How does one replace the most popular cars in Nash history? We don't know if Nash-Kelvinator's George Mason ever asked himself this question in just that way, but it sums up the task facing his company for 1952, and that replacement -- the 1952-1954 Nash -- draws its origins back to that task.
Stakes were high for the redesign of the 1952 Ambassador
(shown) and Statesman. See more pictures of Nash cars.
Mason became president of the firm as a result of the 1937 merger of the Nash Motors Company and appliance-maker Kelvinator Corporation. Nash Chairman Charles W. Nash agreed to the union since it was the only way he was able to convince Mason to come work for him. Charlie Nash was getting on in years and was anxious to find a younger man capable of taking over his namesake firm when he retired. He asked his old friend, Walter Chrysler, if he knew anyone capable of running Nash. Chrysler suggested he call Mason, president of Kelvinator. Mason balked at leaving Kelvinator, but a deal was eventually struck whereby the two firms merged.
Once aboard, Mason encouraged Nash in pioneering new ideas. Primary among these was the unitized body, which Nash termed "Airflyte Construction." Of the unitized Nash 600 that debuted in 1941, Nash said, "In automotive history, the year 1941 will probably be noted principally for the introduction of a new kind of automobile body construction." Mason saw unitized body construction as a distinct product advantage and determined that eventually all Nash cars would have it. (The 1941 Ambassador, despite its outward similarity to the 600, was built on a conventional frame.)
World War II delayed plans a bit. But when Mason finally launched a radically streamlined new "bathtub" Nash for 1949, Ambassadors and 600s featured unitized construction. Production, which according to Nash annual reports had been 115,914 in fiscal year 1947 and 119,862 in 1948, increased to 139,521 in fiscal year 1949, 178,827 in 1950, and 177,613 in 1951, making them the most successful Nash cars of all time.
So what to do for an encore? New products appeared; the compact Rambler in 1950 and the Nash-Healey sports car for 1951. But these were only "companion models" (or niche vehicles, take your pick). The heart of Nash sales was the Ambassador and Statesman (nee 600) lines.
Nash had a new design chief, Edmund E. Anderson, formerly head of the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile styling studios at General Motors. When hired by Mason, Anderson was charged with assembling an in-house design team. Anderson staffed his small department with talented young men, many from GM and Ford. The design team included William E. Reddig, formerly with Ford, Royland Taylor, Bob Thomas, Charl (sic) Green, and Don Butler. To this new team, then, went the job of designing a successor to the fabulously successful Nash bathtubs.
Mason was able to hedge his bets on the new car, however, because of a deal his assistant, George Romney, had recently struck. At Mason's request, Romney had signed a contract to have famed Italian designer Pinin Farina design cars for Nash. Thus, the tiny in-house Nash design team would compete with one of Europe's most renowned studios for the honor of designing the 1952 Nash senior line.
Ed Anderson was hired the very day that Farina was to return to Italy from his first visit to Nash. The two met and shook hands in George Romney's office. It was cordial enough, and both men got to see the competition face to face.
It was an important and prestigious assignment. Important because the Ambassador/Statesman lines were the volume and profit leaders for Nash; prestigious because the new line would debut for the 50th anniversary of when the company's first automobiles, the 1902 Ramblers, were introduced by the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company, predecessor of Nash.
The basic package of body dimensions had already been arrived at by Nash engineering, headed by Nils Erik Wahlberg, and both designers would have to stay within those parameters. Mason -- at Wahlberg's urging -- insisted that fully enclosed wheels like the ones seen on 1949-1951 Nashes remain a feature on the new cars as well. Wahlberg emphasized, as always, the aerodynamic advantages of the design, while Mason felt they were a uniquely Nash feature.
The designers, however, were less than enthralled. "We didn't care for it," recalls Bill Reddig today. "But it was something Wahlberg pushed. Our feeling was, well sure it helps the car get better numbers in a wind tunnel, but gee, nobody drives in a wind tunnel."
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