Would you “step down” into this Hudson Hornet?

The cars of the 1950s tend to fall into a big bucket labeled “curvy chrome with a focus on styling over performance.” That’s often true, but finding cars that buck that trend only takes a cursory glance. One example is this big, green Hudson that Jay Leno pulled out of his collection to show off in this week’s edition of Jay Leno’s Garage.

First, let’s address the fact that yes, the Hudson Hornet is the car that inspired the Doc Hudson character in the Disney movie Cars. One of the fun things about that movie is how they got some of the more interesting parts of Hudson’s history incorporated, but they left out are some things that deserve discussion.

The first is the step-down nature of the chassis. Automobiles of this era are nearly universally body-on-frame construction, which means there is a certain minimum height for the floorboards. Hudson carved out an interesting design by pushing the frame rails of the chassis all the way out to the rocker panels, which allowed the floor to set down into the frame rails rather than on top. This design became best known as the “step down” design, since you had to step over and down into the floor of the car.

The lower floor meant driver and passenger were lower and thus the belt line of the car could also drop accordingly, which made for a sleek design that stood out in a subtle manner. All that lower weight also made for a better handling car. The Hornet is best known for its prowess on circle tracks and NASCAR ovals, but even in everyday driving it was a sharp car compared to its contemporaries.

Jay seems to really like his, and we don’t blame him. The smoothness and torque from the side-valve inline-six is a delight on the road despite not being a high-revving or high-powered engine. Jay claims that due to the ease of service and general build quality, this Hudson might just run forever. We hope it does.

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