Historic Car Brands
Nash Motors Company was an American automobile manufacturer based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the United States from 1916 to 1937. From 1937 to 1954, Nash Motors was the automotive division of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. Nash production continued from 1954 to 1957, after the creation of American Motors Corporation.
Although former farm labourer Charles W Nash had worked his way up to become president of General Motors at the age of 48 in 1912, his ambition was to manufacture his own brand of motor car.
When ‘Billy’ Durant bought his way back into GM in 1916, Nash resigned and acquired the Thomas B Jeffery Company. Jeffery’s then best-known automobile was the Rambler, whose mass production from a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin had begun in 1902.
“We shall build up to a standard; not down to a price,” Nash told the company’s employees and dealers. Early Nash cars had the front wheel track set slightly narrower than the rear, to improve sway resistance.
The 1917 Nash Model 671, powered by a Nils Eric Wahlberg-designed overhead-valve, four-litre six, was the first vehicle to bear the name of the new company’s founder. Sales were positive in 1918 at 10,283 units. More models were added in 1919 and sales rose to 27,081 for the year.
Nash Jeffery Quad – Wolfgang 22
Beside the new Nash cars, the existing four-wheel drive Jeffery Quad truck that had begun production in 1913 became an important cash-earner for Nash.
Quads moved material during World War I under severe conditions and the newly formed Nash Motors became the largest producer of four-wheel drives in the USA. By 1918, capacity constraints at Nash meant the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company began to assemble the Nash Quad under licence.
The Quad used Meuhl limited-slip differentials, with half-shafts mounted above load-bearing, ‘dead’ axles and drove the hubs through reduction, portal gearing. In addition, the Quad featured four-wheel steering, allowing the rear wheels to track behind the fronts, which was a boon in the muddy conditions in France, in World War I.
War Surplus Quads were used in fields such as mining, construction and logging, and newly-built ones joined them. By the time it was phased out in 1928 the Quad had racked up 41,674 sales.
1922 Nash Roadster 42 – Douglas Wilkinson
In addition to designing the 1917 Nash car engine, ex-GM-engineer Wahlberg later helped to design flow-through ventilation that is used today in nearly every motor vehicle. (Introduced in 1938, Nash’s Weather Eye directed fresh, outside air into the car’s fan-boosted ventilation system and was then exhausted through rear vents.)
Following a brief shutdown in 1920, in response the post-War economic slump, Nash bounced back with the introduction of a lower-cost, 2.5-litre four in 1921.
Nash took over the Mitchell Motor Car Company in 1922.
1925 Nash – Christopher Ziemnowicz
In 1924, Nash absorbed LaFayette Motors that was a producer of large, powerful, expensive luxury cars, but whose sales were poor by the early 1920s. Charles W Nash was major shareholder in Lafayette and he and his business associates mounted a take-over.
In 1924, Nash converted Mitchell’s Wisconsin plant to produce his planned entry-level Ajax models.
For the 1925 model year, the Ajax was available in three body styles: four-door sedan, four-door touring and a two-door sedan. The Ajax was powered by Nash’s 2.8-litre, straight-six engine with a seven-main-bearing crankshaft, force-feed lubrication system, three-speed transmission and four-wheel brakes.
1927 Nash Six Touring – Lars-Goran Lindgren
It could achieve ‘a genuine 60mph’ (97 km/h), but sales were disappointing and feedback suggested that the Ajax would sell better if it were called a ‘Nash’. So, the Ajax became the ‘Nash Light Six’ in June, 1926 and sales did improve, just as expected.
In a masterpiece of clever marketing, Nash Motors offered all Ajax owners a kit to ‘convert’ their Ajax models into Nash Light Sixes.
This kit was supplied at no charge and included a set of new hubcaps, radiator badge and other parts needed to change the identity of an Ajax into that of a Nash Light Six.
This was done to protect Ajax owners from the inevitable drop in resale value when the Ajax marque was discontinued. Most Ajax owners took advantage of this move, and ‘unconverted’ Ajax cars are rare today.
Nash’s slogan from the late-1920s and 1930s was: “Give the customer more than he has paid for,” and the cars lived up to it.
1929 Nash 400 – Owner Jorgen Simonsen
A straight-eight, 3.9-litre engine with overhead valves, twin spark plugs and nine crankshaft bearings was released in 1930. There were also Twin Ignition Sixes and a Single Six helping to power Nash’s 32-model lineup.
1930 Nash eight-cylinder Twin-Ignition – Davids Classic Cars
The 1932 Ambassador Eight had a worm-drive rear end; synchromesh transmission; automatic centralised chassis lubrication and its suspension was adjustable from inside the car.
1931 Nash Ambassador Sedan – Christopher Ziemnowicz
Nash fought the Depression sales slump by introducing First Series and Second Series differentiation, offering two eights and two sixes.
1930 Nash Eight Series 481 Convertible Coupe – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The LaFayette name was reintroduced in 1934 as a lower-priced companion to Nash, but LaFayette ceased to be an independent marque with the introduction of the 1937 models. From 1937 through 1940, the Nash LaFayette was the lowest priced Nash.
In 1936, Nash introduced the ‘Bed-In-A-Car’ feature, which allowed easy conversion into a sleeping compartment. With modifications, this feature continued in post-Word War II Nash cars.
1936 Nash 400 DeLuxe – Owner Cees Mijnders
Charles Nash retired in 1937 and chose appliance-making Kelvinator Corporation head George W Mason to succeed him. Mason accepted, but insisted that Nash acquire controlling interest in Kelvinator The resulting company was known as Nash-Kelvinator.
In 1938, Nash, along with Studebaker and Graham, offered vacuum-controlled shifting, with a small gear selector lever mounted on the dashboard.
Also in 1938, Nash introduced an optional heating/ventilating system that was a logical outcome of the expertise shared between Kelvinator and Nash. This was the first hot-water car heater to draw fresh air from outside the car. In 1939, Nash added a thermostat to its ‘Conditioned Air System’
1937 Nash Ambassador Six Four-Door Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The 1939 and 1940 Nash streamlined cars were designed by George Walker and Associates and freelance body stylist Don Mortrude. They were available in three series: LaFayette, Ambassador Six, and Ambassador Eight.
For the 1940 model cars, Nash introduced independent coil-spring front suspension and sealed-beam headlights.
The 1941, the Nash 600 was the first mass-produced ‘unibody’ construction automobile made in the United States. Its lighter weight and lower air drag helped it to achieve excellent fuel economy for its day – hence the ‘600’ name, indicating the vehicle’s range on a single, 20 US-gallon (76-litre) tank of fuel.
Nash Advanced Six Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The 600’s long kingpins suffered premature failures and the front suspension was redesigned in 1942.
The larger Ambassador models shared the 600 bodywork on top of a conventional frame, resulting in an extremely strong design.
1947 Nash – Riley
During World War II Nash produced aero engine and propellors, bomb fuses, flying boat sub-assemblies and cargo trailers.
Nash Two-Door Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
Post-War Nashes were six-cylinder only; straight-eight-cylinder engines did not return. For the 1946 model year, Nash introduced the Suburban model that used wood framing and panels on the body.
1947 Nash Suburban – Christopher Ziemnowicz
The aerodynamic 1949 Nash ‘Airflyte’ was developed in a wind tunnel and featured a one-piece, curved, safety glass windshield. Coil springs were fitted to all four wheels.
Super, Super Special, and top-line Custom trim levels were offered. Power was provided by an 82hp, 2.9-litre flat-head six in the 600 and a 112hp, 3.8-litre six in the Ambassador.
1950 Nash Rambler Convertible “Landau” Coupe, fixed profile convertible with retracting roof and rigid doors – the featured car of Lois Lane of the series ‘Adventures of Superman’ – Doug W
In 1950, seatbelts were fitted and the Ambassador had a GM Hydramatic automatic transmission option. The Statesman engine increased to 3.05-litres and the Ambassador received a power increase to 115hp.
The three best sales years for Nash up to that time were 1949, 1950 and 1951.
The 1950 Nash Rambler was the USA’s first compact car and was initially sold as an up-market, feature-laden convertible. Although boasting only 82hp, it was light and agile, compared with traditional US cars and streamlining aided economy as well. However, enclosed mudguards made changing a flat tyre ‘interesting’.
The Rambler’s performance surprised traditionalists and inspired ‘Beep Beep’ – a novelty single by The Playmates, released in 1958. It’s very funny!
Nash Metropolitan – Algiers
George Mason forged a manufacturing arrangement with Austin of the UK, in 1951, to build Nash’s new sub-compact car, the Metropolitan that was eventually introduced in 1954.
Another Mason Anglo-American initiative resulted from a chance meeting with UK sports car maker Donald Healey (later of Austin-Healey fame) aboard the Queen Elizabeth, in 1951. George Mason was well aware of the popularity of British sport cars in post-War USA and wanted a slice of the action. The two men came to a design choice.
1952 Nash-Healey – Writegeist
Healey designed and built the Nash-Healy chassis, suspension and the aluminium body, while Nash shipped the powertrain components to England, where Healey assembled the cars that were then shipped to the USA.
Three Nash-Healeys with lightweight aluminium racing bodies were entered in four consecutive Le Mans races and one Mille Miglia. At Le Mans the best result was an impressive fourth overall in 1950.
1953 Nash-Healey – Christopher Ziemnowicz
However, high costs, low sales and Nash’s focus on the Rambler line led to the termination of Nash-Healey production in 1954, after only 506 cars had been produced. The Nash-Healey had improved Nash’s stodgy image, but did little to improve showroom traffic and Nash sales fell steadily from 1951 onward.
The full-size Nash Airflytes were completely re-designed for 1952 and were promoted as the Golden Airflytes, in honour of Nash Motors’ 50th anniversary.
Automatic transmissions, either a GM Hydramatic or a Borg-Warner overdrive transmission were available and the six-cylinder engine was bored out to 4.1 litres.
1954 Nash Ambassador Super – Greg Gjerdingen
Using its Kelvinator refrigeration experience, the automobile industry’s first single-unit heating and air conditioning system was introduced by Nash in 1954.
The Airflyte had initially sold well, but its styling was dated, there were no convertibles or wagons and its underpowered six-cylinder engine couldn’t compete against GM’s new OHV V8s. Low profit Rambler sales gradually made up more and more of Nash’s total volume.
In January 1954, Nash announced the acquisition of the Hudson Motor Car Company as a friendly merger, creating American Motors Corporation (AMC). Also, Mason forged an agreement with Packard to use the new 5.2-litre Packard V8 engine and Ultramatic automatic transmission in the 1955 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models.
Mason died suddenly in October 1954 and his successor, George W Romney, hastened development of AMC’s own V8 engine, replacing the outsourced unit by mid-1956.
1957 Nash Ambassador – Joe Ross
For 1955, all the large Nash and Hudson automobiles were based on a Nash-derived, shared common unitised body shell, but each had individual powertrains and separate, non-interchangeable body parts. Also, Romney got rid of the unpopular front-fender skirts on Nashes and Ramblers.
The Nash Metropolitan that had been marketed with Nash and Hudson brands, became a make in its own right in 1957, as did the Rambler.
American Motors surprised most observers with the December 1956 introduction of the Rambler Rebel that was the first post-1950s American ‘muscle car’.
This car combined AMC’s lightweight Rambler four-door hardtop body with AMC’s newly introduced 327 cubic-inch (5.4-litre) V8 engine, thus putting a big block V8 into a compact car. It was the fastest stock American sedan, according to Motor Trend.
1957 Rambler Rebel Hardtop – Christopher Ziemnowicz
All Rebels came with a manual overdrive or GM’s four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, dual exhaust system and heavy-duty suspension with Gabriel shock absorbers.
The Rebel was capable of 0 to 60mph (0-97km/h) acceleration in just 7.5 seconds with its claimed-255hp (190kW) carburettored engine. The Rebel’s engine had mechanical valve lifters and a higher compression ratio, so its real output was certainly greater than 255hp.
By this time, Rambler sales made up the majority of AMC’s volume, so the Nash and Hudson nameplates were phased out. Thus died the Nash brand that had pioneered important developments: the 1938 heating and ventilation system design that is still used today; unibody construction in 1941, seat belts in 1950; the first US compact car in 1950 and the first muscle car in 1957.
Nash Down Under
1957 Nash Rambler Custom Wagon – Jeremy
A number of distributors for each of the Australian states built and sold Nash vehicles, beginning in the 1920s. As was the practice for all car brands during the early 20th Century, the chassis and engines were imported and the bodies were locally built by Australian coach builders.
Early distributors were Wilsford Limited in New South Wales, Richards Brothers in Victoria and the Riverina, Peels Limited in Queensland, Eric Madren Motors (later Nash Cars WA Limited) in Western Australia and Northern Motors in Tasmania.
After World War II there was petrol rationing and currency shortages that drastically curbed the new car market. However, some Nash cars were imported in the late 1940s.
After the Nash-Hudson merger in 1954, AMC’s Rambler vehicles were assembled by Ira L & A C Berk Pty Ltd, which had held the Hudson franchise since 1939. AMC made a new deal with Port Melbourne vehicle assembler Australian Motor Industries (AMI) in 1960, to build AMC vehicles from knocked-down kits, production of which ran from 1961 until 1976. AMI eventually became Toyota Australia.