During World War I, the United States government recruited automaker Hudson to produce a new engine for the Army’s tanks, which were also being produced in the automaker’s assembly plant. When the war ended, Hudson could put the engine in its automobiles.
“The typical car of the era — a Ford, a Chevy, a Pontiac, a Buick — had 18 to 25 horsepower engines,” notes prominent car collector Gordon Apker. “But here comes the end of the war, and Hudson has this engine — and they’d worked every bug out of the motor — and it develops 76 horsepower.”
At first, Hudson simply tried to drop the engine into its new Super Six model, but the engine was simply too heavy for the chassis. But, Apker notes, Hudson retooled the chassis, beefing it up to support the powerful engine, which was the first six cylinder built with seven main bearings in its internal architecture.
“In those days, to get a car with more than 60 horsepower, you were in the $8,000 to $10,000 price range,” Apker adds. “But here was this car, for around two thousand bucks, and for the era, it was a rocket.”
A rocket, indeed.
Powered by the 288.6cid straight 6 cylinder with its 76 horsepower, the Hudson Super Six started setting all sorts of speed records — on a race track in New York, across the country from San Francisco to New York and then back again, on the sand at Daytona Beach, up Pikes Peak, even around the clock for 24 hours.
The car would sprint to speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, and its 24-hour record average of 74.8 mph would stand for 15 years before it was exceeded — by a Marmon with 10 more cylinders providing its propulsion.
“This was the Muscle car for 1920,” Apker says of the 1920 Hudson Super Six Touring that he’ll send across the block this weekend at Barrett-Jackson.
“It’s a big open touring car,” Apker adds, “but what it really is, is a Muscle car. In fact, when police departments became aware of the car’s potential [and its very reasonable price], they asked Hudson to develop a police special version with an even lighter-weight body.”
The 1920 Hudson Super Six Touring rides on a 125 1/2” wheelbase. It has a sliding gear transmission, semi-floating rear axle, mechanical brakes on the rear wheels and wood-spoke wheels with detachable rims. Front and rear bumpers, wire wheels, spotlight and running board mats were among the available options.
Apker is a long-time vintage car connoisseur whose collection also includes a 1916 Pierce-Arrow, which cost $12,000 when it was new.
“Is the Pierce more comfortable?” he asks, answering his own question with a “yes.”
“Is the Pierce faster? No, the Hudson runs circles around it.”
Apker does add, however, that the Pierce-Arrow is easier to drive.
“In this car [the Hudson] you don’t just sit back and watch the countryside.”
But while driving the car may be an exercise, it’s one an owner is likely to enjoy, and in 2009 and 2010, the car got exercised on the Mozart Tours, vintage rallies covering more than 500 miles.
The 1920 Hudson is one of three cars Apker brings to Barrett-Jackson this year. The others are a 1955 Studebaker Speedster and a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville convertible — a very rare one with Tri-Power, bucket seats and factory air conditioning.
“That Hudson Super Six was a high-performance car in its day,” says Gary Bennett, Barrett-Jackson vice-president of consignment. “That’s where Hudson got the performance side of its brand, and they carried it through the 1940s and ‘50s when they ran NASCAR and even went drag racing successfully.”
“I don’t buy cars to sell them,” Apker says. “I buy cars that I like. And I find other people like the kind of cars I like as well.”
So how does Apker know when it’s time to share cars from his collection with others?
“I used to say that if I haven’t driven a car in two years, I sell it,” he explains. “But I’ve shorted that up to 12 to 18 months. It’s time for someone else to get to enjoy this car.”
– — By Larry Edsall