Historic ‘last Hudson dealership’ becomes National Hudson Museum

A new model will be featured annually in the old showroom | Kevin A. Wilson photos
A new model will be featured annually in the old showroom | Kevin A. Wilson photos

What was known for decades as the world’s “last Hudson dealership” will retain its focus on the history of Detroit-built Hudson, Essex and Terraplane cars and trucks now that the National Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society (HETHS) has struck a deal to house a new museum within the Ypsilanti, Michigan dealership.

“I’m really pleased with the news,” said the dealership’s long-time proprietor Jack Miller. “It keeps the dealership intact and focused on Hudson. And with Ed Souers involved, I’m confident it’s in good hands.”

The National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum is slated to open in late September, on the same weekend as the annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show, which this year takes place September 21. Until then, the museum will continue to operate in its current guise at 100 Cross Street, hard beside the railroad tracks in Depot Town, the city’s historic district.

Souers, spokesman for HETHS and the manager of the new Hudson museum, announced the agreement with Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (YAHM) president Ron Bluhm.

Old dealership will become national museum
Old dealership will become national museum

Miller retired as curator of the Ypsilanti museum last year and was honored during the Orphan Car Show, which he’d cofounded 16 years earlier, leaving his many friends in the business and collector-car community worried about the future of the institution he’d nurtured.

While the dealership itself resides in a structure even older than Hudson (which was founded in 1909), the museum was created in 1996. With the leadership, notably, of Peter Fletcher, a prominent Michigan politician and Ypsilanti philanthropist and historian, the historic structure was preserved by expanding its mission. And its floor area.

Fletcher and others helped secure backing to construct an addition to the old dealership that linked it to a former post office just east on the same block of Cross Street. In the expanded space, the focus broadened beyond Miller’s Hudson-centric dealership displays to recognize the community’s automotive connections. These include Tucker (Preston Tucker lived in Ypsilanti and built cars at Willow Run), the products of Kaiser-Frazer that were also built at the Willow Run factory, and later Willow Run products like the Chevrolet Corvair and Hydramatic transmissions.

YAHM’s exhibits include many vehicles, plus signage and a vast collection of materials related to the area’s car dealerships, clubs, racing activities and more. It also houses the collection of CORSA, the Corvair Society of America.

The expanded portion will continue to tell those stories, while the new Hudson Motor Company Museum will be housed entirely within the original dealership. Externally, the old dealership is distinguishable by its green-painted walls while the newer portion is done in yellow.

Adjacent building provides room for expanded displays
Adjacent building provides room for expanded displays

Originally an electric power plant converted to a factory, its origins as a new-car dealership trace to 1916. A Dodge outlet for a dozen years, in the late 1920s it shifted to Hudson.

Carl Miller, Jack’s father, bought it with a partner in 1932 and ran it as a Hudson sales and service point until the brand’s demise in 1957, following the merger with Nash-Kelvinator that created American Motors. New American Motors products (Nash and Rambler) appeared in the showroom until 1959. The franchise was dropped at that time and Carl Miller opted to just sell used cars and provide service for the many he’d sold over the years.

After Jack Miller took over, he operated a Hudson parts and service business favored by collectors long after the brand was fading from public memory. He also continued to restore Hudson, Essex and Terraplane cars and trucks. By selling at least one such vehicle every year while operating within the original structure, Miller built a reputation as “the last Hudson dealer.” He sold off his remaining parts in 1996 when YAHM was founded and became curator of the museum.

Until he retired, the dealership portion remained devoted entirely to Hudson, Essex and Terraplane products, including among its holdings an original NASCAR “stepdown” Hudson race car—the number 92 as driven by Herb Thomas–that he found and restored. It has appeared several times at Daytona vintage events. Since the Pixar animated film Cars appeared in 2007, children especially have delighted in visiting this original “Doc Hudson” in the museum. The car also spent a year on loan to NASCAR’s Hall of Fame museum.

While the YAHM put many collectible cars and memorablia holdings in its own right, Miller had retained title to many of the important Hudson vehicles and a huge collection of original factory papers, photos, memorabilia and records that he’d acquired over the years. He also kept the dealership’s own sales and service records on file. When Miller retired, he sold most of his cars, including the racer, along with the records to noted Hudson collector Souers.

This collection and those of others will feature in the new museum. Souers has previously displayed several rarities from his own outstanding collection, including an original Hudson Italia and a one-off prototype Hudson Jet convertible, at either or both the museum and the Orphan Car Show.

“He knows his stuff and will honor the heritage well,” said Miller.

Souers noted that the Nash/Hudson merger took place in 1954. “It is only fitting that we commentate the 60th anniversary by establishing the National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum in Ypsilanti, near Hudson’s Detroit birthplace,” he said.

HETHS has worked toward creation of a dedicated museum for Hudson Motors for some years; it was the topic of some discussion at the marque’s 100th anniversary gathering in Detroit in 2009. Several other potential locations had been considered, but the Ypsilanti dealership site ultimately won out as the most natural place. It is only an hour’s drive west of Hudson’s original home in Detroit and well within the southeast Michigan “Motor Cities National Heritage Area” that groups, under a National Parks system program, many historic sites in the region. YAHM is a designated “gateway” to the entire Heritage Area—visitors can start there and receive guidance to other attractions throughout the area.

YAHM president Bluhm said the plan is to change the showroom display annually with one car (all that fits in there) surrounded by objects, ads and other displays appropriate to the year in which the featured car was built.

Service area will be used to put cars into cultural context
Service area will be used to put cars into cultural context

These annual model changes will, over time, depict the entire history of the company, with the place of honor going to cars ranging from a 1910 Hudson Model 20 through the last to wear the badge, built at Nash’s plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1957.

Displays in the service area, where Miller long worked on restoration projects, will now put Hudson Motor Company’s heritage in context with American history.

Bluhm says he’s excited about the prospects for raising the profile of the entire museum while expanding on its origins as a Hudson store. A recent acquisition at the YAHM includes furniture and other objects from the offices of the short-lived company Henry J. Kaiser founded, so while the focus on Hudson continues, so, too, does the expanded mission.

“Our partnership (with HETHS) provides us an opportunity to enhance our Hudson collection and place our museum on the national stage with other major auto museums,” Bluhm said.

Museum has staging area for clubs, driving tours.
Museum has staging area for clubs, driving tours.

 

11 thoughts on “Historic ‘last Hudson dealership’ becomes National Hudson Museum”

  1. I can not think of a better way to carry on tradition, I just emailed a young man regarding his
    grandmothers car (which he is now selling, I advised him that the history of his family was worth more than the offer made for a 31,000 mile car), it still has the original tires, all of them.It pains me when people undervalue a car, just because the seller is a little unaware
    of real values, History only happens once, and I will be making a trip just to see this dealership. Is there a foundation that can take donations? I’m sure there is, lets make it known, so all can assist. Poppy

  2. I wii never forget my 1947 Hudson…what a delight to own and drive…but the passing of time caused it to become a trade-in…

  3. Many times I have “peered” into the window at all the wonderfully cars inside. A collector myself I am happy to see the business continue but sad to here Mr. miller retire. I will never forget the time I happened to go inside for a better look and asked Mr. miller if I could “look around”, I was in heaven as I looked at all the great looking cars!

    Tom Pieronsk

  4. Jack is an old friend,and I think this is a great tribute to him and his hard work for both Hudson and Ypsilanti.

  5. Hello, in regards to those who wish to help this effort (and we can use your help), go to the Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society website where you can make donations. It is much appreciated. And thanks for the great blog!
    Mike Cherry
    President
    Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society

  6. I’m an auto writer myself (Editor of Road & Track long ago) and owner of a beautiful 1951 Hudson Hornet. I visited this place twice: first in 1992, soon after I bought the Hornet and when it was still Miller Motors; later, during the 2009 Hudson National Meet after it had become the Ypsilanti museum. What a delight to see it becoming not only the Ypsilanti museum, but now the first National Hudson museum and preserving the original dealership even better – and how great to know that Jack Miller is still with us! I believe I met Kevin somewhere along the way; kudos to him for an excellent story!

  7. I have always had a love for old cars. Not only did they show the true character of the designers but also the pride in workmanship of the actual workers who put them together.

  8. Great story Kevin. I didn’t know Jack, or the museum, owned the Italia and Jet convertible I’ve admired at shows for years. Glad to know the museum has taken this big step forward. Jack is a wonderful guy and dedicated preservationist. Best wished to him and the new museum team. And, thanks for sharing the story.

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