A Brief Review of Charles K. Hyde's Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors

Recently I came across Charles Hyde's most recent effort in the area of automotive history, and I wanted to share with you some initial impressions. Hyde is a well-known automobile historian, and this work does not disappoint those who want to read a more critical business history than material that is more coffee table in nature. Personally, I very much enjoyed this book, and learned much from it. Business history (and there is extensive labor history in this book as well) can be a very complex undertaking, given the documents that one has to sort through and the twists in terms in legal agreements that has to be inevitably sorted out. Hyde's style is above all very clear and concise. His introductions and conclusions leave little room for misinterpretation and nebulous explanations. I thoroughly enjoyed his discussions of the various key personalities involved in the firms that were under the microscope -- Thomas B. Jefferey, Charles W. Nash, George W. Mason, Roy D. Chapin, A.E. Barit, and George W. Romney.

These independents fought a rear guard action since the Great Depression, subsequently were consolidated into American Motors in 1954, were bought by Renault, and then ultimately absorbed by the Chrysler Corporation. Nash, Hudson and its successor organization made a number of significant improvements to automobile engineering and design, appealed to a niche of the American market, produced a few iconic cars, and in the end largely disappeared from the American scene. DR. Hyde has made sure they will not be forgotten.

If there would be more to say than what is in this book, I would argue that the culture associated with these cars remains to be more fully studied. I found it hard to believe that Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues," the Terraplane -- a Hudson car of the 1930s, -- was not even mentioned, and there are perhaps other examples as well that one could explore as these cars entered the American consciousness. Additionally, I would have liked to know more about the quality of these cars, particularly after World War II. When we think of the failures of Nash and Hudson we think of design as a key reason. But what about quality? And that goes for American Motors products as well -- just how good were they?


Post a Comment

Blog Archive