The Hudson Motor Car Co. may be best known for its racing successes. However, there's much more to learn about this innovative brand than its checkered-flag past. One place that delivers a robust education is Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum.
This auto destination, nestled in the quaint Amish town of Shipshewana in northern Indiana about 140 miles from Chicago, is the brainchild of one very passionate and local enthusiast, Eldon Hostetler.
"Dad grew up and still lives just one mile down the road," said Eldon's son, J.R. Hostetler, who serves as the museum manager. "He fell in love with the way Hudson engineered their cars."
Eldon first laid eyes on a Hudson when one of his father's hired farmhands pulled up in a new 1936 Hudson Terraplane. The 14-year-old Eldon was even allowed to drive it. Once inside, he was fascinated by the innovative column-mounted shifter, at a time when most cars stick shifts were mounted on the floor.
As an Amish boy, Eldon had to be 18 to buy a car, J.R. said. "Those were four long years for Dad."
Finally, 1940 arrived and Eldon wasted no time in purchasing a 1938 Hudson with the same shifting setup. "His Amish grandfather loaned him $350 to buy the car on the condition he didn't tell his mother," J.R. said.
Eldon remained a repeat buyer, purchasing a Hudson every time his daily driver needed replacement. All those firsthand miles on the road were enough to convince the satisfied customer that Hudson was a unique brand worth preserving. The company eventually merged with Nash to form American Motors Corp., and the last Hudson rolled off the assembly line in 1957.
Hostetler's first collector acquisition, a 1952 Club Coupe, came in 1982. After that initial find, his research shifted to the brand's earlier years.
"His passion compounded once he dug into the cars from the 1920s and '30s -- ones that he had never paid attention to before," J.R. said. That fascination with the cars led him to acquire dozens more, but not just any vehicle with a Hudson badge would do.
"Dad focused on the vehicles with rare options, ultralow production numbers and particularly unusual and rarely seen models," he said.
Uncovering those treasures led him to cars from England, New Zealand, South America and all over the U.S. "It didn't take long for dad to become known in the car hobby as the 'Hudson guy.' "
As the auto collection grew, a new issue emerged. "Dad was concerned (that) if something happened to him, the collection would be auctioned off to many different hands and separated to the four corners of the world. He'd seen it happen before with other car collections," J.R. said.
Looking ahead to preserve the car compilation and the unique learning experience it afforded, Eldon purchased 18 acres of farmland. His next step was an official partnership with the community to open the special gallery. "Dad's specific design request was for a red brick floor, reminiscent of the old roads. He also wanted uncluttered displays to allow the focus to remain on the vehicles," his son said.
The museum officially opened in 2007 and contains not just Hudson vehicles but also four of its other automotive brands, Essex, Terraplane, Dover trucks and Railton, a British car company Hudson bought in 1939. The earliest model on display is a 1909 Model 20 with later examples being such visual treats as a 1953 Super Wasp Hollywood and 1951 Brougham parade car.
Other highlights include several Hudson pickup trucks, a 1927 Hudson fire truck, a 1917 Shaw speedster race car and even a 1929 Dover U.S. mail carrier.
Visitors have come from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Mexico and Russia. Throughout the year you'll find other enthusiasts soaking up the gleaming show machines.
"We've held the Packard Club regional meets and the Kaiser Club Nationals here. In addition, numerous tours pass through as well. This summer the Regional Buick Club is touring here," J.R. said.
If your knowledge of Hudson is lacking, be sure to make a stop at this unique museum or visit www.hostetlershudsons.com. But be prepared for repeat visits.
"Dad keeps claiming he'll stop collecting, but when something special shows up, it has a way of always staying."