Al's Hudson Company
Image: granada_turnier 2003
Midway between the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and Phoenix, in Maricopa, Arizona is home to the world-famous Estrella Sailport for soaring, Harrah's Casino featuring more than 475 slot machines. But less well known, it is also home to Al Saffrahn's, 'Al's Hudson Company'. Al's may not be world famous in the same sense as The Sailport or Harrah's Casino, but in certain circles it is a legendary facility.
For the majority of Al's 62 years he has worked on Hudsons. In 1948, Al's grandfather opened a body shop in Illinois; Al was his helper. Grandfather preferred to work on Hudsons, and it wasn't long before Al "...knew every nut, bolt and wrench size." The step-down Hudsons fascinated Al and enthusiastically absorbed everything his grandfather knew about bodywork, rebuilding engines, clutches, transmissions, rear ends, etc. Today, Al is a walking encyclopedia of Hudson knowledge.
Al remembers sitting in brand-new Hudsons that had paper on the doors to protect the upholstery and paper on the bumpers to keep them from scratching. From his bodywork experience, he knows that there was also paper behind the bumper guard. Recently, Al acquired a 1951 Hornet Club Coupe with only 23,000 miles. After removing the bumper guard, to his amazement, there it was--the original paper!
Al definitely grew up with Hudsons in the family. He learned to drive in a 1949 C6 Hudson, then bought a '49 Super Six 4-door which he drove to school. In 1956, his grandfather bought a '47 Hudson truck for use at the body shop. Al inherited the vehicle in 1972 and restored it with the help of his son, Mike. The truck remains in the family, residing with Mike in Illinois.
Al joined the Hudson Essex Terraplane Club in 1963. He was driving a 1939 Hudson at the time, but wanted a 1946 or 1947 Hudson convertible, which he finally acquired in 1968 and still owns today. He was the first HET member to have a convertible in the Chicago area. His most recent acquisition is a '37 Terraplane.
In 1984, he moved from Illinois to Arizona and opened an auto repair shop. It turned out Al wasn't happy working on new cars. He closed the shop in 1990 and starting restoring Hudsons full time. Since then, he has built his own Hudson shop in which he builds custom engines, clutches, transmissions, rear ends, brakes, front suspension, steering boxes, and does all Hudson mechanical work. He has sixty parts cars in the yard, about fifteen of which are restorable and for sale. He also has tons of loose parts.
I asked owner Al about the name of his outfit and how he advertises his services. Al explained that his business doesn't really have a formal name and that he never has advertised. "Everybody knows me," he said of the Hudson community. Al is renowned throughout the Hudson underground as a source for parts and services otherwise very difficult to obtain. Al's advertising is by word of mouth.
Just get on a Hudson Internet chat or forum and ask about Hudson repair gurus--Al's name will surely pop up with only a few others as full-service Hudson specialists. At this point, Al can go to almost any Hudson show and have the satisfaction of seeing cars that have enjoyed the gentle ministrations of his skilled hands.
A few of the projects underway are a frame-off restoration of a '47 business coupe;, installation of a 7x engine for a '47 Hudson pickup; and all mechanical phases, wiring harness and mechanicals on a '54 Hornet and a '53 Hornet Convertible.
Al is now very focused on mechanical systems. Paint and upholstery are departments he leaves to others. But if you are interested in having your engine properly rebuilt, Al is used to doing it right. Al's rebuild includes vatting and cleaning of all components, cylinder block magnaflux, cylinder head magnaflux and cut, decking of top, boring, steel-lite valve seats, new guides, stainless steel valves, crank shaft regrind, all new bearings, manifold heat riser repairs and planning of gasket surfaces, all brass freeze plugs, with rebuilds for the carburetor, starter, generator, distributor and water pump. Engine blocks are painted with glyptal red inside. Last, but not least, engines are completely balanced, including clutch. The engines are the same as they were new from the factory. Transmissions include all new bearings and seals and the replacement of any worn out gearing. Al leans toward all-original work, but also does rod and custom.
This last year, a hazard of the Sonora desert managed to slow Al down. While out with his dog, a sidewinder rattlesnake bit them both, striking Al on both feet. The incident left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down and the recovery has taken time. I asked Al if he had someone to carry on. He said he'd love to teach someone his trade, but today most young car enthusiasts are less interested in restoring Hudsons than in tricking out new Hondas, "...and I can't really blame them. Hudson's are what I grew up with. They're growing up with Hondas." Frequently folks advise him to record his experience. He isn't against such an undertaking; it's just that he's too busy rebuilding Hudsons.
Al's vast store of knowledge gained from experience ought to be preserved. Since he's plenty busy working on Hudsons, the job of preservation is rightly someone else's. Hopefully, someone will step up to the job as either an apprentice or archivist. When they do, let us know. There are sure to be a few good articles in that story.