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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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April 2012 Issue
From Nash to AMC

Nash Motors was founded in 1916 by former General Motors executive Charles W. Nash who acquired the Thomas B. Jeffery Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin (USA). Jeffery's best known automobile was the Rambler. Nash enjoyed decades of success by marketing mid-priced cars. Much of the early success of the company was owed to Charlie Nash's faith in engineer Nils Erik Wahlberg. Wahlberg was an early proponent of wind tunnel testing for vehicles and was credited with helping to design modern flow-through ventilation.

In the early 1920s, Nash introduced an entry level marque named the Ajax. The Ajax was produced in the newly acquired Mitchell Motors Company plant in Racine, Wisconsin. Mitchell was the manufacturer of Mitchell brand automobiles between 1903-1923. Sales of Ajax automobiles were not sufficient to warrant a separate make, and Ajax was absorbed back into Nash as the "Nash Ajax Light Six".


Nash's slogan from the late 1920s and 1930s was "Give the customer more than he has paid for" and the cars pretty much lived up to it. Innovations included a straight-eight engine with overhead valves, twin spark plugs, and nine crankshaft bearings. The 1932 Ambassador had synchromesh transmissions and a freewheel - and its suspension was adjustable from within the car. In 1924 Nash absorbed LaFayette Motors of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and converted its production lines to produce Nash automobiles. The LaFayette name was reintroduced in 1934 as a lower priced companion make to Nash. LaFayette production ended in 1937 with the introduction of the Nash 400 model.


Prior to his retirement, Charlie Nash chose Kelvinator Corporation head George W. Mason to succeed him. Mason accepted, but placed one condition on the job: Nash would acquire controlling interest in Kelvinator, which at the time was the leading manufacturer of high end refrigerators and kitchen appliances in the United States. The resulting company, as of January 4, 1937 was known as the Nash Kelvinator Corporation. Consequently, in 1938 Nash introduced an optional conditioned air heating/ventilating system. Also in 1938, Nash, along with other car manufactures like Studebaker and Graham, offered vacuum assist shifting, an early attempt at reducing clutching and shifting. Automobiles equipped with vacuum assist shifting had their selector mounted on the lower dashboard. 1938 also marked the introduction of fully reclining front seats, which allowed the interior of the car to be converted into a sleeping compartment.


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. The 1941 Nash 600 was the first mass-produced unibody construction automobile made in the United States. Its lighter weight compared to body-on-frame automobiles and lower air drag helped it to achieve excellent gas mileage for its day. The design was improved by new front ends, upholstery, and chrome trim from 1942 to 1948.


The aerodynamic 1949 Nash "Airflyte" was the first car of an advanced design introduced by the company after the war. Its aerodynamic body shape was developed in a wind tunnel. Nils Wahlberg's theories on making an automobile's body have the lowest drag coefficient possible resulted in a smooth shape and enclosed front fenders. Wide and low, the automobile featured more interior room then its 1948 predecessor. Due to its enclosed front fenders Nash automobiles had a larger turning radius than most other cars in its price field.


Nash-Kelvinator's President George Mason felt Nash had the best chance of reaching a larger market in building small cars. He directed Nash towards the development of the first compact of the post war era, the 1950 Rambler, which was marketed as an up market, feature laden convertible. Mason also arranged for the introduction of the Austin built small Metropolitan from Britain and also worked with British car enthusiast Donald Healey to create the Nash Healey in 1951 - the first American sports car built since the depression. Under the original agreement, both firms would contribute to the project. However in the second year of production the body was redesigned and built by Italian designer Pinin Farina who supplied the bodies to Healey. Nash running components were shipped from Nash to Britain where Donald Healey's concern assembled the vehicles and then returned them to the United States for sale. The high cost of the vehicle, and Nash's focus on the Rambler line resulted in the termination of Nash Healey production in 1954 after 506 automobiles were produced. George Mason commissioned Farina to design the successor to the Nash Healy, which was designated the Nash Palm Beach, but the project never went beyond the prototype showcar. The 1953 Le Mans race lists a number of Nash Healy's entered and one Nash Palm Beach that was entered by Allard. The Nash Healy's came in 1 and 2 in class (Sports 3000-the same class as the Austin Healy), all entered in the 3000 class finished the 24 hour race, but the news went to the bigger engined cars of Jaguar (Sports 5000) and Cunningham (Sports 8000). The only Nash Healey with a larger 5000 cc engine to compete with Jaguar and Ferrari did not finish due to oil pressure.



In 1954 Nash merged with the struggling Hudson Motor Car Company and formed American Motors Corporation (AMC). Nash and Hudson vehicles built after the merger were products of AMC. For 1955, all Hudson automobiles were based on the Nash body shell, but were given fully exposed front wheels and unique trim to help differentiate it from the Nash. The Metropolitan, which had been marketed under the Nash and Hudson brands became a make unto its own. Rambler eventually overtook Nash and Hudson as the leading nameplate manufactured by AMC.


With Mason's death, George Romney suceeded him and pinned the future of the company on an expanded Rambler line, and began the process of phasing the Nash and Hudson nameplates out by the end of the 1957 model year. From 1958 to 1965, Rambler was the only marque sold by AMC. Under the tenure of Roy Abernathy, the Rambler name was phased out beginning in 1965 and discontinued by 1969. Then in 1971, American Motors acquired Kaiser Jeep and its Toledo, Ohio based manufacturing facilities. In the early 1980s, AMC entered into a partnership with Renault which was looking for an entrée into the American market in the 1980s. AMC was ultimatly acquired by Chrysler Corporation in 1987.

Information courtesy: Nash GB
Links to Nash and associated makes
The Automotive Chronicles, April 2012
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