Category: Orphan Cars and Trucks

Hudson’s step-down styling was revolutionary. So why didn’t certain other carmakers use it? – Pat Foster @Hemmings

Hudson’s step-down styling was revolutionary. So why didn’t certain other carmakers use it? – Pat Foster @Hemmings


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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King Midget club begins restoration on a one-off prototype fiberglass roadster – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


King Midget club members still don’t know all there is to know about the prototype fiberglass roadster that Midget Motors intended to build. How did the tiny Athens-based company plan to power the car? Was it ever meant to have a top? What exactly caused its demise? Now that club president Lee Seats has the prototype in his garage in anticipation of a full restoration and subsequent public display, perhaps some answers will soon come to light.

“All I know is that Midget Motors could’ve built it, but it would have been difficult,” Seats says.

Indeed. Chronically underfunded Midget Motors—a venture started by Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt in 1946—might’ve at one point been the sixth-largest carmaker in the United States, but ran on an infinitesimal budget compared to larger carmakers. Company headquarters was a small building next to Dry’s house, and research and development essentially consisted of the time the partners spent reading the latest issue of Popular Mechanics.

That’s not to say they didn’t meet with some measure of success. The King Midget Model 2 and Model 3 kept the company going well into the Sixties and the company was even able to make some acquisitions, mostly minibike and scooter companies. While the Midget Motors microcar lineup remained fairly static and uninspiring with cars almost no larger than the two occupants that could fit in them—a rarity in the postwar American economy that demanded ever bigger, more powerful, and flashier cars—Dry and Orcutt at one point aspired to build something a little bigger, a little sleeker, and a little faster.

According to Bob Vasholtz, a King Midget historian who has written several books on the cars, just as demand for the Model 2 started to wane toward the mid-Fifties, Orcutt in particular seemed taken with the idea of creating King Midget bodies out of fiberglass. “Fiberglass construction was not capital intensive and small-shop oriented,” Vasholtz writes in “Midget Motors: Blueprint for American Microcars,” thus “the product and process seemed tailored to Midget Motors’ volume and needs.” Besides, fiberglass promised an opportunity to both cut some weight and design a body with more complex shapes than the steel- and aluminum-bodied Model 2 and Model 3’s bodies without springing for more expensive tooling.

Orcutt then proceeded to shape a body model out of clay, seeking input from his workers. Once he finalized the design—incorporating a bit of contemporary Ford in the rear, Jaguar XK120 along the sides and perhaps some Crosley Super Sport in the front—he took some molds from the clay model and sent them to a still-unknown fiberglass shop somewhere in Michigan to have several prototype bodies laid up.

In the meantime, Orcutt set about modifying a 1952 Model 2 chassis for the new car. The front and rear suspension remained unaltered, as did a section of the frame, but Orcutt modified the rest with wider perimeter rails to better fit the envelope styling of the new body and to get the passengers sitting lower in the car.

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Which Last-gasp Orphan Brand Car Would You Choose for Your Dream Garage? – Matt Litwin @Hemmings


One of the aspects of the auto industry we gearheads love to “armchair quarterback” is the demise of brands during the postwar era. Some were planned, many were not. And while we have the benefit of hindsight and tactful study, back in the day management bet on a hunch, optimism, and a clever sales pitch. So, in this week’s This or That window shopping exercise, let’s take a look at a quartette of the more memorable – good, bad, or indifferent – makes and models that were one of the last offerings before a brand’s demise, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds. So, which one would you take home this week?


Price new: $3,011 (Today’s currency: $30,416)

There were two significant mergers during the Fifties, the first being the January 1954 union of Nash and Hudson, which became the foundation of American Motors Corporation. Volumes have been written about the fiscal pros and cons behind the scenes, all while the separate brands continued to develop models over the next few years. After ’56, though, management dropped three Hudson series—Rambler, Wasp, and Hornet Special, 11 models in total—leaving only the the Hornet Super and Custom series available through AMC’s dealer network in 1957, including this Hornet Custom sedan, which would prove to be the most popular model after attaining 1,256 buyers. That low number was due to production ceasing on October 25. In total, just 4,108 Hudsons were built (including exports), despite several “new” advances touted by the division. From the seller’s description:

Presenting well in Tri-color White, Gotham Grey and Red with reupholstered red, grey, and black interior. Originally equipped with Hudson/AMC 327/255HP Overhead valve V-8 motor mated to an optional column shift Automatic transmission. Generously equipped with Power Brakes, Power steering, optional Radio, and Parkomatic A/C. This Hornet shows well with nice paint finish and re-chromed bumpers and grill work. Has operating center emblem light, dual side mirrors, sound trunk floor and undercarriage. Short comings include door handle finish and A/C compressor removed and intact coming with vehicle purchase. Recent Service including: Engine out; Resealing of Engine; Cleaning and Repainting of Engine; Oil Change; Coolant Flush; Belts; Flush gas tank and clean out inside; Spark Plugs; Plug Wires; Ignition Coil; Motor Mounts; Rebuilt Holley Carb; New Battery; Rebuilt brake booster; Exhaust Manifold Gaskets; Fuel Pump Gasket; Fuel Filter; Battery Cables

Price$42,500LocationSarasota, FLAvailabilityAvailable


Price new: $3,262 (Today’s currency: $32,023)We can’t discuss mergers without bringing up the 1955 announcement pertaining to Studebaker and Packard. Here again, entire libraries could be filled with the vast assessments of the union that were penned decades later. Suffice it to say, it didn’t fare so well for Packard by the time the thinly veiled ’57 models were announced. Damage control did no better, which pitched the ’58 models – such as this 58L hardtop coupe – as a mid-year line, complete with a very identifiable front end that eventually attained a fishy nickname. Arguably a styling flop, total Packard output numbered 2,622 units, including 675 hardtop coupes. From the seller’s description:

Complete restoration including the engine, transmission, drive- train, interior and exterior. Rare, gorgeous car from the dry Nevada desert; Vintage Air Conditioning; Rebuilt 289 V-8 motor; two-speed Flight-O-Matic transmission; red with tan leather exterior trim and a beautiful gray and tweed interior; power steering; power disc brakes up front; brand new tires; 12 Volt system; Edelbrock carburetor; new exhaust; new gas tank; super straight gorgeous body; beautifully reupholstered interior; new carpet; JVC sound system; tons Of receipts included; extra parts, plaques and awards included.

Price$28,750LocationWest Babylon, NYAvailabilityAvailable

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Up close with 12 of our favorite orphan cars and trucks – @Hemmings


So many dearly departed automakers, so little space to cover all of them. Recently, in a discussion about how best to pay tribute to car and truck manufacturers that are no longer in business, West Coast Editor Jeff Koch thought it’d be interesting to feature orphaned vehicles that each of us on the Hemmings staff has photographed, written about, or experienced firsthand.

Even using that as a starting point, it was tough to winnow the list down to something manageable, but here are our best efforts at capturing the essence of some of the world’s Late Great Makes. Hopefully, we’re onto something here and can put together another one of these in the future. As always, we welcome photos and descriptions of your favorite late greats. Send them along to


Featured: Hemmings Muscle Machines, December 2015

Photographed: Columbus, Ohio

Mike Shane heard a rumor about a 1966 Hemi Belvedere II that was holed up in a garage since the 1970s. He owns Shane Tool & Machine in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and learned from a friend at Timken that this Plymouth was being sold by the owner’s brother.

It was stored in Mike’s hometown of Canton, and he soon realized its garage was right across the street from a drive-in he frequented in the 1970s in his ’65 Mustang. Mike recollected hearing about a fast Plymouth back then but never saw it.

He laid eyes on the 31,800-mile Mopar in 2008, and recalls, “I couldn’t believe the Belvedere was as nice as it was. It wasn’t the typical rusty, dusty barn find that you normally hear about. It was pretty clean on the outside and appeared to have its original paint. I looked it over carefully to see if it was repainted—it wasn’t. And the motor looked like it had never been out of the car.

”Mike closed the deal, freshened the Hemi/TorqueFlite/Sure Grip powertrain, and had the chassis restored, but the body and interior remain as-discovered, except for detailing (though the carpet’s front section was replaced).

The 425-hp dual-four-barrel 426 Hemi engine with its hemispherical-chamber heads is a legendary performer. The impressive package it came in also included upgrades to the cooling system, exhaust, driveline, underbody, suspension, brakes, and tires, and its $907.60 cost was a significant chunk of change when added to a $2,524 Plymouth.

I photographed Mike’s Belvedere II at the 2015 Goodguys event in Columbus, where the top of the parking structure provided engaging backgrounds. I’ve been a Hemi Mopar fan since the early 1980s, so hearing the rumble of this open-header example each time Mike fired it up, and learning its backstory, added welcomed dimensions to the shoot for me. — Thomas A. DeMauro

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