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Monday, August 30, 2010

1955 Hudson

The most expensive Hudson in the 1955 lineup was the Hornet V-8 Custom Hollywood Hardtop. It cost $3,445.47 before the Federal Excise Tax was added.
Hudson had an illustrious history that reached back to 1909 when the first of the marque made its debut. This was an automobile with a long string of automotive firsts to its credit. At a time when motorists got by on four cylinders, Hudson offered two more and became the largest producer of six-cylinder cars in the world.

The 1919 introduction of the lower-priced Essex companion car by Hudson became extremely popular with Canadians. In the years after the Great War, Essex was often the Number Three best selling passenger car in the Dominion, snapping hard on the heels of Ford and Chevrolet.

With great fanfare, the Detroit-based manufacturer finally set up shop in Tilbury, Ontario. It was an unusual arrangement because Hudson did not actually perform any of the assembly operations. That was contracted out to Canadian Top & Body Corporation, a firm that was already fabricating parts and even bodies for other automakers including Gray-Dort and Ford.

The company weathered the federal election of 1935 in which Liberal Leader of the Opposition Mackenzie King campaigned to reduce tariffs on imported automobiles from 35 percent to 17.5 percent.  Studebaker, Reo and Packard closed their Canadian operations but Hudson would stay in Canada. The low bucks Essex companion car in the Hudson stable gave birth to the Terraplane and that light and fast car was popular with Canadians, too.

The Hudson nameplate was well known and respected, it boasted an illustrious 46-year history as the 1955 models debuted.

World War Two broke out in September of 1939. Canada would throw its might behind Great Britain against Nazi aggressors. Canadian Top & Body possessed a highly skilled work force that would serve King and Country on the home front. The Tilbury Times reported on May 23, 1940 that the company had signed a contract to produce mechanical transports for the Royal Canadian Army. Other military contracts followed quickly, including the manufacture of munitions and anti-submarine projectiles. Automotive operations wound down as the world conflict deepened.

After the war, Hudson was reluctant to re-establish assembly in the Dominion because of stiff taxes imposed on automobile purchasers by Ottawa. Chatco purchased Canadian Top and Body in 1947 and the company expanded into the manufacture of white goods.

Automobile production finally got under way in April of 1950 when the Hudson Pacemaker series started rolling off the lines. Unfortunately, a disastrous fire destroyed Plant Number One on June 29. It was a credit to all concerned that Hudson assembly was interrupted for only two weeks.

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Hudson, like the other independent automakers, fell out of favour with consumers in the 1950s. Production of the Jet, the only model produced in Tilbury, had declined to a dismal 654 units (one source indicates production to be 359 units) for the entire 1954 model year and another 218 of the larger Hudsons were imported from the US. 
The Hudson Jet was not well accepted by consumers and was replaced by the compact Rambler in 1955.

In a bid to stay alive in the automaking game, on May 1, 1954 ailing Hudson was folded into the much stronger Nash-Kelvinator firm. In the United States the combine was now known as American Motors, with Nash, Hudson and Kelvinator all becoming divisions of the new corporation.

Here at home, it would take more time to complete the merger. Hudson Motors of Canada Limited and Nash-Kelvinator Canada Limited continued as separate legal entities until January 2, 1956. The two companies, however, were billed as affiliates of the American Motors Corporation in Detroit, Michigan.

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 Corporate intricacies did not prevent the two former competitors from immediately combining all other forces in a practical way. Assembly of the Hudson Jet in Tilbury was discontinued on July 29, 1954 and Hudson’s parts warehouse was moved lock, stock and barrel into the Nash plant in Toronto over the Civic Holiday weekend. Hudson’s sales arm was still separate and a new national office was opened on September 1st, in Toronto with its address at 1470 The Queensway.

 Dealers lost the Hudson Jet but were given the Hudson Rambler to sell in 1955. The compact Hudson ranged in price from $1,777.87 to $2385.73
The 1955 model year was looming ahead rapidly. Automotive industry analysts were predicting that this would be the biggest year in history. The May merger prompted Hudson designers and engineers to scramble like mad in an all-out effort to create a new look for the marque, which had worn the same body shell for seven seasons.

There was neither time nor money to develop and new envelope, so Hudson would share sheet metal with Nash. On August 9, Nash and Hudson people began coordinating the planned shared assembly of the two brands in the small Toronto plant. This was complex because with the addition of the Hudson Wasp, there would now be three distinct vehicles to come off the lines.  The stylish, compact Nash Rambler was built in Toronto as well as the Nash Canadian Statesman. The little Rambler would now do double duty, it would wear the Hudson emblem with honour.

  The smallest Hudson offered in 1955 was the British-built Metropolitan. Nash dealers had their own version of the captive import.
A tiny bonus for Hudson dealers was the addition of the pint-sized, imported Metropolitan on showroom floors. Quite a change from last year, they had seven Rambler models, three Wasps and six Hornet models to sell. 

Advertising called the 1955 Hudson lineup “the most beautiful performers of them all: and they weren’t kidding when they boasted that Hudson was “completely new, inside and out.” 

In addition to the legendary sixes, Hudson now boasted a satin-smooth V-8 engine. 
.     Now billed as the Hornet Championship Six, the stock car mill was the largest six-cylinder engine in the industry.


   Interior of the full-sized Hudson was luxurious for the 1955 selling season. 
The marque now offered automatic transmission, air conditioning, Airliner reclining seats and Twin Travel Beds. Power steering, power brakes and power window lifts were new. The clean graceful lines of the design could almost be heard to whisper, “Let’s go places.”

New for 1955 at the house of Hudson was a V-8 engine. The powerful 320-cubic inch monster was shared with Nash and sourced from Studebaler-Packard

The  1955 Hudson Wasp was built in the AM plant on Toronto’s Danforth. For 1955 it listed for $2,505.33 in two-door form.
The domestically built Wasp was billed as “Canada’s smartest new car in the low-medium price field.” It was not available with any of the power options. Hornets and Wasps could be ordered in any of eleven solid colours or eleven two-tone colour combinations. 

Hudson’s position in the market place improved greatly in comparison with last year’s. Domestic production of the Hudson Wasp reached 1,022 units for the 1955 model year.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2007 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 23, 2010

1972 Austin Marina

Austin Marina was the first all-new car from the three-year old British Leyland Motor Corporation. Canada was chosen as the world launch site for the sharp-looking compact.
If there ever was an automobile that had all the earmarks of a winner, it was the 1972 Austin
Marina,  brainchild of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Marina was the first all-new product from BLMC and joined an automotive family that was as blue-blooded as Britain's House of Lords. Each brand in the clan was a legendary icon of motoring, respected the world over. The Austin Marina joined MG, Land Rover, Triumph and Jaguar in BLMC’s stable.

British Leyland itself was the result of a merger between Leyland and the British Motor Corporation. The former built Triumph and the latter, such time-honoured brands as the Austin, Austin-Healey, Morris, MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas. The new corporation was ushered into existence in May of 1968 and that same month, plans were laid for the new Marina. It was given the rather unglamorous title of Project ADO 28; ADO standing for nothing more exciting than Amalgamated Drawing Office.

The Austin Marina two-door deluxe coupe sold for $2,395 and weighed in at 934.4 kilos ( 2,060 pounds).
Management required a simple, low-priced car that would compete effectively with the Vauxhall Viva and the Ford Escort in the domestic marketplace. Equally important, they wanted a package that would meet the approval of North American drivers and our driving conditions. The new vehicle would use existing components from other cars in the BLMC stable, nicely wrapped in attractive new sheet metal. Styling mockups were ready for viewing in August of 1968. 

The project got waylaid while management put their energies into sorting out the bewildering number of overlapping brands and models that resulted from the merger. Project ADO 28 languished. It wasn’t until 1971 that the stylish little car was put on the front burner again. This time around, the project was announced to the public. In Britain, the new car would be badged as Morris and replace the now outdated Morris Minor and Morris Oxford series. In the United States, Canada and South Africa, it would carry the stronger Austin name.

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For mechanicals, the Marina was given the 1800 cc MGB engine, tested in over two billion miles of driving. The unit-construction body shell was said to be every bit as tough as the Land Rover. Its rack and pinion steering was like Jaguar’s and the four-speed manual transmission and disc brakes were shared with the Triumph Spitfire. The front suspension was borrowed from the Morris and modified for the new package.

Those in charge of the project initially contemplated front-wheel drive for the new Marina but marketing studies done in Canada for the automaker showed that Canadians did not want or like the technology. Further, front-wheel drive had a reputation as being expensive to buy and difficult to maintain. Since Canada was an important part of the corporate export market strategy, designers and engineers at BLMC shied away from FWD when the results of that study were in.

Price tag for the 1972 Austin Super Deluxe four-door sedan was $2,560.
The exterior design was pleasing. Form followed function. Designers gave the package a slab-sided body with a hint of crease below the door handles. The sedan carried a formal C-pillar and the fastback’s rakish slope looked fast when standing still. Headlights and a colour-keyed centre grille bar floated in a blacked-out opening.

British Leyland was determined to get this one right for the North American market. Long before it ever saw a showroom, the Marina underwent 75,000 miles of tests ranging from Death Valley in California to trips through the Rocky Mountains and cold weather tests in Manitoba and northern Ontario.

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Introduced formally to the North American public on February 22, 1973 as “the gas saving Marina” and “some family car, from some fine family of cars,” Marina was photographed with its kin, so that no one could miss its heritage. The press raved about the Marina. Canada was chosen by BLMC as the place to introduce the Marina to the world market. The editors at Canada Track & Traffic got the scoop on all of North America with their February 1972 test. The four-door sedan was tested extensively on the freshly repaved Cayuga Drag Strip near Toronto. The Austin Marina performed admirably.

Instrument panel was highly functional. GT versions were decked out with faux woodgrain trim.
The interior was roomy if fairly Spartan. The vehicle did offer some nice touches like contoured bucket seats, a full-width parcel shelf under the fully padded instrument panel. The fastback came with a tachometer and woodgrain appliqué on the instrument panel at no extra cost. Seat upholstery was carried throughout the cabin. David Lamb tested the car for CT&T and wrote, “From a driver’s point of view, the front seats are more comfortable than one would expect in a car of this price range.” He went on to say that “At times we drove the car for hours on end yet never had the slightest hint of fatigue or backache.”

Dressing up one’s Marina was fun. The automatic transmission came from Borg-Warner and cost $195. Air conditioning was available for $340. An AM-FM radio made driving more pleasurable. One could order an optional wood or leather-wrapped gearshift knob, GT stripes in gold, silver or black, a luggage rack and optional chrome wheel trim rims looked sharp with the $30 extra spent for a set of snazzy whitewall tires.

The Marina joined all of its British Leyland cousins on the showroom floor--the Austin Mini, the Austin America and the Austin 1800.  Prices for the Austin Marina four-door Super Deluxe Sedan was $2,560. The two-door Deluxe Coupe sold for $2,395 and the GT version added $580 to the bill of sale.

While there are no breakouts for individual brands, British Leyland sold 66,661 units in the US in calendar year 1972, that was nearly the same in 1973 with 65,948 units, despite a crippling coal strike in the UK that forced BL factories to go on a three-day work week. Records show that while BL’s overall sales were down in 1974 to 54,851 units, sales of the Austin Marina rose from 4,694 units delivered in 1973 to 4,761 units in 1974. 

In Canada, sales of all Austin models came to 4,354 units in calendar year 1972.

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The 1975 Austin Marina wore the new 5-mile an hour safety bumpers mandated by Washington. Sales shot through the roof with 13,262 units delivered. Surprisingly, British Leyland withdrew the popular model from the market. Public relations cited “cost pressures” as the reason for the car’s removal. Though it disappeared from the US market in 1974, the Marina continued on in Canada through 1978 when the 1.8-litre engine was discontinued and through 1984 elsewhere in the world. Its tenure with us was brief but pleasant.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2006 All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

1959 Willys Maverick

The 1959 Willys Special Maverick Station Wagon weighed in at 3,900 pounds. It sold for $2,944 f.o.b.  Windsor.

Independent automaker Willys-Overland could reach right back to 1903 as the beginning of its heritage. When the fledgling Indianapolis firm ran into trouble, John North Willys bought the Overland concern to keep it afloat. In a bid to speed up production and fill back orders, the company began manufacturing vehicles under a circus tent. The higher-priced Willys line was soon introduced as a companion car for Overland and it found success with consumers, too. 

With a decade of success under its belt, the company cast its eye on expanding into the Canadian and British Empire markets. Willys-Overland set up shop in Hamilton, Ontario in 1914 and began producing cars.  A year later, Willys-Overland bought two-thirds of the luxurious Russell concern from CCM and moved to Toronto. Automobiles were built in 1916 and 1917 but the Great War brought military contracts. Auto production ceased in 1918 in order to built aircraft engines. Civilian products returned in February 1919 with the introduction of a light car. 

Throughout the 1920s the company’s products were popular with consumers and in 1926 the previously imported top-of-the-line Willys-Knight was domestically produced. The same year Willys-Overland Canada began to fabricate its own bodies, no longer contracting them from Canadian Top & Body in Tilbury, Ontario. 

The Dirty Thirties took its toll on all the automakers and executives closed the doors of the Toronto plant in 1933. Vehicles were imported from the US after that. In 1934 the head office was moved from Toronto to Windsor and took up residence on Giles Street, next door to Hupp. John North Willys died in 1936 and the firm was reorganized. There was talk of reopening a Canadian plant but it never happened.  When war broke out in Europe in 1939 any talk of domestic Willys-Overland production was mothballed.

The parent company picked up a contract to build the Jeep during World War Two. The rugged little vehicle earned its keep on battlefronts around the world. Willys-Overland executives were keen to find civilian applications for the war hero in a peacetime world.

Industrial designer Brooks Stevens had the same idea and created several automobiles based on the Jeep chassis and drivetrain. He sold his ideas as a story to a magazine. The folks at W-O were impressed and asked him to come to their Toledo headquarters. Stevens left Toledo with a contract.

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Cashing in on the Jeep’s image was the key to success. The station wagon did that perfectly. Because none of the big body makers would stamp parts for Willys-Overland, draw was kept to six inches and punched out by a company that made refrigerators. The indentations in the side panels strengthened the envelope. It was practical to the point of being utilitarian but it held seven passengers and could carry 96 cubic feet of cargo. 

When the product appeared on the market in 1946 it was the first all-steel station wagon in automotive history. It sold well and a Panel Delivery joined the lineup a year later. In 1948 a more upscale Station Sedan was added. So was a six-cylinder engine. For 1949 a four-wheel drive version was introduced. The front end was restyled for the 1950 selling season.

The postwar market created fierce competition among the automakers. The independents scrambled for market share as Ford went after archrival Chevrolet, guns a-blazing. To stay alive, the small companies began to amalgamate in hopes of survival. Willys-Overland was first; it merged with Kaiser-Frazer in April 1953. 

The operation in Windsor, Ontario had been solely oriented to service and sales. Willys of Canada Limited moved into new headquarters in 1953. A small department outfitted already completed Jeeps, shipped in from Ohio, with accessories and modifications needed to do special jobs such as fire and rescue work. In 1955 domestic assembly of 4x4 Jeeps began.

The Willys Station Wagon was still imported, however. For 1959 a special Maverick model bowed, making its first appearance on May 7, unveiled to millions of viewers watching the popular Maverick television show that Kaiser-Willys just happened to sponsor. Truly posh by Jeep standards, the Maverick sported two-tone paint, wore lots of chrome, was shod with white wall tires, blessed with interior carpeting—albeit black--and a one-piece windshield. Its list price was $2,944 f.o.b. Windsor.

Advertising bragged that the Maverick was “Canada’s lowest priced, full size station wagon” and that it was worth a look because it combined  “the ruggedness, dependability and quality of the Jeep with the smoothness and good riding qualities of the passenger car.”  Not willing to miss any possible market, the Maverick was touted as the ideal family and business station wagon.

Doctors, teachers, veterinarians were all urged to consider the Willys, especially those who lived and worked in rural areas. Farmers and ranchers were pleased with its high clearance fenders.  Folks wanting to rough it out in the country could carry up to a half ton of camping gear, guns, fishing tackle and oh—the wagon could sleep two and save putting up a tent!

Still the basic package since its 1946 introduction, the Willys was powered with a 75-horsepower Hurricane F-head four-cylinder engine, though a 105-horsepower Super Hurricane L-head six was available at extra cost. 

By the time the Station Wagon was retired in 1962, it been in production for sixteen years and done Willys proud. Its successor would also come from Brooks Stevens and usher in a whole new kind of driving experience.

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.