Ben Parker
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The Influence of the Hudson Motor Car Company on Disneyland’s Legacy

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Doc Hudson Animatronic at Radiator Springs Racers in Disneyland, California
Doc Hudson inside the Radiator Springs Racers ride at Disneyland
Photo: Inside the Magic via CC

Before Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney created a pre-opening report for the general public that gave insight on how the park was being created. During this report, a man representing Hudson Motor Car Company, a division of American Motors Corporation, was inviting kids to visit dealerships to get exclusive items and enter to win a trip to Disneyland. But what ever happened to the company that influenced part of Disneyland’s legacy?

What Disneyland prizes did Hudson dealers offer?

At about the halfway point of the pre-opening report broadcast, a commercial aired that showed a man in a Hudson showroom, sitting behind a desk. He invited kids to visit their local Hudson dealer with “mother or dad, or both” to get an autographed photo of actor Fess Parker, the star of Disney’s Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, which had released two months prior to the report’s airing and was an integral part of what many call the “Davy Crockett Craze.” The promotion for the trip, however, had been in print ads before the Disneyland pre-opening report.

Print ad for the Hudson Hornet, featuring Fess Parker, star of "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier"
An ad featuring Fess Parker, star of Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier
Photo: Alden Jewell via CC

Kids would also get an exclusive Walt Disney edition of a 16-page Davy Crockett comic book that was not available for purchase anywhere. (That’ll get the kids to nag mom and dad to go to a Hudson dealership!)

In addition to getting the free stuff, anyone who visited a Hudson showroom would also have a chance to win a trip for three to Disneyland Park in California. There were 27 prizes that only included the trip, all expenses paid, and three big prizes that added in the excitement of a new Hudson car:

  • Grand Prize: Trip for three plus a Hudson Hornet Hollywood Custom V8
  • Second Prize: Trip for three plus a Hudson Wasp Custom 4 Door
  • Third Prize: Trip for three plus a Hudson Rambler Cross Country Station Wagon

The contest ended promptly at midnight on July 16, 1955, just before Disneyland opened the next day. A press photo from August 1955 showed more than 30 children (and their parents) from 27 states who won the trip to Disneyland Park. In addition to two days at Disneyland, the families also traveled to Catalina Island and got a tour of Los Angeles.  

When researching the contest, I came across an anonymous commenter on the Vintage Disneyland Tickets blog who stated, “My parents were the grand prize winners in that contest. I was born years later. I remember riding around in the Hudson Hornet. My Mom still talks about the plane ride, the trip to Disneyland and Catalina Island.”

Another anonymous commenter said, “My uncle, Karl Rimer, won one of the 3 cars and a trip to Disneyland. He was from NC … They fell in love with CA and moved from NC to CA several years after winning this trip.”

Print ad for the Hudson Wasp 4-Door Sedan
Photo: Alden Jewell via CC

The end of Hudson Motor Car Company

Hudson Motor Car Company was founded in 1909, but saw sales fall significantly after the second World War. Thus, in May 1954, appliance company Nash-Kelvinator merged with Hudson Motor Car Company to create American Motors Corporation, commonly referred to as AMC or American Motors over the years. The Hudson name was discontinued on vehicles after the 1957 model year.

After the merger, AMC created a handful of popular vehicles, including the Gremlin, a car that was driven by former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Other top vehicular creations included the Rebel, Hornet 360, Rambler Marlin, and Ambassador. Some of the last cars made by AMC were a series of Renault subcompacts that were re-engineered versions of the French cars of the same name, but for the American and Canadian markets.

A green AMC Gremlin parked in a rural home area
Photo: Gerry Dincher via CC

What happened to American Motors Corporation?

In 1988 (and after various other acquisitions and mergers), AMC was renamed Jeep Eagle Corporation, a Chrysler subsidiary. It was then fully merged into the Chrysler company in early 1990, which still exists to this day, under the Stellantis corporation.

Amazingly enough, the Walt Disney Company still has strong ties to AMC and the Hudson Motor Car Company to this day. The popular character Doc Hudson from the film Carswho is featured in the Disneyland ride Radiator Springs Racers — was named and styled after the real-life Fabulous Hudson Hornet, a NASCAR vehicle manufactured by the auto brand during the early 1950s.