For this twenty-something writer, driving a car this old is a very new experience. The Terraplane's synchro-less three-speed manual transmission is like a kindergarten lesson in patience. Hurry through a shift, and the painful grinding becomes the sound of personal disappointment - and a reminder that the teacher is looking over my shoulder. When I get it right - holding my breath on the inhale, pausing in neutral, and waiting for the next gear to suck the stick in - it's a humbling victory.
Elton's car features the upgraded in-line six with a high-compression cylinder head and a two-barrel carburetor that raised output from 96 hp to 112 hp. In their day, Terraplanes were widely regarded as exceptionally fast. Today, Elton's car is still fast enough to outpace traffic, although a subcompact would likely top the Terraplane in any real measure. To make the car more comfortable at highway speeds, Elton has replaced the original 4.11:1 final drive with a 3.23:1 unit. Radial tires keep the Terraplane tracking straight, a blessing since the steering is quite lifeless on-center. Put the Terraplane through a turn, though, and the steering wheel takes on some serious heft, fitting for its monstrous diameter. At our first right-hand turn, I fear, for a heartbeat, that I'll direct the irreplaceable car into a pickup truck stopped in the left-turn lane. Without thinking, I work my hands faster and we make it past by a wide margin.
Like any car from this era, the Terraplane is a challenge for a rookie to drive fluidly, but Elton shows the casual mastery of experience. Piloting the car along a winding riverside two-lane, he asserts that the 1937 coupe "handles better than a Jeep Wrangler," and we don't contest that. Rigid axles in the front and rear are connected in a manner that limits roll, so the tall Terraplane exhibits surprising body control. More noticeable is a front-to-rear pitching induced by bumps and potholes. Still, the suspension and ride are better described as simple and direct rather than crude or harsh. Even today, when an isolated family sedan can legitimately qualify as a performance car, it's easy to see how this relic from eight decades ago earned its reputation.
Much like Essex, Terraplane proved to be an indisputable success. In 1936, for every Hudson-branded car sold, Terraplane delivered almost four vehicles. So it's practically inexplicable that the parent company abandoned the marque so quickly. The cars were called Terraplane Hudson in 1937, Hudson Terraplane in 1938, and disappeared by 1939, having been replaced by the smaller Hudson 112. The company's ability to produce exciting cars wasn't over yet, but the Terraplane name was gone forever.