hudson being uncle of Mr. Jackson’s wife. Hence the name Hudson for some of the U.S.A.’s most successful cars. The first model was the 4-cylinder Twenty and Hudsons were introduced to the U.K. in 1911. Between 1914 and 1918 Hudson was the biggest producer of 6-cylinder cars in the World. The 38-h.p. six of 1911 was followed into the U.K. by a 25-h.p. model, shown at Olympia in 1913. No shipments were possible during the War but as soon as the Armistice was signed exports commenced in earnest.

The English sales were handled by Mr. Williams, an American-Welshman, who took over a couple of shops in Barnes from a baker, and with Mr. J. S. Cauldrey on the engineering side and Mr. Sawyer looking after accounts, started a business which was to expand rapidly. The side valve six-cylinder semi-luxury Hudson was joined by the remarkable 4-cylinder i.o.e. Essex, which offered surprisingly good performance for a distinctly modest price. Moreover, a “square-back” coach, or 2-door saloon, was available nearly as inexpensively as the touring Essex.

It has been rumoured that two Frenchmen sold the Essex design to Hudson in America, but I have been unable to confirm this. Whoever designed it, the Essex was a clever car, which became very popular here, in spite of the McKenna duties introduced to protect sales of home products.

It was assisted on its way by Brooklands’ successes achieved by a 4-seater entered by Mr. Shaw of Shaw & Kilburn, who sold Essex cars as well as 30/98 Vauxhalls, the driver being Mr. Lee and, in 1922, by more Brooklands and hill-climb victories by a rather angular 2-seater racing Essex entered by Capt. Glentworth and driven by J. S. Cauldrey (best lap speed, 85.57 m.p.h.) I understand that this was prepared for racing in the States. That was in 1922, when sales were under 400, sold through ten concessionaires. However, that year Hudson-Essex Motors of Gt. Britain was formed, with new premises, rented from C. A. Vandervell, in Detroit Road, Acton. Over 100 agents were appointed and the post-war motoring boom helped to sell some 2,000 cars in the next 12 months.

By 1926 the 6-cylinder Essex coach had appeared, selling for a mere £425, and offering smooth-running unrivalled by British cars costing considerably more. Moreover, sales successes enabled the price to be still further reduced and in 1926 it was obvious that an entirely new factory must be built. It was put up in 4 1/2-acres of ground, the first factory to be erected on the Great West Road.

Opened the following year, the chassis were entirely assembled there, even to the frame rivets, but the bodies were imported as complete units from the parent company. A chain-type assembly-line was employed, surely one of the first in an English factory? At the end there was a turntable on which the completed cars were swung round and driven off. This No. 1 shop is still to be seen, beside the Chiswick Flyover, being today the premises of the Nash-Kelvinator refrigerator company.

In 1928 the new factory was joined by a three-storey building which constituted a completely self-contained service department. The minor tasks were undertaken on the bottom floor, day-jobs like decarbonising, etc. were relegated to the first floor, and body repairs were done on the top floor, Hudson-Essex doing their own panel beating, trimming, etc. Service personnel numbered around 100, and the full works force over 250—Essex “Coaches” and Hudson luxury cars were obviously selling strongly, to require an English factory and service depot of this magnitude. It was even found necessary to have 12 testers on the staff.

Because of the Hudson-Essex factory the Chiswick junction became known as Hudson’s Corner, helped by the presence of a Hudson set high up on a ramp in the forecourt for publicity purposes. Even today, with the Chiswick Flyover dominating the Scene and Mr. Marples new Motor-road about to branch off here, the name persists. (Incidentally, it is amusing that the new road is likely to pass over the premises of Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln cars, whereas Rambler, whose spares, service and new-car depot is situated in what was once this Hudson-Essex service building, expect it to pass on a level, so that Ramblers stored on the flat roof will achieve useful publicity!)

Later, around 1932, the bodies came over in sections, for assembly at Chiswick, a fine paint shop being erected, and English trim, leather upholstery, etc. being put in as required. Before this some cars had been fitted with English Hoyle fabric bodies.

The Essex “Coach” and Hudson Six were straightforward cars, so that the older members of the present Rambler Motors (A.M.C.) Ltd. do not recall any servicing or mechanical idiosyncrasies. The engines were splash-lubricated and it is interesting that this simple system persisted even after World War Two, for the Commodore sixes and eights, the 1954 Hudson Hornet representing the changeover to pressure feed. The side valve engine was also a Hudson speciality, in spite of the impetus which the i.o.e. power unit gave to the first 4-cylinder Essex and until this year a few side valve Ramblers were still being built in the States, surely the last make to eschew oh. valve gear?

Readers of long-standing may recall an Essex “Coach” which impaled itself on some railings, one of which penetrated the length of the car down the centre without injuring any of the occupants—this happened in Manchester, where the railings protect the canal at the end of Deansgate.

In those days separate stands were taken for Essex and Hudson cars at the Olympia Show; but soon only one stand was required and in 1934 the firm was re-named Hudson Motors Ltd.

In 1929 Hudson sold 300,962 cars and ranked as the third largest production American make. Thereafter the slump spoilt this fine record but Hudson survived, largely because the sensationally high-performance Terraplane, christened by American air-woman Amelia Earhart, was announced in 1932, in which year the name Essex was dropped.

In spite of a side-valve, splash-lubricated engine the Terraplane was a most exciting car. Reid Railton used first the 28-.8h.p. straight-eight and later the 6-cylinder 16.9-h.p and 21-h.p. Terraplane chassis as the basis of the Railton, chassis being driven from Chiswick to the Railton works at the Fairmile, Cobham. Not many modifications were deemed necessary, as members of the Railton O.C. know, the full story being neatly told in Lord Montagu’s book “Lost Causes.” The Brough-Superior car was also based on the Terraplane chassis. Lord Cholmondeley was a keen Terraplane owner.

English-designed and built bodies frequently graced this quick American chassis and to advertise its excellent performance staff from the English concessionaires entered for current competitions. They were also driven in the Monte Carlo Rally by H. E. Symons, Norman Black, H. S. Linfield and others. In the 1931 Scottish Rally, Service Manager A. H. Pring and Chief Engineer J. S. Cauldrey took first place in a comparatively small Hudson Pacemaker and Jack Hirst, the Sales Manager, was 7th in a Pacemaker in the 1932 Torquay Rally. The Team Award was won by two Terraplanes tourers and a Terraplane saloon in the 1933 Scottish Rally.

Inevitably, specials were evolved from this light, powerful formula. Bob Spikins, the Twickenham agent, built his famous Spikins Special, using a chassis shortened by 8 in., twin blowers and a body weighing only about 1 cwt. Bobby Strang of Shaw & Kilburn brought out an open-bodied version sold as the Century, as it would reach 100 m.p.h. Sir Guy Domville challenged a 4 1/2-litre Bentley to a duel over the s.s. 1/2-mile at Brooklands and after the Chiswick works had replaced the 16.9-h.p. Terraplane engine with a 20.6-h.p. unit it won easily, clocking 32.4 sec., whereas previously its time had been 39 sec. A Railton, however, beat both cars. Later a Centric blower, giving about 6 lb./sq. in. boost, was fitted and this car, which is still in existence, exceeded 100 m.p.h.

In compiling these “Fragments” I rely on meeting personnel from the firms concerned and it is significant that when I went to the Rambler premises (as the old Hudson-Essex factory has now become), the Sales Manager, Mr. W. P. Clarke, was able to introduce me to Mr. A. H. Pring, the Service Manager, who joined Hudson-Essex in 1927, and to Mr. G. Cook, Service Manager, who has been there since 1925. Mr. J. P. Hurst, the Managing Director, was away in America—he also went to Hudson-Essex in 1925, while Mr. J. R. Baker, the Company Secretary, has been there from 1927 onwards. Mr. Pring well remembers some Railton back axle trouble on a Scottish Rally, whereupon he set out from London by train with a spare Terraplane axle at midday, got to Kingussie, changed the axles over, and was back at the firm’s party at the “Star & Garter” the next evening—which speaks well of our railway system in pre-Nationalisation days!

Eventually Nash and Hudson merged and these names persisted until 1957. Thereafter the American Motors Corporation concentrated on the Rambler, about the history of which I expect to have something to say when I road-test one of the current models.

W. B.