A family penchant for Hudsons: 84 autos

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Hal Souers, a 19-year-old farm boy in Warren, Ind., has a very unusual hobby. He collects Hudson automobiles -- not plastic hand- held models, but real cars. He and his parents, Meredith and Mary Souers, jointly own 84 Hudsons. And they keep them parked in rows behind their home.

"Actually, I'm a third-generation Hudson collector," Hal says.

"My grandfather, Ralph Souers, bought his first Hudson in 1940 and drove nothing else during his lifetime. My dad's first car was a used 1937 Hudson Terraplane. He was so impressed by its durability, he became a convert, too."

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The Hudson Automobile Company was begun in Detroit in 1909. A group of businessmen, engineers, and automotive designers pooled money and creative talents to produce a modestly priced car with elegance. Their product was immediately successful.

For 45 years Hudson was a part of the automotive market in America. The standard Hudson became a luxury car. In 1932 a cheaper model, the Terraplane, was introduced as a family car. From 1951 to 1954 the Hudson Hornet was the roadster that dominated the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), a race-sanctioning organization.

But in late 1954 the company was forced to sell out to Nash. At that time Nash moved all production from Detroit to Kenosha, Wis., and established American Motors Corporation (AMC). For the next three years AMC produced a vehicle that was a cross between a Hudson and a Nash -- dubbed "Hash" by many designers -- and the well-recognized, swooped-back classic Hudson disappeared from new-car showrooms forever.

"Two things led to the death of the Hudson," explains Hal Souers.

"In the mid-1950s the 'in' cars were the compacts. The large Hudsons couldn't appeal to that market. Even worse, all the other carmakers were featuring V-8 engines. Hudson's standard engine was only a 'six.' Thus, it was tragically behind the times."

Young Souers himself is amazed that Hudson was caught so off guard by V-8 engines and compact modeling. Often, it was Hudson that set a trend.

"Today people are impressed by the new subcompact four-cylinder cars," Hal says, "but that's really old stuff. From 1919 to 1932 Hudson's Essex model was a very popular four-cylinder car. And in 1948 Hudson designed the first car that passengers had to step down into (like all of today's cars). Before that, you had to step up onto the running board and then climb into the seats."

When the Hudson Company fell, it fell flat. By 1955 car owners could no longer get spare parts easily for Hudsons. People flooded the used-car market with Hudson trade-ins.

"That's how our family collection was started," Hal says with a laugh. "My dad would buy a Hudson at a next-to-nothing price He'd drive it until it wouldn't run. Then, instead of spending lots of money for repairs, he would park it behind our house and go buy another $50 used Hudson. When it finally broke, he would take parts off the other Hudson he owned to repair the second one. If the part wasn't there, he'd buy another used Hudson."

In time, Meredith Souers had two dozen, three dozen, then four dozen Hudson automobiles in his backyard. His boys -- Bill (now 25 and living in Indianapolis), Ed (now 23 and a farmer in Huntington County, Ind.), and Hal -- began to tinker with them. They, too, started going to car auctions and used-car lots to buy old Hudsons. The collection grew.

"Right now I have five Hudsons in mint condition which I drive in county fair parades or display at auto shows," Hal says. "They were restored by my brothers and me.I have another 20 Hudsons which are roadworthy, and 59 more Hudsons in various degrees of disrepair which I use for spare parts."

According to the records of the 3,000-member Hudson Auto Club, the Souer's collection is the largest personal assembly of Hudson automobiles in the world. The club promotes the memory of the Hudson by sponsoring rallies and publishing a monthly newsletter.

When asked why she permitted her husband and sons to convert her lovely farm yard into a used-car lot, Mrs. Mary Souers smiled and said: "There was one thing about it; I never lost a wink of sleep at nights or weekends wondering where my boys were."

The Souerses have lived in Warren all their lives and own 160 acres of rich farmland which Meredith Souers worked until seven years ago. Then he turned it over to his boys. Mr. and Mrs. Souers now work as printers at Huntington College.

When you Hal is asked if he plans to continue his work as a farmer, he says yes, but that he also plans to continue restoring Hudson automobiles.

At present, he is restoring a 1954 Hornet. It has power steering, power brakes and windows, red leather interior, and two one-barrel carburetors (called "Twin-H Power" by Hudson). He has sunk about $1,200 into the restoration project so far. When completed, it will have a market value of more than $10, 000.

Other cars in Hal's collection, such as a mint-condition 1927 Hudson with a Super-6 engine, are worth even more. But they are not for sale. Hal and his family members have a well-earned appreciation for classic cars. They like to drive and display their Hudsons, not sell them.

"Sure, it's true that there is a lot of money to be made in selling antique cars," Hal admits.

"But to me the real enjoyment comes when you strive for two or three years to rebuild a car and are able to have something no one else has. You are proud of the work you've done and proud of the car itself.

"You could never bring yourself around to selling it."

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