Gene McKay sees beauty in every old part – a rust-colored fender, a worn steering wheel, a tarnished headlight.
When brought together in the restoration of a classic, every discarded piece has a role. McKay should know. He has been rebuilding old cars for much of his life – first as a mechanically gifted teen under the tutelage of a big brother, then as a retired engineer and president of the local chapter of Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Motor Club.
This week Spokane is being treated to a gathering of these cars with a special place in racing history.
There are boxy sedans from the 1920s and curvaceous coupes of the ’30s. But it’s the Hornets from Hudson’s glory years of the 1950s that most capture McKay.
“That’s when this car company was on top of its game,” he said. Hudson racing cars dominated top-tier racing, setting records and winning a string of championships with its powerful straight-six, 308-cubic-inch engine from 1951 to 1954, McKay said.
The car company’s star then went dark.
Executives ignored the wants of car buyers in the 1950s. Rather than the focus on style and size that epitomized the American car scene of the 1950s, those in charge bet the company’s fortune on smaller models that didn’t captivate the market.
By 1958 Hudson was done, and fans were left joining car clubs.
The local Hudson club has about 120 members and this week is celebrating the 101st anniversary of the brand’s birth.
There are more than 100 of the cars and 450 enthusiasts traveling to the meet that began Monday and runs through Friday.
“The only prerequisite is you have to like ’em,” McKay said.
Elaine Whieldon does. She brought her unusual 1934 Hudson convertible from Cranbrook, B.C.
She bought it 15 years ago at the urging of her brother, who said the car, painted sunburn-red, was worthy of a calendar.
“It had my name written all over it,” she said.
McKay brought five of his Hudsons to the meet, gently backing each into wide parking spaces outside the Red Lion Hotel at the Park.
Among his favorites is a ’53 Hornet painted a two-tone confection of seafoam and forest green. His daughter has declared it will be hers one day.
Another is a carefully restored convertible that he found 20 years ago in north Spokane with a tree growing through it.
“Lots of these cars have such stories,” said McKay, who said his first Hudson was a 1950 Commodore he salvaged from the Spaulding junkyard when he was a young married man.
“I straightened it out and drove it 150,000 miles. I still have it.”
Gawkers, buyers and everyone in between is welcome to walk the lot and talk to the owners. After all, McKay said, “that’s what the club is really all about. We’re friends first. The cars just brought us all together.”