History of Nash

Nash imageNash Motors had success in the early years of the automobile by selling middle class cars to middle class buyers. Nash was founded in 1916 by the former GM President Charles Nash, when he bought the Thomas B. Jeffery Company. The early success can be attributed to the engineer Nils Erik Wahlberg, who pioneered the use of wind tunnels in the design of automobiles.

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 manufacture of Mitchell brand automobiles between 1903-1923. Sales of Ajax automobiles weren't sufficient to warrant a separate make, and Ajax was absorbed back into Nash as the "Nash Ajax Light Six".

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.

Thomas B. Jeffery Company’s main automobile was the Rambler, which Nash continued successfully for many decades. In 1937, Nash became a controlling company to Kelvinator, a leading refrigerator and cooling company, renaming the business Nash-Kelvinator. Having the cooling business helped Nash lead the automotive industry in heating and cooling automobiles for a time.

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.

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. Nash, as a brand name continued to represent automobiles for Nash-Kelvinator.

In 1938 Nash introduced an optional conditioned air heating/ventilating system, an outcome of the expertise shared between Kelvinator and Nash. 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 free lance 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 would continue to have success in sales until the 1950’s, when it became increasing clear that Nash would have to expand to stay competitive with the big 3 auto makers (GM, Ford , and Chrysler ). Nash merged with Hudson , forming AMC (American Motors Corporation ). AMC acquired Kaiser Jeep in 1980, the descendant of Willys -Overland Motors, and shortly after entered a partnership with the French auto manufacturer Renault. Neither one could save AMC, and in 1987 the business was bought out by Chrysler. Only the Jeep name remains today.

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.

Mason 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 Healey, 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 Healey's entered and one Nash Palm Beach that was entered by Allard. The Nash Healey's came in 1 and 2 in class (Sports 3000-the same class as the Austin Healey), 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.

Soon after the 1954 merger, CEO George Mason died. Mason's successor, George Romney, 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.

While looking as glitzy and typically 1950s as any other American car, in fact the Metropolitan was produced for the US market in England. Its body was built by Ludlow and Fisher in Birmingham, and this was based on an Austin chassis which came from the factory just a short distance away. With its tiny four-cylinder engine, it was a long way from the powerful cruisers that were abundant on American highways, but it was quite lively, thanks to low gearing. It did at least look like an American convertible, albeit one which had shrunk in the wash, thanks to a continental kit, two-tone paint and whitewall tyres. The car could seat just two in comfort and a third at a squeeze for short journeys. Remarkably, it went over 104,000 in sales in seven years, no doubt due to its cuteness, as well as its economical engine.

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