Not stepping down

In case you’re wondering, the title of today’s column is not about me stepping down from my position here at good old HCC. Rather, it has to do with the cars that never joined the “step-down” movement. In other words, it’s the handful of cars that never incorporated Hudson’s innovative step-down construction technique.

You’ll recall that Hudson’s first post-World War II complete redesign was for the 1948 model year. It included sedans, coupes, and a convertible, all boasting an aerodynamic body shape. The lines were long and flowing; however, the first thing you noticed is how low they were. To people of that era, it seemed impossible someone could sit inside the new Hudsons comfortably; surely your hat would get crushed and you’d have to drive stooped forward. But Hudson’s body and chassis engineers managed to achieve a low cabin with plenty of headroom. The trick they came up with was, essentially, to weld the floor panel to the underside of the chassis frame rails rather than the top. This allowed them to drop the seats several inches, which in turn meant the roofline could be lowered without loss of headroom.

It was a major styling coup. The new Hudsons were the lowest family cars in America by far, at a time when “longer, lower, wider” were considered big advantages.

One side benefit: Occupants felt safer because the impression they got upon entering the car was that they were stepping down into the chassis. They could imagine frame rails encircling them for safety. It was a comforting feeling.

But the most significant benefit was in handling—the new Hudson Step-Downs outhandled every other full-sized car on the road. This fact was soon noticed by stock car racers around the country and before you could say, “So long, sucker,” Hudsons were racking up race wins by the score.

So, it might seem strange that a handful of cars never switched over to step-down design, while one or two significant others eventually did, though years later than most. One latecomer was Rambler. When the company redesigned the Rambler line for 1956, it didn’t include a step-down floor, which was odd because it would have helped them offer even more room in what was the roomiest Rambler yet. I knew its designer, Ed Anderson, but never thought to ask him why that was; I wasn’t smart enough back then to think of it. That basic body remained in production through 1962. The 1963 models had a step-down floor.

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