What Car Did Jack Kerouac Drive in ‘On the Road?’

On the Road, by the Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac, is viewed by many as the quintessential road trip book. Beloved by members of the counterculture, travelers, and literary enthusiasts alike, On the Road tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Kerouac and friends taking a cross-country journey across the United States. With road travel at the heart and center of the book, you may wonder, “What car did Jack Kerouac drive in On the Road?” Read more to find out the answer.

1949 Hudson Commodore: The car in ‘On the Road’

Front view of maroon 1949 Hudson Commodore
1949 Hudson Commodore | Fernando Lavoz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

First off, “What car did Jack Kerouac drive in On the Road?” is somewhat of a trick question. This is because Dean Moriarty is the person that drives the car on a cross-country trip in On the Road, not Kerouac. Dean Moriarty is the fictional name used in the book for Neal Cassidy, while Sal Paradise is the character name for Jack Kerouac. The car that Dean Moriarty drives in On the Road is a 1949 Hudson Commodore, as detailed by Autoweek

Despite his association with road travel, Jack Kerouac very rarely drove a car. He shares this with many other famous luminaries, such as Albert Einstein, Rae Bradbury, and Woodrow Wilson. Einstein did drive a flying car but in a very unusual way.

Hudson Motor Car Company produced the Hudson Commodore from 1941 to 1952. The Commodore was the largest and most luxurious model for Hudson during this period. It changed over time, with new features and styling with each successive generation. The 1949 Hudson Commodore was the third-generation model for the nameplate. Compared to the previous model year, it is larger. One of the reasons for the size increase of the car was to accommodate more luxurious Custom models. 

1949 Hudson Commodore at the Beat Museum in San Francisco

Hudon badge on maroon 1949 Hudson Commodore
1949 Hudson Commodore | Fernando Lavoz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The epicenter of the Beat movement is San Francisco, and that’s where the Beat Museum has a 1949 Hudson Commodore on display. It’s stuffed between exhibits and bookshelves, covered in dust and grime — and with the doors open. There’s a sign next to the car that “requests that the car not be cleaned as it has the road grime of America on it.”

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The 1949 Hudson Commodore at the Beat Museum is the same car that was used in the 2012 movie adaptation of On the Road. The film features an all-star ensemble cast, including Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, and Kirsten Dunst. Sam Riley played Sal Paradise, while Garrett Hedlund played Dean Moriarty. Also, Francis Ford Coppola was one of the producers of the film. 

‘On the Road’ influenced other road books and movies

On the Road is a pioneering book and heavily influenced other road books and movies that followed. This includes Easy Rider, Thelma & Louise, and Vanishing Point. Part of the reason why On the Road is timeless and influential is because of its core message of “the journey is more important than the destination.” This is a message that still resonates with people today.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane, visit the Beat Museum in San Francisco. Check out the 1949 Hudson Commodore and imagine what it was like for Jack Kerouac to ride across the country in On the Road.

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