Home » Flat Heads And Round Fenders: 1953 Ford Customline vs 1954 Hudson Wasp

Flat Heads And Round Fenders: 1953 Ford Customline vs 1954 Hudson Wasp

Sbsd 5 26 2023
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Happy Friday! We’ve made it to the cusp of a three-day weekend, here in the U.S. anyway. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer for most folks, but it’s also a time to look back and remember how we got here, and who we have to thank. In that spirit, we’re going to look at a couple of uncommon ’50s sedans, perfect for summertime cruising and guaranteed to help you strike up conversations with the oldtimers outside the VFW hall. But first, let’s see where we ended up with yesterday’s wagons:

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Looks like the immortal diesel Benz lives to fight another day. Lots of folks sounded scared off by undiagnosed overheating issues with the Scion, and I don’t blame them. Apart from electrical gremlins, cooling system issues are my least favorite car problem to troubleshoot.

Today’s choices are dead-easy to troubleshoot compared to modern cars. There’s just not that much to them. Even the engines have lower parts counts, because these are both flathead engines. The valves, instead of being above the piston tops, are alongside them, and open upwards into a sort of elongated combustion chamber. It’s not as efficient as an overhead valve design, but it has half the moving parts. Better yet, both these engines run perfectly already, so all you have to do for now is enjoy them. Let’s check them out.

1953 Ford Customline sedan – $8,750

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Engine/drivetrain: 239 cubic inch flathead V8, three-speed manual with overdrive, RWD

Location: Kennewick, WA

Odometer reading: 113,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

Ford’s legendary flathead V8, introduced way back in 1932, was already a dinosaur when this car was built. Oldsmobile and Cadillac had wildly popular overhead valve V8s out, and Chrysler had just introduced the FirePower V8, precursor to the famous Hemi, two years earlier. Ford’s flathead may have been the king of the hot rod scene, but it was outclassed in showrooms. The rest of the car was all-new in 1952, and already beginning the trend towards lower, flatter, wider cars that would dominate the next two decades of car design.

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Cars of this era won’t win any safety awards, however. Someone added seatbelts to this one, a token gesture to keep you away from the non-collapsing steering column and steel dashboard if the unthinkable happened. Ralph Nader may have been a killjoy when it came to the Corvair, but he wasn’t wrong about the auto industry’s safety-last track record. But in this day and age, you’re not taking the kids to daycare in something like this, so it doesn’t matter as much.

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Someone has put a lot of work into this old Ford to get it ready for summertime cruising, however. The flathead runs like a top, and rumbles through dual exhausts with glasspacks. They also upgraded the braking system to a dual-servo power master cylinder, and added front wheel disc brakes. Strangely, they’ve left the original six-volt electrical system in place.

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Condition-wise, it looks pretty good. The interior is nice, and the paint is mostly shiny, and I don’t see any signs of serious rust, though the seller notes that there is a little in the bottoms of the doors. It does have some cracked windows (flat plate glass in these, no tempered safety glass here), but plenty of glass shops can help you with that.

1954 Hudson Wasp – $10,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 232 cubic inch flathead inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Stony Point, NY

Odometer reading: 57,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Sure does!

Hudson’s flathead inline six was every bit as far behind the times as Ford’s flathead V8. 1954 was the last year before Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to create American Motors, and the Hudson nameplate, and its line of flathead sixes dating back to 1916, wouldn’t make it past 1957. But in 1954, Hudson was going out in a blaze of NASCAR glory, with this car’s big brother, the Hornet, winning everything in sight. Hudson’s big flathead six was part of that winning formula, as was the low center of gravity from a body sitting inside the perimeter of the frame, rather than being perched atop it. This design was copied by every other carmaker in short order, and made the “longer, lower, wider” era possible.

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This Hudson Wasp doesn’t have the Hornet’s big race-winning 308 cubic inch engine. It makes do with 232 cubic inches and a single-barrel carburetor. This was good for only 112 horsepower, but like all low-revving sixes back then, approximately nine zillion pound-feet of torque. This one runs very well, the seller says. The car passed a New York state inspection test, which is a good sign.

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Inside, it’s in good honest shape, with one popped seam on the seat and a little bit of wear and tear, but it all looks original, which is impressive for a 69-year-old car. The seller says it was garaged for decades, which accounts for the low mileage as well.

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The car was repainted sometime in the ’70s, and while it’s not the shiniest thing around, it also isn’t rusty. There are a couple of underside photos in the listing, and it’s nice and clean underneath as well. And it looks like the blue is its original color. The chrome all looks good, but the seller says some replacement pieces are included.

If you go to a car show with a lot of ’50s American iron, it can be easy to assume that nothing before the ’55 Chevy and its small-block OHV V8 matters much. But that obviously isn’t true; here we have the last gasp of the very first affordable V8 – the engine that launched the entire hot-rodding scene, and the first engine to dominate stock-car racing – a simple old-fashioned valve-in-block inline six. Even better, the cars that these two legendary engines are installed in are good-looking and ready to roll. Which one will it be?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
1 year ago

They’re both lovely, but the Hudson looks portly, or overinflated. I think the Ford has gorgeous lines, and the maximum amount of chrome that good taste would permit. This would be my seventh Ford (counting the Mercurys), and I’d be totally okay with that. First thing I’d do is convert to 12 volts.

Cyko9
Cyko9
1 year ago

The Hudson is slightly more interesting, but if I were buying, I’d go with the Ford. Nice presence and maybe better parts support?

NDPilot
NDPilot
1 year ago

Gotta go with the Hudson, those 4 door step down Hudsons are some of the best looking sedans of the post war period. I came very close to buying 52 Wasp project car recently but ultimately opted for a different project.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

I like the “What is that?” factor of the Hudson.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 year ago

I’ll take them both.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

Ford, please!

I like an I6 but like a V8 even more. Black is a good color, the shade/awning thing over the top of the windshield looks good, and the front bumper and grille area look fantastic. The car also has Bluetooth, which will be handy if you can hear anything over the glasspacks. 🙂

Ferdinand Porsche said that a car shouldn’t go better than it can stop, and this one has power front disc brakes. IMO that’s a huge upgrade in terms of bang for the buck.

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago

They’re both good choices but I like blue and the Hudson is local to me. 60ish miles away is local right?

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Any location where one can drive there and back in under 12 hours is “local”. 🙂

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Oh I’m there with you but sometimes just getting upstate is exhausting because of the typical NY insanity on the roads. If I leave early enough though usually it’s the smoothest ride.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 year ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Shoot, that’s right next door.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago

I don’t have a strong preference. Both seem like cool vehicles for the money. I’ll take the Hudson, but only because I like the color.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

blue is a cooler color, so I chose that one

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 year ago

Hudson. Something something inline 6. Passing a NY safety inspection is also a good sign. This being as old as it is, it’s emissions exempt at least upstate.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 year ago

Flathead sixes aren’t exactly BMW territory. Dad’s ‘48 Chrysler was dog slow and sucked the gonjuicenlike a hotrod Olds to make up for it.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 year ago

I like the ford. Having one tried to key a 53 running for more than 10 minutes took a mobile toolkit and constant tinkering. Don’t want that again, turn key and drive is what I look for now.

Dug Deep
Dug Deep
1 year ago

normally I’d choose the Hudson, but years and years ago I was mountain biking on some trails near the Kansas River and found a piece of automotive trim buried in the sand. It’s that little piece you can see above and in front of the wheel near the V8 badge…a long skinny piece that says “Customline”. It’s been hanging in my garage for a couple of decades now, it’d be fun to have a second and third that come attached to a car.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago

Well, I was moving down the road
In my V-8 Ford
I had a shine on my boots
I had my sideburns lowered
With my New York brim
And my gold tooth displayed
Nobody give me trouble
Because they know I got it made

I’m bad, I’m nationwide
Well, I’m bad, bad, bad
Bad, bad, I’m nationwide, yeah, yeah

I gotta go with the Tres Hombres on this one. And yeah, I’d be cranking Nationwide every time I got in it.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

I had already voted Hudson while my brain was still going, “…but the Ford has much better parts availability.”

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
1 year ago

The Hudson has a fat bubble of rust near the passenger side lower trunk lid and, given the geographical location, I suspect there is more. I’ll take a car from WA over a car from NY most days, especially if it’s cheaper

Last edited 1 year ago by TheHairyNug
Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
1 year ago

They are both great, but I had to go with the Hudson simply because I absolutely love the design of those. I’ll likely never own a car that old, but if money was no issue, a Hudson Hornet would be my choice. Since the Wasp covers most of the aesthetic bases for me, it’s got my nod today. That Ford does look mighty good though…

DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
1 year ago

Hudson wins here, chop the roof by an inch or two, de-chrome. Paint it in a deep, deep blue. Recaro seats with that blue-checkered pattern. And add a GM performance crate motor w/ 6-Spd.

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
1 year ago

These are both in great shape and priced very reasonably. Personally I like the look of the Ford.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago
Reply to  Robot Turds

I have the same thoughts, but prefer the Hudson. Always have been a sucker for a blue car…

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

The Hudson is a bit less cluttered with trim: it’s a cleaner shoebox.
Good matchup today. With both close in condition, price, and year, it comes down to just aesthetics. Anyone know if both have vacuum-operated windshield wipers?A friend’s 52 Ford amused me by having great action at a stoplight, but barely wiped the windshield when accelerating.

David Hudson
David Hudson
1 year ago

The Hudson is a better looking car. And my namesake. Easy choice.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Both appear to be in excellent condition, so it comes down to subjective choice and, for me, the cleaner lines of the Wasp win the day. Doesn’t hurt that’s it’s a nice blue, too.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
1 year ago

BOTH! As in: this is a terrible choice to make, because either one is classy as hell. And, if they’re in decent shape, either is a nice driver.

I picked the Hudson, because NASCAR. I’d resto-mod it by finding and installing a 308 Twin-H-Power setup, or maybe even build a “7X” clone. Then I could live my best Herb Thomas life.

SAABstory
SAABstory
1 year ago

Since neither one of these was disqualified due to something obvious (massive rust, non-running for decades, salvage title, electrical system eaten by CHUDS or something like that) it comes down to personal preference and price. Either one of these looks decent for the money, if you want a fifties car, so it was the rear-window shot of the Hudson that did it for me.

I’d take the Hudson, but if someone bought it before me I’d also gladly buy the Ford.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 year ago

I once rode from Tampa to Detroit (and back) in a 1953 Packard. 5 passengers, 55mph, blazing summer heat, no air conditioning. Ever since, 50s cars give me PTSD flashbacks.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 year ago

An orphan doesn’t matter at this age, so I’ll take the Hudson.

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