17-18 August 2012

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Lot 217

1954 Hudson Italia Coupe by Carrozzeria Touring

  • Chassis no. IT10011

Sold for $265,000

114 hp, 202 cu in L-head six-cylinder engine, twin two-barrel Carter carburetors, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, independent front suspension with coil springs and unequal length A-arms, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 105"

• One of only 25 built by Carrozzeria Touring in Milan

• Correctly restored in original cream paint with red/white interior

• Powered by Hudson Jet six with three-speed transmission

Hudson set the U.S. auto industry on its ear in 1948 with the introduction of the streamlined “step-down” range. One of the first cars to be advertised on television, the new model was only 60-inches high and had a very low center of gravity. The Pacemaker, Super, and Commodore range was expanded to include the famous 308-cubic inch Hornet in 1951, which would dominate NASCAR so thoroughly—winning 40 of 48 stock car races in 1952—that it would eventually be banned. The basic shape of the step-down Hudsons endured for six years, until 1954, when the company merged with Nash to form American Motors.

Just before that distressing bear-hug merger occurred, Hudson designer Bill Spring contracted with Carrozzeria Touring, of Milan, to produce a dream car, in the same way that Virgil Exner had convinced Chrysler to partner with Ghia. That union produced a handsome series of sports coupes, including the Thomas Special, DeSoto Adventurer, and Dodge Firearrow. Spring sent complete Hudson Jet compact sedans to Milan, and Touring cut off the bodies and created a superleggera coupe, with aluminum panels over a tube steel frame. The result was 10-inches lower than the Jet and bristled with innovations, including a wrap-around windshield and Abarth-style air vents above the headlights and in the rear fenders, to aid brake cooling. Spring designed doors cut seven inches into the roof for ease of entrance, which he had pioneered when working for coachbuilder Murphy in the 1930s.

Eminent stylist Strother McMinn worked at Hudson for a while and recalled that the Italia’s seats were never duplicated by any other car maker. They were twin reclining bucket seats with two separate backrests and used different densities of foam for the bolsters to give better support. Spring designed the seats to be firmer at the lower back than the upper. Between the two cushions was air space, and the seats actually “breathed” through the motion of the passengers.

The car rode on Borrani wire wheels and had a distinctive oval grille, with an inverted “V” in the front bumper as a Hudson cue. Less successful were the triple exhaust pipes in the rear fenders, which actually housed stop, tail, and turn signal lights. Leather seatbelts were standard, but since they were attached to the seats, their safety value was doubtful.

The Italia was designed as a fast two-seater, with provision for a good deal of luggage—a real Italian “gran turismo”—and there was talk of entering the American Stock Class of the Mexican La Carrera road race, which Lincoln had won in 1952. Perhaps with that race in mind, Hudson ordered the minimum required 25 cars from Touring for homologation on September 23, 1953.

Compared to other production dream cars, the price and performance numbers were not encouraging. At $4,800, the Italia was more expensive than the $4,721 Nash-Healey and much more costly than the $3,668 Kaiser Darrin or the $3,523 Chevrolet Corvette.

Dealers took orders for 19 Italias in the fall of 1953, but the 1954 merger with Hudson put paid to the idea of any more examples beyond the one prototype and 25 initial cars. Would-be buyers reported unsuccessful attempts to purchase Italias from dealers, even with full payment up front, but it seemed clear that the management of the new American Motors Corporation intended the program to go no further. Further problems ensued when Touring refused to supply any spare parts, including such important items as taillights and trim. Roy Chapin, who later became board chairman of AMC, was the sales manager for the Italia program and was ordered to “get rid of those cars,” which he did.

The car on offer today is one of 21 Italias believed to have survived. Restored about four years ago, this coupe has the correct red and white leather and vinyl interior and is finished in Cigarette Cream, the color in which most Italias were painted. The brightwork and trim is excellent, and the car rides on the correct chrome wire wheels. It is accompanied by a comprehensive file of documents and is said to run and drive very well.

Factory data indicates that the 1954 Italias were numbered IT100001 to IT100009, with the remaining examples numbered IT100010–IT1000025 and being registered as 1955 models, making this the second 1955 Italia to be built. It is rumored to have been purchased new by Liberace, whose flamboyance it would certainly have complemented, but no documentary evidence can be found to support this. The odometer indicates 66,529 miles, and the owner says that the car’s general condition suggests that this is likely to be the original mileage.

The Hudson Italia is far less common than the contemporary Kaiser Darrin or Nash-Healey, of which several hundred were produced. In many respects, these other two sports cars seem much more mainstream than Frank Spring’s creation, which is a remarkable concoction of fantasy and practicality and is guaranteed to draw a crowd wherever it appears.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more