It arrived thirteen years after the Ford Model T, but the 1922 Essex Coach proved that there was still room for more revolution with the automobile. While Henry Ford brought motoring to the masses, Hudson's Essex brand put the comfort and dignity of a closed cabin within reach of the common people. At its debut, the Coach cost $300 more than a comparable open-air Touring model, but the price soon fell to the point that the closed car was actually cheaper. Sales took off, and Hudson's affordable companion brand led the company's sales.
Essex still paced Hudson's numbers in 1931, but the Great Depression had ravaged the auto industry, and carmakers were hunting for a new direction. While competitors dropped prices on existing vehicles, Hudson quietly developed an all-new car. Value was as important as ever, and the $425 base price initially undercut the competition from Ford and Chevrolet. But Hudson also endowed the car with the performance credentials that were revered in better times. Records in hill-climbs, the standing mile, and the flying mile quickly accumulated, and the new name, Essex-Terraplane, played on the world's fascination with aviation. Amelia Earhart christened the first Terraplane by cracking a bottle of gasoline on its chrome nose. Earhart would receive the second car built; the first Terraplane aptly went to Orville Wright.
Only Ford's bargain V-8 could out-buzz Hudson's freshest creation in 1932. By the third year, Essex would be dropped from the name and the car was known simply as the Terraplane. The 1937 Terraplane Series 71 Deluxe seen on these pages was purchased by Ann Arbor's Bob Elton in 1980. At least, Elton thought he'd bought a Terraplane. The pile of parts said to make up one complete car had been created by two previous owners. Both had progressively dismantled the Terraplane, all the while getting further from the end goal of restoring the car. It turned out, though, that several key parts were missing, and some items clearly belonged to vehicles that weren't a 1937 Terraplane.
But the new owner had the tenacity to complete the project. It took five years of parts hunting and labor - Elton even shaped the lower front fenders by hand - to finish the project. He admits that it isn't a fully polished restoration: the three-person bench seat is in need of fresh upholstery, the bumpers are ready to be rechromed, and the three-decade-old paint is showing its age in places. But those items are merely cosmetics; Elton's restoration included an engine freshening, and his Terraplane runs like new.