The Plastic Nash-Healey -- What Might Have Been
A little-known aspect of Nash's brief 1950s fling with sports cars is that the firm once seriously considered building the Nash-Healey entirely in the United States -- and making a plastic Nash-Healey.
The key was a body done in fiberglass, which promised lower production costs and, as Chevrolet would shortly find out with its Corvette, was more suitable for a low-volume product.
In the early fall of 1953, Nash president George Mason asked his purchasing vice-president, A.M. Wibel, to look into the possibility of having Ionia Manufacturing Company build the Nash-Healey body in plastic. Located in Ionia, Michigan, this firm later became Mitchell-Bentley, and was already well known as the supplier of thousands of wood station wagon bodies for General Motors and Ford (its first major contract came from Chevrolet in 1947).
Wibel told James A. Lee, director of purchasing for Nash-Kelvinator, to obtain preliminary unit prices from Ionia. Lee reported back on October 9, 1953. The estimates he received assumed chassis, windshield assembly, and hinges would all be furnished by Nash. The bottom line was $7,215.05 in lots of five, ranging down to $4,655.60 in lots of 200 or more, both FOB Ionia, which included fabrication, delivery, and full painting and trimming.
Unfortunately, even the "quantity" price was prohibitive considering that only 506 Nash-Healeys were actually built, and the company was simply not prepared to commit itself to volume production in a market where demand for sports cars was still infinitesimal.
Small wonder then that Lee concluded his report to Wibel, Mason, and vice-president George Romney with this terse comment: "Ionia has been advised that these prices prevent any further consideration of this job."
As for the unconverted cars, all the 1951 Nash-Healeys and a few of the early 1952s carried the 3.8-liter/234.8-cid six. Everything else had the later 4.1-liter unit. Owners can tell which is which -- and correct -- by checking serial and engine numbers. Anything above N2250 and 1163, respectively, should have the larger powerplant. Another point for would-be owners of this classy collectible is that all the Healey-built roadsters had pull-up windows, while the Farina-bodied roadsters had removable windows. Only the LeMans coupe had roll-up door glass.
Continue to the next page for details on how the Nash-Healey finally came to the end of the line.
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