Rare 1956 Hudson Hornet Barn Find Emerges With Continental Kit and Packard V8

Introduced for the 1951 model year, the Hudson Hornet is arguably one of the most iconic classic cars built by an independent automaker. Based on the company's innovative "step-down" chassis, the Hudson emerged as a sleek automobile with a lower center of gravity and a surprisingly comfortable ride.
1956 Hudson Hornet Hollywood 8 photos
Photo: Mike E Thurber/Facebook Marketplace
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Even though it featured an inline-six engine, the Hornet delivered performance similar to V8 vehicles of the era. And due to its low center of gravity and precise handling, the Hornet also became a successful race car.

In the early 1950s, the Hornet took over from the Oldsmobile 88 as the car to beat in the NASCAR series. Hudson became the first automobile manufacturer to get involved in stock car racing, and the Hornet won three back-to-back championships from 1951 to 1953.

The Hornet nameplate lived on through 1957, but the full-size got a complete redesign in 1955. A product of the newly-formed American Motors Corporation (AMC) through the merger of Hudson and Nash, the second-gen Hornet lost its "step-down" privileges. The makeover turned it into a full-size Nash model with distinctive Hudson styling cues.

The revised Hornet was nowhere near as successful as the first-gen version and went into the history books after only three years. And unlike its predecessor, it's pretty much forgotten. The low production numbers and the fact that most of these cars were abandoned make the second-gen Hornet a rare sight today. Of course, its appearance doesn't help, either.

While the 1955 version looked rather conventional, the 1956-1957 Hornet sports a somewhat controversial design. After a slow 1955 model year with just 10,000 units sold, AMC executives decided the Hornet needed a makeover. The company commissioned industrial designer Richard Arbib to give the Hornet a more bold appearance.

He came up with the "V-Line Styling," which added large V-shaped elements to the front fascia. The resulting Hornet was decidedly distinctive, but the design failed to bring customers into showrooms. Hudson sold only 8,152 units in 1956 and just 4,108 examples in 1957.

Although it's been labeled as one of the ugliest cars produced in the 1950s, the second-gen Hornet is among my favorite rigs from the era. That's mainly because I like out-of-the-box designs, and I'm a big fan of orphan brands like Hudson and Nash. As a result, I get excited whenever I see one of these unloved classics emerging out of long-term storage.

This 1956 Hornet was recently brought back into the light in Merced, California. The vehicle spent several decades off the road and shows signs of weathering, but it's still in one piece. Sure, it's not the kind of vehicle many enthusiasts would want to restore, but this Hornet is quite the rare gem.

Although it's one of 8,152 units built that year, the two-door coupe configuration, which Hudson called the Hollywood, narrows it down to just 1,640 examples. And because these Hornets are usually rust buckets fading away in junkyards, cars in this condition are hard to come by. And this yellow/white Hornet is looking for a new owner.

There's not a lot of info to run by due to a poorly written ad, but the photos show a relatively sound example. There's some good news under the hood, too, in the form of a Packard-built V8 engine.

While AMC continued offering the first-gen Hornet's 308-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) inline-six, it also added a V8 in 1955. Unable to provide an in-house-built mill, AMC turned to Packard for its 320-cubic-inch (5.2-liter) unit. Rated at 208 horsepower, 48 more than the inline-six, the Packard V8 was short-lived. AMC replaced it with its own 250-cubic-inch (4.1-liter) powerplant in late 1956.

All told, only a tiny fraction of the 1,640 coupes produced that year got the Packard engine. Hudson reportedly sold 3,015 Hornets with this mill in 1956, but the figure includes four-door sedans, which were notably more popular. We could be looking at fewer than 600 coupes equipped with the Packard lump.

But when it comes to second-gen Hornets, rare doesn't mean expensive. This two-door is looking for a home for only $2,500. For reference, the most expensive 1956 Hornet Hollywood ever auctioned changed hands for $38,500. Would you save this garage find?
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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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