Story and photos by Brian Earnest
In a way, Pete and Carol Kortenhorn’s 1929 Hudson roadster is still a “get-away” car. These days, however, instead of being a high-powered escape car for bad guy bank robbers, it’s a stately and sophisticated weekend show piece that the couple uses for enjoyable weekend retreats to car shows and other special gatherings.
Looking now at the elegant green and yellow roadster, it’s hard to imagine it was ever part of a bloody shootout that ultimately ended with the deaths of three people, but that was several lifetimes ago.
Pete Kortenhorn didn’t buy the car because it had been used in a Bonnie & Clyde-style holdup, anyway. He just loved the car and wanted badly to own it — regardless of its past. “It didn’t bother me. I kind of liked the fact that it has a history, but that’s not really what sold me on the car,” Kortenhorn said. “The appeal of the car to me was its appearance, and really in its year it was a hot rod because it had 92 hp; that’s about double what the Fords and Chevys were running in that period, which is why it was in the bank robbery.”
The heist occurred in October of 1931, when four men from Hibbing, Minn., decided to venture across the state border to Wisconsin to rob the Kraft State Bank in Menomonie. The Hudson was apparently owned at the time by a man identified as Harold Twinning, who was already awaiting trial for “attacking a woman.” Twinning waited in the cozy roadster and was to serve as the get-away driver while the other two robbed the bank at gunpoint.
The Kraft State Bank had been robbed in the past, however, and two men, who were both sons of the bank owner, were not going to give up the bank’s money without a fight. William Kraft Jr., one of the sons, shot and killed one of the robbers and wounded another. He was also wounded himself. The wounded robber took William’s brother James as a hostage, using him as a human shield and pushing him into the car next to Twinning, who sped off.
According to newspaper stories and various accounts of the heist, the wounded robber died a few miles down the road, and Twinning pushed him out of the car and then killed the hostage, William Kraft. Twinning eventually abandoned the Hudson and fled on foot. Accounts of the day are a little sketchy on the role of the fourth robber, or how he got away, too, but eventually the two surviving robbers were captured and identified in a Minneapolis jail cell by William Kraft Jr. Their real names were revealed as Leonard Hankins and Robert Newburn. They were eventually sentenced to life in prison “at hard labor.”
It’s unclear if the Hudson Model R rumbleseat roadster sustained any damage in the hold-up, but things definitely took a turn for the better for the car in the years that followed. The car was impounded by authorities in Minnesota and sold to a man named George Deising of Minneapolis. Years later, the Hudson went to Deising’s daughter.
“The car actually went to two brothers in Minnesota, and they ran a used car lot and they worked as machinists, and they kept the car until they were in their 90s, and then the car went to his daughter in California, and the guy I bought it from found it out there,” said Kortenhorn, who resides in Whitelaw, Wis. “They brought it back to the Green Bay area and gave it a restoration, then he went to Minnesota and talked to the surviving brother and got the whole story and the newspaper clippings … I bought the car from a guy named Ed Davies who lived in Allouez (Wis.) in 2005. He had done a very nice restoration. It was really done well, but it was like a 20-year-old restoration that needed a lot of work. The doors were sagging and the exhaust system was gone and there were some broken pieces… I put a lot of work into it. I took all six wheels off, repainted the entire engine compartment, did a lot of touching up. He had originally done a really nice restoration.”
Kortenhorn hadn’t owned anything similar to his classy Hudson when he came across it, but he figured all the planets had aligned just right to make it happen. “Ed was breaking up his collection and he had put this little ad in Firsatsaatleri — just a little postage stamp-sized ad. I looked the car up in the [“Standard Catalog of American Cars 1905-1942”] and thought, ‘Whoa, that’s a nice-looking roadster.’ … When we went to look at it, I kind of tried to sell myself, too. I told him, ‘You’re not going to see this in an auction in two years. I’m not in the car business. I’m going to keep it until I can’t anymore.’ I think he was looking for a good home for it, and I think that helped.”
The Hibbing robbers had good taste in automobiles when they somehow got their hands on a Hudson, which had long since cemented its reputation as a builder of high-class automobiles that was always ahead of the curve when it came to technology and creativity. As a company, Hudson was in high clover in 1929, a decade after having bought out Essex. For the model year, the company set a new record of 300,000 combined Hudsons and Essex models. The Depression was still a couple years away and business was booming.
The company offered two tiers of cars: the 122.5-inch wheelbase Model R series, and 139-inch platform Model L line. All carried the same 92-hp, 288.5-cid inline six-cylinder, but the company no longer used its traditional “Super Six” moniker. Buyers could select from a long list of body styles — some offered with company bodies, and others with coach work from well-known body makers. “This one has a Briggs body. You had a choice of around 15 models, maybe half of which were built at the factory, and the rest you could order from Murphy, Biddle & Smart, or Briggs — custom body builders,” Kortenhorn said. “You could ask for different colors or different options, or take one off the factory floor. You had a lot of options.
“This one was entirely green when it was built. When he had it restored, he found a color combination that he liked, and because it’s a Briggs body with a custom body, you can put anything you want on there and nobody cares.”
All Hudsons were equipped with Bendix mechanical drum brakes at all four corners and three-speed manual transmissions that shifted on the floor. Kortenhorn’s roadster is equipped with dual sidemounts, a trunk behind the rumbleseat, wire-spoked wheels, chrome bumpers front and back, and driving lights. The brown leather upholstery matches the tan convertible top.
It’s hard to find a flaw in the car now, but Kortenhorn admits there were plenty of things that needed attention when he brought the Hudson home for the first time. “The doors were sagging because the hardware was coming loose. I had a few friends help me and we re-mounted the doors,” he said. “I moved the seat back about three inches because when I first bought it, you were driving in the fetal position! It was not made for tall people. I modified it a little bit so I can move the seat back.
“There are three levers in the center of the steering wheel that control the lights, the spark advance and the throttle setting and one of those levers was broken off, so I rebuilt the levers on the steering column and rebuilt the steering box because the bushing was worn out. The speedometer and ammeter didn’t work… The windshield had been replaced, but it turned out it wasn’t safety glass, it was just plate window glass, so I changed that. I put a stainless exhaust system on it, repainted all six wheels, re-faceted all the hubcaps and had them re-plated. I had the back bumper re-chromed … I took everything out of the engine compartment except the block, and painted everything — generator, starter…”
The carburetor also leaked, so Kortenhorn put the stock carb internals into a bronze body instead of the old pot metal body. “The pot metal just didn’t stand up,” he said.
Kortenhorn eventually put his own personal stamp on the Hudson with a set of custom etched wind wings. “I’m sure they were not a factory item. I designed them and had a glass company cut the glass for me and then we etched them,” he said.
All things considered, though, Kortenhorn considered himself lucky that the Hudson was so well-built and so well-preserved that he didn’t have to do any major teardowns of the car. The interior and paint were in great shape, which was the main thing. “I bought it in 2005 and he had it for about 20 years, so I’d say it was done in the mid-’80s,” he noted.
The Hudson shows about 73,000 miles on its odometer, and Kortenhorn figures he’s added about 3,000 of those himself. The miles will go on the car slowly in the future, and there be no high-speed trips running from the police, or anybody else for that matter. This Hudson’s days as a speed machine are long gone.
“I take it to local shows and tool around with it just to exercise it,” he says. “It’s OK to drive. It accelerates nice and you can put it in second gear and go right up a hill, but it does ride somewhat like a buggy — you know, it’s stiff. The tires are hard and the suspension is stiff. It’s not like a limo-type ride — it’s a roadster. It doesn’t even have glass in the doors, just the side curtains.
“I’m pretty careful. I don’t like to compete with the traffic. People today pass you and cut back in front of you. Most of them don’t appreciate what it takes to maintain a car at this level. If it was a driver, it would be different, but it’s not really designed to be a driver at this point. It’s more of a show car, and that’s probably the way I’ll treat it. I plan to keep it until I can’t anymore.”
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