1954 Hudson Italia. Photos by Alejandro Rodriguez, courtesy Gooding and Company. 1954 Hudson Italia art print by Danny Whitfield.com
In the 1950s, American automakers both large and small partnered with Italian design houses on concept cars and limited-production grand tourers. Chrysler, for example, turned to Ghia for concepts (and later, the Dodge-based Dual Ghia coupe and convertible), while Ford turned to former Ghia employee Felice Mario Boano to style its 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Boano Coupe. Even Hudson got in on the trans-Atlantic action, hiring Carrozzeria Touring to pen a special model based on the Hudson Jet. The result was the Hudson Italia, of which just 27 examples were constructed; one of these, possibly owned by Liberace during its six-decade lifespan, will cross the block next month.
The Hudson Italia was the brainchild of Hudson’s head designer, Frank Spring. Looking for a way to bring attention and prestige to the Hudson brand, Spring felt that a collaboration with a respected Italian design firm would give the struggling automaker a design edge. It would also yield a halo car, in the form of a grand touring coupe, of which just 25 examples were produced in the first (and ultimately, only) design run. Counting the Hudson Italia prototype and a four-door sedan prototype known as the X-161, only 27 such models were ever assembled, of which 21 are known to survive today.
While the chassis and mechanicals were based on the new-for-1953 Hudson Jet, the 202-cu.in. inline six-cylinder engine received the benefit of dual two-barrel carburetors, as opposed to the Jet’s single one-barrel carburetor. The net result was an output of 114 horsepower, compared to the Jet’s rating of 104 horsepower, and performance was further enhanced via the lightweight “Superleggera” body provided by Touring. As was the norm in race car construction of the day, the body panels mounted to a framework of hollow steel tubes, designed to add chassis rigidity while shaving pounds from the finished product.
When the Italia debuted in 1953, Hudson described the car as being “styled like no other car that preceded it,” and the jet-age influences (such as the faux “intakes” positioned above the headlamps, or the jet-fighter-like front seats) are unmistakable. Even by Hudson “step down” standards, the Italia was low to the ground, with a height roughly 10 inches lower than other Hudson models. Had things gone according to plan, the Hudson Italia would have entered mass production, but time was not on the automaker’s side; just as the Italia began to hit dealerships, financial difficulties prompted Hudson’s merger with Nash, which saw no reason to proceed with production of an expensive, Italian-bodied grand touring coupe (though it did explore the idea a couple of years later with the Pinin Farina-built Rambler Palm Beach concept car).
Chassis IT10011, to be offered by Gooding and Company in Scottsdale, has seen a fair number of trips across the auction block in recent years. Once part of the Harrah collection (and rumored to have been owned by Liberace, though no solid proof of this exists), the car was offered for sale in unrestored condition at RM’s Arizona auction in January 2008. Bidding reached a high of $250,000, which wasn’t enough to meet the car’s reserve. A few months later, Bonhams offered the car at Quail Lodge, where bidding hit a high of $210,000. The car was then subjected to a comprehensive restoration before being sold at RM’s Amelia Island auction in 2009 for a price of $275,000.
Gooding and Company predicts this example, generally described as one of the nicest Italias remaining, will sell between $400,000 and $500,000 when it crosses the stage in Scottsdale next month. For additional details on the upcoming sale, visit GoodingCo.com.