Back in its day, the Hudson Super Six was known as “the gangster’s car.” So when Monte Gisborne stumbled upon one for sale locally, he knew he was getting a steal.
What he didn’t know, though, was he already had a connection to the 1929 car.
Gisborne, who’s brought renewed life to about 25 vintage vehicles and even a boat, was hunting the internet for parts for a restoration project of an old bus when the dark green sedan popped up on his computer screen instead.
Gisborne said he quickly realized this was a special find.
The Hudson Super Six was renowned for its engineering. Its flathead six-cylinder engine could get the car up to 70 mph and cruise there all day long. That’s what made it so desirable to gangsters who could use that sustained power to out-distance pursuing police cars after a heist or a hit. In fact, lore has it that at one time sheriffs and police captains were warned by the FBI that if a Hudson Super Six was reported stolen in their community, they could expect a bank robbery within the week.
But, Gisborne said, what made this Hudson especially appealing was its original condition and extremely low mileage — it was last driven in 1960, in a parade, and had been squirrelled away in a museum and warehouse ever since.
The museum was owned by the late Cap Hobbis, who loved collecting cars as much as he loved selling bicycles from his shop in New Westminster’s Sapperton neighbourhood. While much of his 35-car collection was sold off at auction in the 1990s, the Hudson was bequeathed to one of his sons, Gerald, who remembers being assigned to take the wheel of the tall car when he was 11 years-old as his dad towed it home attached by a rope to the bumper of his car after he’d acquired it from its original owner.
There, Cap Hobbis tinkered with his latest prize so it could join some of his other cars in a special parade to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BC Automobile Association. The temporary driving permit for that day is still affixed to the Hudson’s front windshield.
Gisborne, who returned to Coquitlam last year after many years away to help run a family business in Prince Edward Island, said he was gobsmacked when a Hobbis replied to his enquiry about the Hudson for sale on the internet.
In Gisborne's younger days back in the 1970s, he was quite an accomplished unicyclist and often joined the eclectic troupe of penny farthings and other two- and three-wheeled contraptions employees and friends of Cap’s bike shops pedalled in parades around the Lower Mainland. On his phone, he even has a digital copy of an old photo of him on his unicycle in the foreground with a bearded Gerald and his brother, Gord, high atop their penny farthings in the background.
The circle of destiny was just too good, Gisborne said. “It was a natural for me to buy the car.”
Hobbis said after keeping the car up on blocks in a warehouse for 18 years it was time to let it go.
“I don’t have a place for it anymore,” he said. “To have a classic car, you need a three-car garage and it’s not something you can easily do.”
In the month since Gisborne completed the purchase, he’s worked to get it running again and connected with other collectors as far away as New Zealand and Florida to acquire original parts. He said he doesn’t believe in restoring his projects as much as servicing them back to working condition and the Hudson likely hadn’t seen a wrench in many years.
Considering the Hudson’s vintage, Gisborne said the repairs he’s had to do have been pretty minimal — cleaning out the gunk from the oil pan, rewiring the electrical system, fixing the rim for the spare tire.
“I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” he said.
Just how lucky will be determined after just a few more deliveries of parts by courier, a little more grease on his fingers and then he gets to fire the old car up again for the first time in more than 60 years.
“This is like a vacation for me,” Gisborne said. “I get to travel to a different time and place.”