At Large

Love, loss, and a 1954 Hudson

By Published On: May 2nd, 2023

We are a nation divided. Deep chasms have opened in our society, stretch-ing the boundaries of decorum and decency. It is not helpful that major corporations, those behemoths with countless resources, have taken sides in this debate, leaving individuals struggling to find and cement alli-ances in the face of seemingly relent-less advertising and incentives.

Politics? They have little to do with this situation, which has existed long before there were “blue states” and “red states.” In fact, the only color available when this struggle began … was black. That’s what Henry Ford offered as the choice of colors when the Model T began rolling off the assembly lines in October of 1908. Eleven years later, Chevrolet entered the fray, and the battle was on for the hearts and minds of America.

Not to be left behind, Chrysler Corporation saw the emerging middle class and the appetite for affordable transportation.Twenty years after Ford threw down the gauntlet, Chrysler introduced the Plymouth with great fanfare.

Where do your loyalties lie?

The question became endemic: Were you a Ford, Chevrolet, or Plymouth family? If fortune smiled, did you extend your reach and become a Mer-cury, Buick, or Desoto family? Race, religion, and ethnicity had nothing to do with the raging ideological battle. What kind of car did you drive? Which side are you on?

It is intriguing how the automobile has been … continues to be … a defining gesture in our society. We are proud of our automobiles, quick to defend them and ready to debate their value in the light of the opposition. Perhaps we can recall the decals pasted in the rear windows of pick-up trucks depicting a young lad relieving himself on the logo of a competing brand. Emotions run deep.

As the industrialized world watched the vast American market, the marques (car brands) from overseas began to be off-loaded at ports of entry on the East, West, and Southern Coasts. It was not long before the debate became “foreign or domes-tic?” German or Japanese? Korean or British? Somewhere in that onslaught of new entries into the market the phrase “Buy American, be American” emerged, and the intellectual and emotional struggles found new plat-forms.

And, your humble commentator was not above the allure and intrigue of the battle. Over the course of several decades, there have been British, Japanese, Swedish, and German cars in the driveway. There was even a five-week love affair with a French beauty that simply refused to run and, as a result, broke my heart.

The one that got away

But, as is often the case, our first love is the one that haunts us, emerging in late-night reveries and musings of “what if?” It’s entirely possible that nine out of ten will not remember the Hudson. Like so many American brands … think Edsel and Packard and Plymouth and DeSoto and Mercury and Stanley and Tucker and Sat-urn and Studebaker and Oldsmobile and Pontiac and … Hudson began manufacturing cars in 1909 and continued to bring them to market until the dominance of “the Big Three” became too great.

My first car was a 1954 Hudson Hornet. For four years, Hudson had dominated NASCAR racing and my grandmother, not a NASCAR fan but a bit of a terror on the open road, bought her second Hudson from a storefront dealership located on Route 7, just north of Sheffield, MA. It was in that monster that I learned to drive. I believe the statute of limita-tions has run out, so I can admit to having driven on route 126 at 14 years old, clutching the giant steering wheel of that beauty and willingly becoming infected with the auto-virus that divides as much as it unites.
It was when I came of age to get a license that every cent I had saved up was handed over in a family transaction, and the red and white sedan became mine. I had entered the own-ership phase of the national divide over motor cars. The fact that my brand was Hudson put me in a rather small circle of like-minded believers, but I was there, just the same.

Flash forward through a parade of vehicles that have each, in their own way, fueled the sense of pride that ownership can bring. Of course there are those who loudly proclaim that “it’s just transportation … a way of getting from here to there.” In the most basic, emotionless way they are right. But a thoroughly unscientific survey of car owners will, no doubt, prove theirs to be a very small minor-ity. We love our cars. We wash and polish them. We smile when a similar make and model glides past. In some cases, we even wave to drivers coming in the opposite direction … a kind of “secret handshake” moment that acknowledges a bond and an affirmation.

Back in the throes of debate

With all of this history … Cords and DeLoreans, Maxwells and Nash Ramblers … we are in a new age of debate and decision. The conversations over coffee may not be heated, but they are intense. There is a sense of non-theological predestination, but we are a nation divided. The age of the electric vehicle is upon us, and we are back in the throes of debate, dissent, and decision.

Since the first viable automobile was offered to the American public in 1880, the primary fuel that fed 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12-cylinder engines has been gasoline. Our use of fossil fuels to fashion a global economy has placed us in an environment that, most would agree, needs serious repair if generations to come will have a livable world. What began as a very modest experiment has turned into a global revolution, reinforced by government edict and corporate response. The State of California recently declared that one half of heavy trucks sold in the state by 2035 must be electric. That’s garbage trucks and cement mixers.

The electric car. The electric truck. Tesla, Rivian, Renault, Volkswagen, General Motors, BYD (Build Your Dreams from China). Every major manufacturer of cars and trucks in the world has joined the movement to move away from the gas pump to the electric outlet. Will our hearts and minds follow? The debates will rage on – first electric or gasoline, then Chevrolet or Toyota.

Love is never easy.