Stepping Up to a Step-Down

Chad Elmore has spent his entire life around cars. He has known and loved many since he was old enough to say “car,” and when he grew up, he made old cars his career.

Chad spent six years at Old Cars Weekly as the features editor. He is particularly fond of the Hudson marque.

“There are a few reasons why I chose a Hudson as my first car,” Elmore said. “I’ve always been attracted to the lesser-known cars, and especially appreciated the racing heritage of the Hudson Hornet, particularly with NASCAR in the 1950s. I like that ‘upside-bathtub’ styling found in Hudson, as well as the Packard, Mercury and Nash cars of the era, too.”

Hudson was one of the old-line independents that got its start in 1909 after its engineers had cut their teeth at places like Oldsmobile and Chalmers. Roy Chapin and Howard Coffin had their sassy little roadster ready for the 1910 selling season. The Detroit-based firm took its name from J. L. Hudson, the department store tycoon who invested considerable money into the venture.

Hudsons were fast and reliable. The company’s Super-Six engine quickly became legendary on the racetrack. Its forward-thinking engineers brought out the inexpensive and practical Essex as a companion car in 1918. Essex was eventually retired and replaced by the ultra-modern Terraplane. Hudson survived the “Dirty Thirties” in good order and, as part of America’s arsenal of democracy, served admirably during World War II by turning out millions of weapons. At war’s end, designer Frank Spring created the breathtaking “Step-Down” Hudson for a car-hungry America.

Elmore bought his first Hudson, a 1952 Wasp sedan, at an estate auction near DeKalb, Ill. At the age of 16, it was his first car.

 “There were a lot of old cars in rough shape at that show,” Elmore said. “Some still stand out in my memory. I’ll always remember that wood-free Ford woodie, but I was there for one purpose only, and that was to become the owner of that Hudson. I couldn’t believe it when I became the winning bidder at $10.”

The fact that the car had sat in front of a barn for probably 30 years, and had a locked-up-tight rear end, didn’t bother him a bit.

“My dad and I couldn’t winch that pile of steel onto the trailer, so I hired a roll-back truck for $45 in order to bring it home. The car was in rough shape, but for the $10 I’d spent, I felt like I had stolen it.”

The ambitious teen cleaned it up, but didn’t make much progress on it before a 1953 Hudson Super Wasp club coupe showed up in the classifieds of Old Cars Weekly. That car needed some work, too, but it ran. Elmore and his dad got that one on the road and he drove it to high school.

“The Hudson was fun, but I never really worked on it to the point where it would be considered a show car,” he said. The ’52 Wasp sat forlorn and really did become a very big paperweight. “Then, as now,” Elmore says dryly, “I suffered from being unable to focus on one project.

“My brother and I were also into Crosleys, and then I discovered Ford Model A-engined farm tractors,” he said. “Working and college soaked up some of the spare time, too. I never really did make the progress on either Hudson that I had initially envisioned.”

He eventually sold the 1953 Super Wasp through Old Cars Weekly (later replacing it with a 1951 Nash Statesman), but that big ’52 Wasp continued to decorate his parents’ place in Illinois.

“We never did fix the rear end, so moving it around was still a challenge,” he said.

The elements continued to take their toll on the car and finally reality sunk in: The car was past the point of restoration and it would have to go to Hudson heaven. It was sad to say good-bye, but there was no longer any point in putting off the inevitable.

“I happily still have too many projects at home, and a long wish-list of future cars,” Elmore says. “Turning the Wasp into anything more than a paperweight did not seem realistic, so he helped it find another home, too. Already the Hudsons seem like ones that got away. But the dream is still alive.

“Two weeks ago I was attending the second annual Scrap Drive show, a traditional rod and custom meet in Belvedere, Illinois,” he said. “There, amongst the innovative ‘rat rods’ and other customs, was a nice original Hudson Hornet sedan, still my favorite body type for the ‘Step-Down’ Hudsons.

“Now that I am without Hudson, stepping up to a Step-Down is still a goal once again.”

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