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Classic Car: Restored 1951 Hudson a charmer

1951 Hudson Pacemaker Brougham convertible

Collector Car Productions

Hundreds of vehicles rolled by bidders at this past weekend's Toronto Fall Classic Car Auction – a mobile montage of automotive history, spanning the Model T era through 1960s muscle to modern times – but the most charming offering on the lot-list had to be the yellow and maroon 1951 Hudson Pacemaker Brougham convertible.

Despite its obvious appeal, this recently restored sunny day cruiser, powered by Hudson's big, NASCAR-dominating, "Miracle-H Power" dual-carb six-cylinder engine, didn't find a new owner, although many other cool cars did.

The auction, held at the International Centre in Mississauga, and one of two staged annually here by Collector Car Productions of Blenheim, Ont., saw some 300 vehicles offered. But making the biggest single largest contribution to the final tally was $178,000 paid for the event's star car, a one-of-69-built, 1969 Camaro LZ-1, that looked innocent and plain-Jane in basic blue, but packed a COPO, 427-cid race engine under its hood.

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The Hudson Pacemaker's original U.S. owner, who would have paid $2,650 for it in 1951, undoubtedly would have felt happy with his or her purchase back in the 1950s. And so did the still riding-high Hudson car company, which added it as an entry-level version of its revolutionary "Step-Down" model lineup the year before, and watched it prove a hit.

But while this particular Pacemaker went on to provide enjoyment to a succession of owners for the next 62 years, the Hudson brand wouldn't survive the decade.

The company was created in 1909 by eight Detroit businessmen, including department store maven Joseph L. Hudson, and the plan was to target the low end of the market, which it did with the Model 20, priced at about $1,000. Hudson had kicked in enough investment cash that his name was embossed on the new car's badge.

Hudson introduced a number of industry firsts over the next decade – including a dual circuit safety braking system – along with more upscale models and, in 1919, introduced the Essex brand to compete in the mid-range market. By the mid-20s it was ranked third behind Ford and Chevrolet and, by 1929, combined sales had reached 300,000.

In 1932, Hudson launched the Terraplane nameplate, introducing it with help from aviation heroine Amelia Earhart. It continued its reputation for innovation a couple of years later by offering an electro-mechanical gear change system with a steering column switch called the "Electric Hand." And it began building cars in Canada, contracting assembly to the Canada Top and Body Company in Tilbury, Ont.

Hudson resumed car production at war's end in 1945, with warmed-over 1942 models, then in 1948 introduced its all-new and advanced "Step-Down" models, which would prove to be the brand's final technological hurrah.

"Step-Down" referred to the Hudson's innovative monocoque construction, with a boxed perimeter framework that allowed the floor to be lowered, and occupants the novelty of stepping down into the car rather than up, as in most American cars of the era.

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Historians cite the "Step-down" as a factor in Hudson's eventual demise, as it couldn't be economically updated when it passed its best-before date and sales began to fade. This led to a Hudson merging with Nash to form American Motors in 1954, and to the Hudson name disappearing three years later.

1951 Hudson Pacemaker Brougham convertible Collector Car Productions Collector Car Productions

But things were still looking good for Hudson in 1950, with its big Commodores and Supers selling well, when it celebrated the birth of a new family member, the Pacemaker 500, with a shorter wheelbase, smaller engine and a cut-down to more affordable price tag.

Even with its wheelbase trimmed to 119 inches versus the full-size Commodore's 124 inches, the six-seat Pacemaker, wasn't exactly small, with an overall length about the same as a modern minivan. And, its structure and interesting styling aside, it wasn't much different from what other makes were offering, with an independent front and live axle rear suspension and drum brakes.

Providing propulsion was a 232-cubic-inch, inline-six producing 112 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, while full-size Hudson's Supers and Commodores came with bigger 123-hp sixes, or a 129-hp inline-eight. A three speed manual gearbox was standard, a choice of two semi-automatics optional.

Performance with the 112-hp six was said to be lively enough, but the 1951 Pacemaker Brougham offered on the weekend, one of only 430 convertibles produced that year, is considerably quicker thanks to the "Twin H-Power" engine under its hood.

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The H-145 six Hudson introduced in 1951 was the biggest inline-six offered by any American maker, a 308-cubic-inch L-head (or flathead if you prefer) design, that made 145 hp and a ton of torque in standard form. Later tweaked with barely-legal "severe usage" optional bits, including dual-carbs, by Hudson's back-room boys, its output was boosted to 220 hp, more than enough to power Hudson's Hornets to 100 mph-plus speeds, and make them the dominant cars in NASCAR through 1954.

The success of the "Fabulous Hudson Hornet" racers undoubtedly helped in the showroom, but a slow-selling new compact, increasingly dated mainstream designs, and ever stiffer competition sign-posted the approaching end of the road.

The restored Pacemaker's engine compartment pays homage to this power plant and Hudson's final glory years with gold-painted block and head topped with a pair of huge, bright red canister air cleaners, with "Twin-H Power" picked out in yellow.

Back in 1951

Princess Elizabeth (soon to be Queen Elizabeth II) and the Duke of Edinburgh take in an Edmonton Eskimos home game.

The Dennis the Menace cartoon strip is launched, I Love Lucy debuts on TV and, at the movies, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star in The African Queen.

NASCAR legend Herb Thomas wins the Grand National Series in a Fabulous Hudson Hornet, and Juan Manuel Fangio the World Driver’s Championship in an Alfa Romeo.

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