Jerry Van Horn can laugh about it now — the idea that he was “crazy” for wanting to drag an old car out of a field and someday make it beautiful again.
If he was crazy, though, it was more a matter of being nuts about Hudsons, and in his mind, it wasn’t a matter of “if” he would ever resurrect his 1949 Super-Six two-door Brougham, it was a matter of “when.”
“It was always in the back of my mind, ‘Yeah, boy, I’d like to have one of those.’ I had one back when I was a kid,” recalled Van Horn, a resident of Birmingham, Ala. “Of course, when I got it and brought it home, I had to listen to everybody say ‘Why did you bring that piece of junk home?’ while I left it sit out in my driveway for about 10 years and deteriorate.
“But, no, I never had any doubts. I knew I could do it. I knew it was just a matter of priorities, and once I got started I knew I could handle it. It took me about two years, I guess, once I got started, to get it done.”
Today, Van Horn’s beautifully restored Hudson bears little resemblance to the weathered hulk he took back from Mother Nature in 1972. At that point, the car was still restorable, but it wouldn’t have been long before nobody, including Van Horn, would have been able to save it.
The old Hudson can probably thank Van Horn’s daughter, Jerrie, as much as anybody, for giving it a second lease on life. “She was going to school, and she spotted the car in the woods,” Jerry said. “It was a piece of junk. It had been in the woods for six years. All the glass was out. The transmission was gone. All the upholstery was rained on. It was a piece of junk, and that’s what I bought it for. I paid 10 bucks for it.”
But that $10 was enough to give Van Horn hope of reincarnating a car he had been fond of years ago, and it gave him a goal to work toward for his retirement.
“When I was going to high school, I worked at a car lot on weekends and I drove one of those cars. That’s why I wanted it,” he said. “My daughter, when she saw this car she said, ‘I think this is the old car you were talking about.’ We went out and found the guy that had it and it was in a pile of cars in a junkyard … He said, ‘Just pay me for junk. Pay me 10 bucks and get it out of there.’
“It’s worth more than that now, but of course I have a lot more than that in it.”
Van Horn didn’t do much with the Hudson initially except gather parts and try to get ready for the day he would begin restoring the car. In 1980, he rebuilt the Hudson’s six-cylinder engine, “but then in the ’90s I had some health problems and I didn’t do much on it for a few years. Then I finally got started on it again and decided I should finish it while I’m still kicking. I just got done with it this year.”
Van Horn said much of the Hudson’s unibody was in decent shape and didn’t need much more than a good sanding and a new hood. He eventually got professional help for the bodywork, paint and upholstery, but he handled the rest of the mechanicals and all the parts chasing himself.
Tracking down the parts was perhaps the biggest challenge of the entire 30-plus-year process. “I bought parts all over the country,” he said. “From 1972 to 1980, I probably wrote 100 letters looking for parts. I built the engine from 1949 parts from people who had stuff left over — old stock. I got a lot of electrical parts from NAPA from dead stock — I’m talking about switches, light bulbs and all sorts of stuff like that.
“The engine was there but it wouldn’t run, and it had to be completely rebuilt and re-bored and all new parts put in it. We had to replace the shocks and the front coil springs. The gas tank was OK. The driveshaft I had to machine because I put an overdrive transmission in it, where originally it had just a three-speed. Now it has a three-speed with overdrive, which is really nice … that was a big thing.
“When I was a teenager, that was a fast car. It would outrun all the Fords or Chevrolets.”
Indeed, the Hudsons of the late 1940s and early ’50s were held in high regard by performance fans for their power, handling and success on American race tracks. The unit-body, step-down design gave the Hudsons a fantastic, low center of gravity, and the cars were far more nimble than they looked.
For the 1949 model year, only a few changes came to the lineup. The cars received a new type of floor mat, a non-glare finish was used on the top of the instrument panel, and club coupes and Broughams received leather graining on the door kick panels.
The base level Super Series cars were available with either six-cylinders or V-8s for 1949, with each offered as four-door sedan, two-door club coupe and two-door convertible Brougham. The inline sixes used a Carter two-barrel carburetor, displaced 262 cubic inches and generated 121 hp. The sibling Eight cars actually displaced only 254 cubic inches, but turned out 128 hp. Three-speed manual shifting was standard, but for an additional $101, buyers could move up to an overdrive manual. A “Drive-Master” transmission was also available that gave drivers a choice between manual or automatic shifting. That $112 option lasted until 1951, when it was replaced by a Hydra-Matic unit.
All of the Hudsons rode on 124-inch wheelbases and measured 207.5 inches from tip to tip. The two-door Broughams like Van Horn’s weighed in at 3,515 lbs. with the six-cylinder under the hood and retailed for $2,156 before any options were added. A total of 91,333 Super Sixes left the factory, while 6,365 of the eight-cylinder versions were built.
In addition to overdrive, other popular options included a Weather Control heater ($64), radio ($84), wheel trim rings ($13) and some leather trim choices on closed cars and foam rubber seat backs ($16).
Van Horn’s car didn’t have much on it for options when it was bought new in Texas by a woman. “It came from Texarkana. A lady school teacher bought it when she was, like, 60 years old,” Van Horn said. “We don’t know how it got to Alabama … I presume because it was near the college here, she had relatives or somebody that went to school here. The transmission was out of it, so I suspect it had transmission and engine problems and somebody parked it.
“The last tag it had on it was a 1966 tag, and I got it in ’72, so it had been sitting for those six years. It had 56,000 on it.”
For the most part, Van Horn restored the car to resemble the way it came from the factory. The gray paint was an original color, and the only changes he made were the overdrive for better performance in today’s traffic, a vinyl interior and a heater. “It didn’t have a heater,” he said. “I put one in, but it was an original one from a 1949 car.
“The only other thing would be the upholstery. It would have originally had mohair-type cloth, and I didn’t want that. We put in a black vinyl upholstery, and it looks better and feels much better.”
Van Horn had never restored a Hudson before his lengthy 1949 project, but over the years he tinkered with plenty of other hobby cars. Some of them he worked on with his son. He took on other work as a mechanic for other people’s projects. “I built a lot of Volkswagen engines over the years,” he said. “I put two kids through college building motors.”
He still has an old air-cooled one-seater buggy “from back in my Volkswagen days. It hasn’t been out of my garage in a long time. That’s my next project. I’m going to have to bring that back up to date.”
Van Horn’s daughter has assembled a book that chronicles her dad’s Hudson restoration saga, and he figures it will help him tell the story when he starts taking the car to various car gatherings this summer. “We have some cruise-ins at various places and I’m going to take it to those,” he said.
“I’ll just bring the car, sit out in a lawn chair and yak with the rest of the hot rodders.”
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