The ’49 Hudson Comes to the Beat Museum

Neal Cassady’s legendary ‘49 Hudson, made famous in Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road, is lost to posterity. Other than Jack’s description of it in the novel (to the point where it is almost a character in the book) and the memory of it in the minds of Neal’s wife Carolyn Cassady and his friend Al Hinkle (‘Big Ed Dunkel’ in the book) there is nothing tangible that can prove it ever even existed. There is no bill of sale, no vehicle identification number, no license plate—not even a photograph. It’s memory is kept alive in the mind of the reader.

And perhaps this is the way it should be. The ‘49 Hudson represents a dream, and dreams are malleable. The Hudson represents Freedom and Desire and “Go, go, go…” as Neal would say, so perhaps it is fitting that you can’t really touch it. The Hudson represents anticipation, the joy of being alive in the world and heading towards that next horizon. It’s an inner journey that is experienced in the external world. In other times the vehicle for this exploration might have been a sailing ship, a white horse in the Cowboy West, or in the future, Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon.

So none of us can really see the actual ‘49 Hudson that Jack & Neal drove across America. Because there is no tangible record of it, some car collector might be showcasing it as the pride of his collection, yet unaware of its lineage. That, or it might be rusting away in some junkyard in Mexico, or as Neal and Carolyn’s son, John Allen Cassady, is fond of saying, “It’s probably at the bottom of some ravine in the hills of California.”

Your Chance to See the ‘49 Hudson

Today, however—thanks to the generosity of Walter Salles and the good folks involved in the production of the upcoming movie, On the Road—you can see the next best thing. You can come to The Beat Museum and see the one ‘49 Hudson that matters. You can come see the actual car that was used in the shooting of the movie, On The Road.

You gotta love this car! When you see her, there’s a reverence in the room. Garret Hedlund (portraying Neal Cassady in the upcoming film) drove this car all over the country for the primary shoot, and then he and Walter took a 4,000 mile roadtrip from coast to coast and border to border to capture the scenery of America (see that story here: 4000 Miles in a ’49 Hudson).

In December of 2010, when the cast and crew were in San Francisco to shoot the final scenes for the movie, Walter Salles took my wife and I aside and said, “You two have built a magnificent place where people can come and learn about the spirit of The Beat Generation, and you’re encouraging people to read of all these unique cats’ books. And we want to do the same thing in our own way. You’re doing it with a museum, we’re doing it with a movie. So, we’ve decided that when we’re finished with the car, it is going to permanently reside at The Beat Museum. We may come and get it from time to time, maybe for the premier or for some other kind of promotion, but as far as we’re concerned this is its home. The ‘49 Hudson belongs at The Beat Museum.”

Well, there’s not much you can say after someone makes you an offer like that! We were thrilled to the moon, of course, and we started making plans as to how we were going to manage all that. Walter and company held onto the car, of course, in order to do that second unit shoot back in April of 2011, and then they took the car in-studio so they could record the sounds of the engine roaring and the tires squealing. It had to be the actual car making those noises; that’s just the kind of authentic filmmaker Walter Salles is.

You’ll notice in the photographs there is dust and dirt all over the car. The hand prints are from when the mechanics were working on it. Walter told me, “Jerry, when you display the car, don’t let anyone wash her. That’s the original road dirt and grime that represents her 5,000 mile journey across America.”

About a month ago Walter contacted me from Brazil and said, “Jerry, I was going to have the Hudson shipped to you on a flatbed truck, but when I was speaking with Garrett, he said, ‘No, I want to drive it up from LA and personally deliver it to The Beat Museum.’”

The next day I get a call from Garrett Hedlund. “Do you have John Cassady’s phone number? I want to call John and invite him and Al Hinkle to drive with me as we make the roadtrip together to deliver the Hudson.”

Talk about classy. Everyone who has been involved in this movie production is nothing but a class act. John Cassady and Al Hinkle were both thrilled to be asked to participate, of course. Neal Cassady’s son and his childhood friend from Denver who was actually a character in the book in the car with the actor playing Neal Cassady.

So, the big day finally came for the arrival of The ‘49 Hudson at The Beat Museum. The Hudson ran strong and true as John and Garrett screamed up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA on their way to SF. They made a stop in San Jose to pick up Al Hinkle, and Al’s daughter, Dawn, followed in a chase car as they drove the last sixty miles to The Beat Museum.

We held up traffic and blocked off Broadway and Columbus as we positioned the mighty machine to jump two sets of curbs with some specially designed ramps we had built. People on the street stopped and gawked. They didn’t know it was Garrett and John and Al in the the ‘49 Hudson. All they saw was this glorious old classic car driving through the front entrance of a building. Garrett needed to maneuver her around a bit to get around all the support beams and pillars, then jumped out of the drivers seat to hugs and celebrations all around.