Wednesday, December 7, 2016

1937 Terraplane

During the author’s recent visit to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River Oregon, this fine museum displayed a remarkable rarely-seen automobile, a 1937 Terraplane 3-passenger coupe.

The Hudson Motor Car Company, luxury car brand founded in 1909 introduced the lower cost Essex nameplate in 1919, but by 1932, Essex sales had plunged and Hudson executives led by Chairman Roy D. Chapin decided that a new name was needed.
The cars were named ‘Terraplane’ to capture Americans fascination with aviation. For 1933 the sales slogan was “on the sea that's aquaplaning, in the air that's aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, that’s Terraplaning.”

Orville Wright posed with his 1932 Essex-Terraplane

The new Essex-Terraplane line was introduced on July 21, 1932, at a special event staged in Detroit before 2,000 dealer representatives from 40 of the 48 states.  Amelia Earhart the famous aviatrix , who just months before had completed the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean christened the first Essex-Terraplane off the production line which went to aviation pioneer Orville Wright, with the second car given to Amelia herself.  

In her remarks (which can viewed on YouTube), Miss Earhart stated that the Terraplane car was of particular interest to aviators because of its high power-to-weight ratio and the steady manner in which it handled at high speeds. At the conclusion of the ceremony, each dealer representative drove off in a new Essex-Terraplane demonstrator. 
At the 1932 National Air Races in Cleveland Ohio a new Essex-Terraplane was the prize for Amelia Earhart trophy race for woman pilots won by 28-year old Florence Klingensmith who would perish a year later in the crash of the Gee Bee Model Y Senior Sportster during the 1933 Phillips Trophy race.

For 1933 Essex-Terraplane offered an optional eight-cylinder engine but the eight cylinder option was dropped after one year. For the 1934 model year, the Essex name was dropped with the cars were sold simply as Terraplanes. The 1937 Terraplane on display at the WAAAM is one of 83,426 sold that year either as a ‘Deluxe’ or ‘Super’ models. Both models were equipped with the same L-head 6-cylinder 212-cubic inch engine, but the ‘Super’ version was equipped with a second Carter carburetor.

Terraplane engines used just three crankshaft bearings, but Hudson claimed that they “had a larger bearing area than any other car in their price range” and used “Duo-flo” oiling for increased engine life. Sales literature explained that the “Duo-flo” Automatic Lubrication System “gives a positive flow of oil to every working part of the engine from the moment of starting throughout the period of operation and conditions the oil so that all oil supplied by the oscillating plunger pump is cooled and freed of solid matter and diluents.”

The 1937 Terraplane completely redesigned after 1936 featured a welded all-steel body that rode on a 117-inch wheelbase 1-3/4 inch by 7-1/4 inch steel frame equipped with 16 x 4- inch steel wheels with hydraulic brakes and Monroe shock absorbers on each wheel.  Terraplane sales literature claimed that the “herringbone louvers in addition to ventilating the power plant harmonizes with the body design” and that the “headlamps are decorations by day and safety beacons by night” and that the “broad ‘V’ windshield has tasteful lines symbolic of the trend-leading style.”
The WAAAM 1937 Terraplane 3-passenger coupe. One can easily see the distinctive stainless steel grille, red rocket-styled hood ornament, fully crowned fenders and rounded bumpers. For optional equipment this Terraplane which retailed for $755 is shown fitted with chrome wheel rings ($8.50 for the set), white sidewall tires, outside mirrors ($1.95 each), and twin amber fog lights ($14.00 each). 

Hudson used the slogan of “Three Steps Ahead” to sell the 1937 Terraplane; the three steps were performance, driving & riding, and style & comfort. Another sales feature of the Terraplane was its width and to that end, dealers passed out 55-inch rulers emblazoned with the phrase”lay this ruler across the seat of a 37 Hudson or Terraplane and close both doors - then try it with any other car."

Interestingly the Terraplane was one of the earliest cars to use warning lights on the dashboard.  In addition to the speedometer, “mileage meter,” gasoline gauge, and water temperature gauge the 1937 Terraplane used “Tele-flash” warning lights to monitor engine oil pressure and operation of the generator.  Hudson claimed the “Tele-flash” lights provided more conspicuous warnings which rendered ‘old fashioned’ gauges obsolete.

The restored WAAM car was shown finished in a modern version of “Mandalay Ivory” one of ten colors available. Hudson claimed that the “new high solid, low-viscosity lacquer-developed by Hudson's paint laboratory working in conjunction with Rinshed-Mason paint manufacturers” was deeper and longer lasting. 
Terraplane spokeswoman Amelia Earhart went missing in July 1937 during her ill-fated circumnavigation (around-the world) flight. Just like Amelia herself, the whereabouts of her 1932 Essex-Terraplane is shrouded in mystery. The confusion begins as there are photographs of Earhart posed next to two different Essex-Terraplanes, one a 6-cylinder Model K sedan and the other an 8-cylinder Model KT convertible.  

According to author Douglas Westfall, her widower George P. Putnam kept Amelia’s Essex-Terraplane Model K sedan and the car was sold after his death in 1950. Amelia’s car appeared to have been lost until Hudson collector Bill Albright located one of the first 2000 1932 Essex-Terraplanes cars built for the dealer drive-away which he claimed was the Earhart car. The restored car today belongs to collector Jim Somers.

For the 1938 model year the Hudson Motor Company began to phase out the Terraplane name. Sales vice-president W.R. Tracy issued a bulletin in October 1937 that stated “all of our 1938 model cars will be classified as Hudsons and will be registered in state registration reports as Hudsons.  The 'Terraplane' name from this time forward will represent one of the 'Hudson' series of cars.”

That same year Hudson introduced their Model ‘112’ powered by a 175-cubic inch 6-cylinder engine which rode on a 112-inch wheelbase which was equipped similarly to the Hudson Terraplane. At the end of the 1938 model year the Terraplane nameplate ceased to exist.   

Much of the background information for this article was gathered from manuals and brochures available at


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