Garrett Hedlund (portraying Neal Cassady in the upcoming film adaptation of Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, directed by Walter Salles) drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco on December 7th, 2011 to deliver the 1949 Hudson used in the movie to The Beat Museum. Accompanying Hedlund were John Allen Cassady (son of the real Neal) and Al Hinkle (‘Big Ed Dunkel’ in the book, and the last living man to have accompanied Jack & Neal).
The 1949 Hudson is now on ongoing public display at 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.”