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Jay Leno Thinks the Hudson Hornet Was the Best Handling American Car of Its Time

Hudson offered a unique car in 1953, only to become part of AMC the following year.

Jay Leno has a soft spot for Hudson Hornets, partly because he finds them to be the best driving American cars of the early 1950s, and perhaps more importantly because he bought his first one while still in college, only to drive around for pocket change as an aspiring comedian. Funny enough, that car got stolen in Boston in broad daylight, and it was almost kept hidden by a policeman at the impound lot who wished to purchase it as unclaimed property after 60 days would have passed. Luckily, after he made multiple visits to look for his Hornet, another cop at the lot told young Leno what was going down. 

According to auto historian Alden Jewell, the 1953 Hudson Hornet Hollywood Hardtop cost $3,095 when new, $107 more than the 1954 model produced for the period during which the Hudson Motor Car Company merged with Nash-Kelvinator to become American Motors. In retrospect, for that kind of midfield price, Hudson gave its customers a lot indeed—aside from a V8 engine, of course. Instead, Hudson remained loyal to its side-valve six-cylinder engine, which became a 308-cubic-inch golden statue of reliability by 1953, fed by a pair of one-barrel carburetors to give Hudson drivers “Twin-H power.”

Youtube | Jay Leno’s Garage

With a three-speed automatic offering on-demand overdrive, a lack of power steering and brakes, and a unique “step down” chassis that had the floorpan below the frame in certain areas of the car, the chrome-heavy Hornet took corners with a lot more confidence than its competition and was certainly the sportier American of its era. Not trusting hydraulic brakes just yet, Hudson even threw in a mechanical emergency system as a backup.

Spirited driving was a given, because while the Hudson inline-six may have been outdated in terms of its construction, it was also smooth and economical, as well as powerful enough to keep up with almost any V8 available in 1953.

Running a six-volt electric system with a generator, the Hornet featured a “Weather Control” heater and a radio that did a good job once warmed up. The rest of the Hornet’s cabin was equally luxurious, with nice dials, plenty of chrome, and carpets that stood the test of time.

Really, looking at all the details of this car, it’s hard to believe that after 1954, Hudson just ceased to exist as an individual carmaker. If only they had a V8…

As a long-time fan who was forced to sell his first Hornet once he moved to California, Jay Leno bought this two-door some 25 years ago, after the car spent decades in storage. Restored at the time and kept completely original apart from an alternator, this 1953 Hudson remains the perfect classic cruiser and a car always ready to take the longer route, as you’ll learn from Leno’s latest video.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that Jay also owns a 1951 Hudson four-door. Looking at these today, shouldn’t we all?

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