1929 Essex the Challenger

We bought a box of radiator caps the other day, and in the bottom were not one, but two, 1929 Essex radiator caps.  Back then, these distinctive, twelve-sided caps were described as “faceted in semi-modernistic design,” whatever that means. 

The full name for the automobile in ’29 was “Essex the Challenger,” and it was powered by an L-head inline 6. This label was conceived, according to the Hudson/Essex organization, when test after test revealed that the Essex could match more costly cars on every count including speed, acceleration, hill climbing and gasoline consumption. Dealers who had gathered at the Detroit factory for a private demonstration were so impressed by its performance that one dealer enthusiastically proclaimed that the new Essex could challenge anything, and thus a new slogan was born.

Every dealer in the Hudson/Essex organization took part in a National Challenger Week, putting the automobiles to every conceivable test and even taking suggestions from the public as to which tests the cars would be subjected.

In Wichita, for instance, an Essex underwent a five-day continuous run on a treadmill in the Mosbacher dealership window.

In Albuquerque, an Essex was driven the 302-mile stretch to El Paso in five hours and 57 minutes with state highway police clearing the way, and in Akron, an Essex was given to a traffic cop to use in place of his motorcycle for the week. In Chattanooga they focused on hill-climbing with demonstrations given on Lookout and Signal mountains. The subject matter of the following advertisement is all the new records set by the Essex during Challenger week, including a new record for climbing California’s Mt. Baldy by covering 8.05 miles of hairpin turns in 10 minutes 16.4 seconds.

The promotion was a successful one, and enough cars were sold to make Hudson/Essex third in the industry behind only Ford and Chevrolet.

Another Old Dealership Building: Buick-Hudson

This early brick building is situated in downtown Gothenburg, Nebraska:

If you examine it carefully, and maybe squint one eye, you can just make out the words “BUICK HUDSON”:

A little research revealed that there was a car dealer in this city by the name of Orrin Hamilton Cotton who entered the business in 1915 with a Buick dealership:

1916 Advertisement

Cotton obtained the Hudson agency in 1917, and remained in the automobile business until his death in 1943.

1928 Advertisement

“When American engineers brought the automobile within reach of the many, they gave humanity the most amazing opportunity for increasing the benefits and joys of life that history has yet recorded.”

O. H. Cotton


Essex Super-Six Advertising

I spent entirely too much money on this old piece of canvas, but I just couldn’t resist this scrap of automotive history:

So when was this antique advertising piece in use?  The Hudson Super-Six was introduced in 1916, but the Essex Super-Six did not make its appearance until 1927.  The Essex name was gone by 1933, so that leaves a pretty small window for this vintage piece.  I was also able to track down this 1928 newspaper advertisement for the original owner, the Freeman L. Larson Hudson-Essex dealership:

Note that the salesman would bring the car right to your door for a test drive.

Hudson used its tried and true marketing technique of setting speed and endurance records to sell the Essex.  In March of 1927, it was reported that an Essex had set a new record for the third time in a matter of a few weeks.  Timed by Western Union and observed by San Antonio newspapermen, the Essex ran for 24 consecutive hours at the local speedway, traveling 1218 miles and averaging 50.75 miles per hour.  Thus the Essex was christened the car that would run “50 miles an hour all day long”.

The Essex was reasonably priced and outsold all other sixes in 1927.

The Terraplane was introduced as an Essex model in 1932 and was so popular, the Essex name was dropped the following year.





Photo credit: Delaney Tracy

I absolutely love this unrestored 1934 Terraplane.

Photo credit: Delaney Tracy

Photo credit: Delaney Tracy

Photo credit: Delaney Tracy

The Terraplane was first introduced by Hudson in 1932 as an Essex model.

According to ads, it was named “Terraplane” because it heralded something new and thrilling in highway travel, “skimming, dashing, mile-eating, safely close-to-the-road swift, smooth motion such as has not been enjoyed before except in planing on the water and air.

That first year, the Terraplane was powered by a 193-cubic inch 70-hp engine (the next year an 8-cylinder 243-cubic inch with 94-hp became an option). To drive home the idea of how driving this car was like “aeroplaning”, the company engaged Amelia Earhart to launch the new auto. Here is Earhart christening the Terraplane with a bottle of aviation gasoline instead of champagne:

After a record-making coast-to-coast flight, Hudson officials met Earhart at Newark Airport to present her with a new convertible coupe:

Earhart was not given the car she had christened, because that car was presented to one of the Wright Brothers, Orville Wright. How cool is that?

Hudson didn’t just have genius marketing moves like these, it also had an outstanding product. The Terraplane promptly began breaking stock-car records for both acceleration and hill-climbing (including a new record for an annual race up Pikes Peak).

Despite all of this success, Hudson decided to drop the Terraplane from its lineup for 1939. What a loss.

1935 Terraplane
Photo credit: Delaney Tracy


“Champion Flyer Gets New Essex.”  Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 4 September 1932, p.70.

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr. Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1842. Kraus Publications, 1985.

“Miss Earhart Christens Car with Gasoline.” Democrat Chronicle, 25 July 1932, p. 12.

“New Car Awaited Amelia at End of Nonstop Flight.”  Somerset Daily Herald, 2 September 1932, p. 2.

Terraplane. Advertisement. Clarion Ledger, 23 March 1935, p.7.

Terraplane. Advertisement. The Dothan Eagle, 23 July 1932, p. 3.

Terraplane. Advertisement. The San Francisco Examiner, 23 July 1932, p. 4.

“Terraplane Gift Delights Wright.”  Detroit Free Press, 9 October 1932, p. 10.

“The Eyes Have It.” Kentucky Advocate, 26 September 1932, p 10.

1930 Hudson

I recently picked up this striking instrument cluster:

It was originally in a 1930 Hudson:

The bold geometric shapes epitomize art deco style and represent the time period beautifully. I found a 1930 newspaper article that described the California debut of the ’30 Hudson that took place at the Walter M. Murphy building at the corner of Flower and Eleventh Streets in L.A.:

The Hudson’s premiere was apparently one auspicious occasion. It was a radio-broadcasted and star-studded event that included an orchestra, famous actors performing song-and-dance numbers and a fashion show featuring 26 beautiful models wearing everything from negligees to evening gowns.

Notice the odometer reads 90413:

That seems like a high number for the timer period, but not for this particular automobile. The Hudson was known for its reliability and won many endurance contests such as those listed in this advertisement:

The Hudson 213.8-cubic inch straight-eight was known as the “Great Eight” and was the best-selling 8-cylinder of 1930. It was offered in ten models on two chassis (119 and 126-wheel base) and prices started at $1050. Honestly, I would have bought it just for the dash.


Film Stars Will Twinkle at Brilliant Opening of Walter M. Murphy Building Tonight.” Los Angeles Times, 15 January 1930, p. 11.

“Great Eight Novel Type in Hudsons.”  Los Angeles Times, 15 January 1930, p. 11.

Hudson. Advertisement. The Santa Maria Daily Times, 11 January 1930, p. 8.

Hudson. Advertisement. Los Angeles Times, 7 August 1930, p. 7.

“U.S. Made Car Dominates in Stamina Test.”  Oakland Tribune, 10 August 1930, p. 3.