The Low-Priced Rambler

The low-priced Rambler wasn't designed to be a sports machine; it was Nash's latest assault on the market dominated by Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth.

Something every automotive executive learns early in his or her career is that the surest ticket to success in the car business is volume. Sell lots of cars and you make lots of money. The more cars you sell, the more money you make.

But to sell cars in really high numbers you need to be in the "popular-price" bracket -- and success there calls for a good car at a low price. Henry Ford's the best example of that. He built a great low-priced car and it sold like hotcakes. Chevrolet aped his success. So did Plymouth.

George Mason, chairman of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, understood that age-old truth. He also knew Nash already had made several attempts to sell in the lower-price ranges.

The 1921-1924 Nash Four line included models under $1,000, as did the 1925 Ajax, a brand built by Nash. The 1934 Lafayette was aimed at the very heart of Chevy/Ford country with prices as low as $585. But ultimately, none of those products survived over the long haul. So how to compete?

During the mid 1940s, Nash executives examined the situation in depth. Vice president Albert M. Wibel, a former Ford executive, felt that Nash should bring out a car like the current Ford, an opinion shared by Henry Clay Doss, vice president for sales. In fact, most Nash executives felt the best option was to introduce a car that would compete head-on with the Big Three's lowest-priced cars.

Mason, on the other hand, felt the only chance Nash had to break into the low-priced market was to field something more than just another "me-too" car. He directed his engineering department to come up with a new car to outflank the Big Three.

Engineering vice president Nils Wahl­berg and chief engineer Meade Moore were anxious to show what Nash could do. The engineers already had many of the basic elements they needed right at hand.

Nash had introduced unibody construction on the 1941 Ambas­sador 600. It was much safer than body-on-frame assembly and provided substantial weight savings.

Airflyte construction (Nash's term for unibody) dispensed with the conventional frame to trim more than 200 pounds, providing both better acceleration and fuel economy. It also offered a better ride and improved handling because of its inherently higher torsional stiffness. Mason felt those benefits greatly outweighed unibody's higher tooling cost.

Despite his size -- he must have weighed something approaching 300 pounds -- Mason was a confirmed small-car enthusiast, and he wanted the new Nash to be smaller than full-size. A more compact size would save on material costs, while optimizing fuel economy, another of Mason's passions.

Then, too, Mason felt Nash should be different from other cars. Wahlberg believed superior engineering would enable Nash to field a car combining family sized interior space with trim exterior dimensions. They set to work on an all-new design. They called it the "X-car."

A 100-inch wheelbase was settled on because it provided room for five passengers, the minimum number considered necessary for a family car. After experimenting with a variety of new engine designs, engineers decided to go with the six-cylinder engine already being used in the 1949 Nash 600. This was a conventional L-head type displacing 173 cubic inches and good for 82 bhp.

Although larger and more powerful than what was originally envisioned, the powerplant was dependable and known for excellent fuel economy. Since the new car was going to be significantly smaller and lighter than the Statesman (as the 600 was renamed for 1950), it should be capable of outstanding acceleration in addition to good gas mileage.

Six experimental cars were built: two convertibles and four two-door sedans. Following two years of testing and refinement, the design was released for production.

Mason had one lieutenant whose belief in the new car's potential was even great­er than his own. In 1948, George Rom­ney, head of the Automobile Man­ufacturers Association's Detroit office, turned down an executive position offered by Packard after Mason showed him prototypes of the X-car. Romney instead joined Nash as Mason's assistant.

"I was shown prototypes of the Rambler, and was convinced that here was something different, unique," he told this author. "I felt it was the car of the future."

Romney reportedly suggested naming the new car Diplomat, a thematic tie-in with the Ambassador and Statesman nameplates. But instead it was decided to name the new car Rambler.

One story claims Chrysler had already registered the Diplomat name (it appeared on Dodge's first hardtop coupe in 1950); another says simply that Nash executives voted to go with a beloved nameplate used by Nash's predecessor, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, from 1902-1913. The new Rambler would debut in 1950.

To learn about the 1950 Rambler, see the next page.

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