1952-1954 Nash Origins

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.

Nash Image Gallery

1952 Ambassador
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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1952 Nash Design

Entered in a competition to replace the "bathtub" Nash, the company's in-house team worked long hours on its proposal for the 1952 Nash design. What emerged from its efforts was a large envelope-bodied sedan with the obligatory enclosed wheels.

1952 Ambassador Statesman
Internal Nash politics led to the large, toothy
grille for the 1952s, seen here on a Statesman.

The mock-up carried several unique design features. Most prominent was a notch formed on both front doors, which provided visual relief to the slab sides and gave a jaunty air to the overall design. The grille was an oval with heavy vertical bars, fine horizontal strips inset, and the Nash badge prominently fixed in the center. Headlamps were cathedral style, much like those eventually seen on the 1955 Packard, though more petite; one could almost say delicate.

Three chromed vents lined each body side, two mounted on the rear door and one on the quarter panel just aft of the rear door cut line. A chrome spear also adorned the sides, and where it wrapped around under the headlamps it carried inset turn signals. The U-shaped bumper and thick bumper guards lent a formal look to the front end. The greenhouse featured vent windows front and rear, along with a large wraparound rear window.

It was, all in all, an elegant design, in keeping with the Nash heritage.

Meanwhile, legendary designer Pinin Farina -- the other entrant in the competition -- did his design work in his home country of Italy. His model was then shipped to America. Both Ed Anderson, head of the in-house team, and designer William Reddig expected Farina's car would be a visual knockout. Reddig was already familiar with Farina's skill. "I had seen the work he'd done on the Cisitalia, which was just a beautiful car. I felt, well this guy is good. ..."

Farina's proposal had been constructed in sheetmetal as a full-size prototype, complete with interior. Reddig recalls it had a neat European touch, an interior fishnet "parcel holder" over the shield for holding maps and sunglasses, that made it to production.

When Farina's model was unveiled to Nash executives, however, it received a less than enthusiastic reception. Some who viewed the prototype say the design looked "soft" overall, with severely sloped front and rear ends. Farina also hadn't allowed enough square inches in the grille for proper air flow, and the headlamp height wouldn't meet U.S. standards, either. Some Nash executives felt the design had too much "European" flavor to be successful in America. The Farina model was moved to a corner of the styling studio and covered up with a tarpaulin. No photos of the car are known to exist.

Reddig believes the problem may have been simply that Farina wasn't used to the unique demands of designing large, American-type cars. "I'm sure this was the first time he (Farina) had the challenge to make a car with that sort of body dimensions, with the kinds of features that he was used to doing. And it just didn't look right," he said.

No matter, since the Nash team's proposal was a completely acceptable alternative. Anderson was given the go-ahead to produce it. But soon after tooling was ordered, a decree came down halting the project. Nash president George Mason, most likely influenced by chief engineer Meade Moore, decided a better course might be to integrate some features of the Farina design into the in-house styling proposal. Anderson was ordered to come up with what he later termed a "composite" design, based mainly on his own team's effort, but with several Farina touches worked in.

1952 Nash Ambassador
Reverse C-pillars, as on this 1952 Ambassador,
were thrown in as a nod to designer Pinin Farina.

Reddig remembers how disappointed the Nash team was. "Yes, it was a letdown, no question about it, because we sure were excited about what we were doing," he said. "But the rationale, as I recall, was that after a management decision, that they felt that the Farina name ... what they wanted to do was to merchandise Farina's reputation and name. So, he was lending that, and his name-plate would be on the side of the car. And that was extremely important (to Nash management) as far as merchandising the car."

"So yeah, it was a disappointment but you know, we were professionals, not amateurs, so when that's the decision, you just do the best damn job you can to make the best acceptable design to achieve what management wants."

Anderson and crew went to work on the composite design. Reverse-slanted C-pillars were incorporated, and the front doornotch was carried over to the rear doors as well. The elegant grille was replaced by a larger oval with toothy grille bars. The cathedral headlamps gave way to ones with a rounded shape. What emerged was a remarkably good-looking automobile. Mason approved it for production.

Sometime later, George Romney stopped Anderson in the hallway. As the designer later related, Romney said, "Ed, I know you and your staff did most of the styling of the 1952 Nash, but the advertising agency and our sales department feel it might be good publicity to give Farina full credit. How do you feel about that?" To which Anderson said he replied, "George, I am a corporation man as much as you are. If Farina's name will sell one more car, then I am for it."

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1952 Nash

With all the delays the all-new 1952 Nash didn't actually get introduced until March 14, 1952. Nash rolled it out with an elaborate press kit, necessary to explain the car's many new features. Also, it was obvious the American press wasn't all that familiar with, nor enamored of, the Pinin Farina name or reputation. Nash felt it necessary to educate the press and the public about its new design consultant, Farina, making sure to include him (and sketches of some of his earlier designs) in the sales catalog.

1952 Nash Ambassador
One magazine called the 1952 Ambassador
"one of America's top family cars."

These brochures, however, said Farina "has worked with Nash to help create the outstanding style car of our time" rather than give him sole credit for the car's look, as was the original plan. The cars themselves did their part to help hammer home the connection by wearing a Farina crest on their right front fenders.

"ENTER A NEW 'WHO'S WHO' IN MOTORING" suggested Nash's handsome sales brochure. It went on to proclaim, "Today Nash places in your hands the proudest achievement of its fifty golden years ... The Golden Airflytes for 1952 ... cars excitingly new to the motoring world!"

There were a number of new features, all carrying those important-sounding names so popular in the Fifties: "Airflex" front suspension, "Eye-Level Visibility," "Road-Guide" fenders, "Super Jetfire" engine. But behind those high-sounding tags were real product improvements.

Airflex suspension was basically a large-car version of the compact Rambler's "Deep Coil" front suspension, wherein long front springs were mounted high and angled for better ride and handling. Eye-Level Visibility referred to the huge glass areas, including a windshield that was 44 percent larger than in previous models, while the raised Road-Guide fenders helped in parking.

The lineup began with Statesman two- and four-door sedans in base Super and snazzier Custom trim, and a two-door hardtop, which Nash called the Country Club, available in Custom trim only. Customs came with foam cushions, two-tone upholstery, a clock, directional signals, chrome wheel discs, and courtesy lights. Custom Country Clubs also included a specially tailored interior.

The earlier Statesman L-head six-cylinder was stroked to 195.6 cubic inches, putting out 88 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. Nash called it the Super Flying Scot. Wheelbase was increased as well, up 2.25 inches to 114.25.

The Ambassador series, flagship of the Nash line, had a model range identical to that of the Statesman. From the cowl back, Ambassadors shared body and interior dimensions with the Statesman. Up front was where the differences were. The Ambassador's wheelbase was 121.25 inches, and those extra seven inches were all ahead of the windshield. Longer front fenders were used, of course, though they were styled like the smaller car's fenders.

Ambassadors also came with a much more powerful engine, an overhead-valve six called the Super Jetfire. A 1/8-inch overbore of the 1951 Ambassador engine resulted in 252.6 cubic inches that put out 120 horsepower at 3,700 rpm, a gain of five horsepower over the 1951 version.

As Nash pointed out, the Ambassador's engine had a feature available "Only in Nash and Rolls-Royce -- not in any other American car -- a 100% counter balanced 7-bearing crankshaft." Both Nash series came with a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, with overdrive or Dual-Range Hydra-Matic transmissions optional.

At 78 inches in width, these cars were immense by any standard. Ambassadors stretched out 209.25 inches long overall, exactly seven inches longer than Statesman series cars. Inside, the old "Uni-scope" instrument cluster was replaced by a wide, handsome dashboard with Nash's unique slide-out package drawer centrally mounted, speedometer offset in front of the driver, and speaker grilles placed on each end. Interior space was commodious, and Nash's front seat that converted into "Twin Travel Beds" was a popular option.

1952 Nash Statesman Custom
This 1952 Nash Statesman is decked out
in uplevel Custom trim.

Tom McCahill tested the new Ambassador for Mechanics Illustrated. Although an anonymous Nash executive had admitted the design wasn't entirely the work of Farina, Uncle Tom said of the famed designer: "He has turned out the best-looking Nash in the company's history."

But McCahill wasn't one to judge a car by its looks alone. He put the Nash through its paces and concluded, "the new Ambassador has, in my book, the finest shock-proof ride in the world today. ... A short time ago I reported the Buick Roadmaster had the finest rough road ride of any car made in America but that was before I tested the Nash Ambassador." He summed up by saying, "The Nash Ambassador is a magnificent riding car."

Motor Trend also tested an Ambassador and noted, "Hardly any body vibration is noticeable by passengers, even over washboard and dirt roads. This is accomplished by the structural strength and rigidity afforded by the unitized-type of body construction." It went on to state, "Without a doubt, the Nash Ambassador is one of America's top family cars."

Nineteen fifty-two was a down year for automakers and Nash was no exception. Calendar year production totaled 152,141, a drop of 8,999 compared to 1951. Model year production for Nash's "5200" series was 144,200, and that included 53,000 Ramblers. More telling, however, were fiscal year sales, down 40,026 units to 137,587 for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 1952.

Some of that reflected government restrictions on materials, as well as a strike at a steel supplier's plant. Still, Nash president George Mason expressed overall satisfaction with the year's results. It was hoped that with production snags resolved, 1953 would be a better year.

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1953 Nash

The 1953 Nash Ambassador and Statesman Airflytes (just plain Airflytes now that the golden anniversary was past) featured mechanical improvements but little in the way of styling changes, save for some chrome trim added to the fresh-air intake in front of the windshield. Model availability in both series stood pat.

1953 Nash Ambassador
The 1953 Nash Ambassador offered power steering
for the first time.

The Statesman engine was reworked again, with its compression ratio upped to 7.45:1 from the previous 7.0:1, new "High-Lift" camshaft, and "Duoflo" carburetor. The engine, renamed the "Powerflyte," now put out 100 horsepower. Nash claimed it would "bring you thrilling performance with 22 percent greater 'passing' acceleration and amazing gasoline economy."

The Ambassador continued to use the 120-horsepower Super Jetfire mill, but could be ordered with an optional power plant, the Le Mans Dual Jetfire six. The Le Mans engine, with its dual carburetors, 8.0:1 compression, and aluminum cylinder head, pumped out 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm.

Creature comforts were the year's big news. Power steering, which Nash claimed was the "next best thing to an automatic pilot," became available on the Ambassador. Despite the company's glowing claims, the new power steering wasn't well received, however; only 690 Ambassadors were so equipped at the factory. Far more popular in the option book was a new hood ornament, designed by pinup artist George Petty, that featured a voluptuous chrome lady on a flying wing.

Nash was still pushing the Pinin Farina name in brochures, pointing out what it called "The Difference that is Farina!" Sales catalogs for the year called the senior Nashes the "Most Beautiful Cars of Our Time," and that wasn't far off. Viewed alongside other medium-priced 1953 cars like Hudson, DeSoto, or Mercury, the big Nashes compared very well.

1953 Nash Statesman
The 1953 Statesman was very popular with owners,
as reflected in sales numbers and testimonials.

And owners loved them. "I have driven my new Nash Ambassador 15,500 miles," wrote Thomas Beckett, an engineer from Hartford, Connecticut. "[T]he Golden Anniversary model is in a class by itself." C. Howard Engles, of Long Beach, California, wrote in to tell Nash, "I travel 40,000-55,000 miles per year ... this 1952 Nash Ambassador is giving me gas mileage as high as 26.4 [mpg]." Arthur Hargett, of Baltimore, Maryland, focused on the safety of Airflyte body construction when he wrote, "My Nash Statesman turned over three times. ... I received only a few scratches. ... the Nash is constructed so as to bear the terrific blows that can come to a car. In my opinion, it helped save me."

Calendar year production was level, though model year production dropped 23,310 units to 120,890 "5300" series cars. Statesman production was up, but Ambassadors and Ramblers were down. The overall industry was way up, though, so it wasn't a good sign for Nash. A sales war broke out between Ford and Chevrolet, and it was beginning to drain sales from the independent makers.

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1954 Nash

There was a bit of a restyling for 1954. Lead designer Ed Anderson came up with a concave grille and new headlight bezels featuring a thinner band of chrome around the lights. A continental spare tire was now standard equipment on Custom models. A big feature was the completely new interior, again styled by Parisian designer Madame Helene Rother, who had first lent her talents to the 1952s.

1954 Nash Ambassador
1954 would be the last year for two-door
Ambassadors, as the end was nearing for Nash.

Model offerings contracted somewhat as Ambassador two-door sedans were no longer offered with Custom trim. (The body style would completely disappear from the senior Nash roster at the end of the model year.)

The compression ratio of the Ambassador Super Jetfire six was increased to 7.6:1, and horsepower to 130. The Le Mans six was also available, still rated at 140 horsepower. Statesman models also got a hop-up, with an aluminum cylinder head, 8.5:1 compression ratio, and dual carbs as standard equipment. The revised engine, dubbed the "Dual Powerflyte" six, generated 110 horsepower.

New to the option list were wire wheel covers, power brakes, and power windows, although according to production records, the latter had also been installed on 70 of the 1953 models.

None of it did any good, however. Sales collapsed completely as if some invisible hand had turned off a tap somewhere. Calendar year Nash production dropped to 77,884. It was due partly to the Chevy-Ford war siphoning sales from the independents, and partly to the car entering its third year with essentially the same styling in a market that demanded "NEW!" and "BETTER!" almost every year.

Too, V-8 engines were gaining in popularity, and here Nash was caught unprepared. The company merged with Hudson midway through the year -- forming American Motors in the process -- and many shoppers were concerned that Nash might soon become an orphan make. The average buyer didn't know Nash was the strongest of the independents, but even if they had, few people like to gamble on a large purchase like an automobile.

So much was changed by the end of 1954. Nash president George Mason died suddenly in October, just five months after the merger. George Romney was elevated to head of the corporation. Studebaker and Packard also merged and new S-P President James Nance was privately predicting that AMC would soon be out of business. Tough times had arrived and the road ahead was a mist-shrouded trail. Where it was leading was anyone's guess.

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1952-1954 Nash Models, Prices, Production

Flush with success from the launch of its compact Rambler and continued strong sales of its standard car line, Nash management uncorked a celebration for the company's golden anniversary as a carmaker in 1952. But the party only temporarily hid the fact that ominous times had arrived for Nash and its fellow independents. Find models, prices, and production for the 1952-1954 Nash Ambassador and Statesman in the following chart.

1952 Nash Models, Prices, and Production:

Statesman (wb 114.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,025
$2,144
6,795
Super 4d sedan
3,045
2,178
27,304
Custom 2d sedan
3,050
2,310
1,872
Custom 4d sedan
3,070
2,332
13,660
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,095
2,433
869
Total Statesman


50,500
Ambassador (wb 121.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,410
2,521
1,871
Super 4d sedan
3,430
2,557
16,838
Custom 2d sedan
3,450
2,695
1,178
Custom 4d sedan
3,480
2,716
19,585
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,550
2,829
1,228
Total Ambassador


40,700
Total 1952 Nash


91,200

1953 Nash Models, Prices, and Production:

Statesman (wb 114.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,025
$2,143
7,999
Super 4d sedan
3,045
2,178
28,445
Custom 2d sedan
3,050
2,310
1,305
Custom 4d sedan
3,070
2,332
11,476
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,095
2,433
7,025
Total Statesman


56,250
Ambassador (wb 121.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,410
2,521
1,273
Super 4d sedan
3,430
2,557
12,489
Custom 2d sedan
3,450
2,695
428
Custom 4d sedan
3,480
2,716
12,222
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,550
2,829
6,438
Total Ambassador


32,850
Total 1953 Nash


89,100

1954 Nash Models, Prices, and Production:

Statesman (wb 114.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,025
$2,110
1,855
Super 4d sedan
3,045
2,158
11,401
Custom 2d sedan
3,050
2,310
24
Custom 4d sedan
3,095
2,332
4,219
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,120
2,423
2,726
Total Statesman


20,225
Ambassador (wb 121.25)
Weight
Price
Production
Super 2d sedan
3,410
2,365
283
Super 4d sedan
3,430
2,417
7,433
Custom 4d sedan
3,505
2,600
10,131
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
3,575
2,735
3,581
Total Ambassador


21,428
Total 1954 Nash


41,653

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