Terraplane Ruggedness Run in Montpelier, Vermont

The 1930s seemed to be the last great age of the publicity stunt for automobiles. Radio had already made inroads, and within a decade or two television would become the next great medium to reach the masses, but in the 1930s promoting new cars to a nationwide audience still took some creativity, something that Hudson was full of when it came to the Terraplane. Introduced in 1932, the very first Terraplane went to Orville Wright, while the second went to Amelia Earhart. Terraplanes captured hill climb and land-speed records, climbed Pike’s Peak, and in late 1934 went on a nationwide Ruggedness Run.

Or, actually, several Ruggedness Runs. Over on the Hemmings Forums, yellerspirit recently brought to our attention the above photo depicting a Terraplane sedan parked in front of the Vermont state house in October 1934, advertising the fact that it was “making the Hudson-Terraplane Ruggedness Run.” It had been christened “The Colonial Cruiser” and carried a map of a meandering route around New England in its rear window.

As we see in a few contemporary newspaper articles, Hudson planned about 20 such Ruggedness Runs across the country, each using a 1934 Terraplane already in the hands of a customer, sent out for two weeks straight on pre-selected circuits (or “Ruggedness Routes”) of 1,500 to 1,800 miles.

“All sorts of roads are included in the run which has been laid out as a real demonstration of the stamina and ruggedness of the car,” wrote the Pittsburgh Press. “Performance demonstrations are included in the program along the route. It is estimated that the car will complete the circuit every two or three days.”

Terraplane Ruggedness Run in Everett, Washington

Hudson apparently chose the lucky Terraplane owners who would lend the use of their cars for the two weeks via a drawing, the same way they chose the names for the cars participating in the runs, and offered some sorts of prizes for the winners. A quick search turns up evidence of five Ruggedness Runs: the Colonial Cruiser throughout New England; the unnamed car that traveled through Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and Delaware; the Cascade Express, which hit Washington state (and, likely, Oregon as well); the Golden Gate Flyer, Sacramento resident W.W. Luce’s car that covered California; and the Gulf States Flyer, which saw service in Florida and possibly other states in the Deep South.

The Ruggedness Runs certainly worked in attracting newspaper coverage as well as in selling newspaper ads right underneath the coverage and in attracting customers to Hudson-Terraplane showrooms. They very well could have also been instrumental in causing Terraplane sales to jump from 56,804 in 1934 to 70,323 in 1935. It’s a good bet that at least one of the 20 or so Ruggedness Runs cars survive today, though we’ve yet to come across any.