Car of the Week: 1937 Hudson Terraplane pickup

Bill Stanley’s moment came when he was a teenager in the 1960s and he saw a rare circa-1937 Hudson Terraplane pickup express on the road.
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Most “car guys” can relate to the moment. It’s that memory of the first time you saw a particular vehicle that blew your mind. You might have been 3 years old at the time. You might have been 33. But you’ll never forget it.

“Wow! What was that?!”

Bill Stanley’s moment came when he was a teenager in the 1960s and he saw a rare circa-1937 Hudson Terraplane pickup express on the road.

“We were up in Vermont and I thought it was just the coolest thing in the world,” recalls Stanley, a resident of Cheshire, Conn. “They only made them for two years, and the styling … I was just amazed by it.”

Stanley says he never forgot about that truck, and many years later started to entertain the idea of finding one for himself. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, as they are in the “hen’s teeth” category when it comes to scarcity. Eventually, though, he spotted a classified ad for a ’37 pickup in Ohio. “I called the guy up and he was very modest about,” Stanley recalled. “He said he restored it and it was nice … Well, he sent a few more pictures and they kind of looked good, but you couldn’t really tell. But we agreed on a price and I went out there — I wasn’t going to buy a car without looking at it.”

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When he arrived in Covington, Ohio, Stanley met up with Dale Bundy, the owner and seller of the truck. Bundy had spent countless hours working on the truck over the previous four years, but he was ready to let somebody else feed and care for it. “He told me they didn’t have a lot of history, but he said the Hudson collector he got it from bought it from a car lot for about 150 bucks back in the 1960s … and he’d been holding it for all that time,” Stanley said.

“My expectation was that it was going to be in pretty good shape, but it was in much better shape than I expected when I got there. He had done virtually a concours-level restoration … He drove it a little here and there, so it was not a perfect No. 1 [condition] car, but it was not far from it. He told me on the phone that he was a body man … Well, some guys you can just tell are being modest. I was pleasantly surprised when I got there. The motor, drive train, transmission — it was all original and gone through back in the ’90s. I’m sure when he was done with it, it was done way better than when it came out of the Terraplane factory.”

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In the three years Stanley has owned it, the ’37 pickup has, in fact, been a concours participant, rubbing fenders with cars of the rich and famous, and it even took home First Junior and First Senior Awards from the AACA.

“Sometimes you just get lucky,” admits Stanley. “I think he probably just wanted to sell it to somebody who would appreciate it and take care of it.”

RISE AND FALL OF TERRAPLANE

The Terraplane name began in 1932 as a model of the Hudson Motor Car Co. Wilbur Wright was the first recipient of a new car, and Amelia Earhart reportedly got the second.

Terraplane automobiles gained notoriety for being clocked at 80 mph, which could compete with the new Ford V-8’s performance. Within a year, Essex-Terraplane became known simply as the Terraplane. Hudson decided to try its Terraplane in racing and hill climb events and the cars went on to collect many hill climb and speed records. The industry’s first all-steel turret top was introduced on a Terraplane in 1935 and “Duo-Automatic” hydraulic brakes arrived in 1936.

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For all its strong points, however, the Terraplane was seen by some within the company as a threat to its parent nameplate. The following year, in 1938, it was renamed the Hudson-Terraplane, meaning it was basically a model under the Hudson umbrella. The following year, the Terraplane name disappeared altogether.

RARE AND RUGGED SURVIVOR

The Terraplane cab pickup was unique at the time in that the front half of the vehicle closely resembled a passenger car complete with a fancy streamlined grille and sidemount spare integrated into the passenger side front fender. The swoopy, Art Deco design and low profile of the pickup might make it look a little too fragile and sophisticated for real grunt work, but Stanley’s pickup is actually a beefy 3/4-ton brute underneath its pretty skin. The Double-Drop 2-X frame was certainly suitable for heavy lifting, and the 7-foot-long bed — designed with tool boxes on either side — and 212-cid inline six connected to a three-speed manual transmission with an ultra-low “granny” first gear made the Terraplane a more-than-capable work truck.

“It’s pretty funny thatit’s actually a 3/4-ton truck,” Stanley notes. “It’s kind of low and looks kind of chopped … but the springs on the back are unbelievable. It definitely rides like a three-quarter-ton truck. And I’ll tell you, it gets a lot of attention!

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“It drives nice, but you get up to about 45 [mph] and it’s not too happy. The truck really has to work. I can cruise pretty nicely at about 35… It’s non-synchro, so shifting is a bit of an issue. First gear is so low I don’t even use it. Getting off the line is no problem in second gear. First gear would be good for pulling stumps on the farm, I’d guess.”

The Terraplane pickups weren’t quite as fancy inside as they were out, but they were probably a little more refined than most of their completion with a nicely arranged instrument panel located at the center of the dash. The center panel included gas and temperature gauges and lights for the generator and oil pressure — basically early versions of “idiot” lights. The push-button starter was accompanied by a key and a choke adjustment knob. A cowl vent lever controlled the fresh air that was funneled into the cab.

One notable technical achievement that Terraplane enjoyed in those days was a vacuum electric shift assist system that was fitted on the steering column and basically overrode the floor shifter. It was a pretty nifty gizmo, but Stanley’s bare-bones pickup is not equipped with it.“Mine was very basic,” he says. “It’s got no heater, no radio, no clock. Just the basics.”

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It’s clear when you talk to Stanley that he couldn’t be prouder of his truck, and every day he gets to drive it is a good day. The novelty of having such a rare hauler that is almost guaranteed to be the only one of its kind wherever he goes hasn’t worn off in the three years he owned it, and it’s doubtful it ever will.

“We are having a lot of fun with it,” Stanley says. “I don’t drive it too much. You’re a little afraid to drive it because if somebody runs a stop sign and hits you, now what are you going to do? It’s not like you can go out to a parts store and get a fender or grille for a ’37 Hudson.”

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