1939-1940 Nash Ambassador


Given his belief in the importance of new products, Mason ordered up fresh styling for the 1939-1940 Nash Ambassador and prepared to press on. With a "can-do" guy -- George Mason -- at the helm, Nash Motors wasn't about to let an economic recession slow it down in the late 1930s.

1939 Nash Ambassador
An example of George Mason's fresh styling: the 1939 Nash
Ambassador. See more pictures of Nash cars.

America's battle against the Depression suffered a setback in 1938, when the economy snapped with what Republicans were quick to label the "Roosevelt Recession." The sharp downturn hammered the U.S. auto industry, shrinking model-year sales by almost half from the 1937 total.

The recession proved a death knell for a few smaller automakers, but most every company felt the pain. That's one reason why you don't see many 1938 cars today.

The Nash Motors Division of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation took an especially big hit. Calendar-year sales plunged from 70,568 to 31,814. Model-year production withered from 85,949 units to 32,017. These drops were bigger than most, and would have been easy excuses for cutting capital spending.

But Nash had a recently arrived president named George Mason, charged with making the company much larger. Determined to keep moving despite the recessionary setback, he ordered up a brand-new Nash for 1939. It was a beauty.

By any standard, George Walter Mason was one of the most brilliant auto executives of the era. He started his career the old-fashioned way, selling cars during summer vacations from college.

After stints at several automakers, most notably as a manager at Chrysler, Mason joined Kelvinator, where he engineered a turnaround that saved the appliance maker from extinction.

Charlie Nash, acting on a strong recommendation from old friend Walter Chrysler, convinced Mason to become Nash president by agreeing to a Nash and Kelvinator merger, which was completed in January 1937.

Continue to the next page for details on the 1939 Nash Ambassador.

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1939 Nash Ambassador

A die-hard salesman, Nash Motors president George Mason believed new products were the best way to spark sales in a tough economy, so he insisted on fresh styling for 1939.

To get it, he decided to go outside, as Nash had sometimes done before. The assignment here went to independent designer George Walker (the future Ford Motor Company styling vice president), who hired former General Motors and Chrysler stylist Don Mortrude to draw up the new 1939 Nash Ambassador.

The result was partly evolutionary in that the shapes of doors, windows, and fenders were like those of the handsome 1938 Nashes. But the 1939s were much lower and sleeker. Large wheel openings showcased big 16-inch wheels wearing low-pressure tires; whitewall tires and stylish rear fender shields were available at extra cost.

The 1939 Nash Ambassador
The 1939 Nash Ambassador

The front end was especially elegant, with small "waterfall" grilles flanking a prowlike nose wearing a stack of bright, curved bars. Jewellike square headlamps nestled in "suitcase" front fenders rather than attaching to the hood sides -- very trendy. Simple bumpers had rounded ends and integrated guards. A thin bright molding ran back from the nose to the rear quarters just below the beltline.

Reprised from 1938 was a four-series lineup covering two distinct markets. Competing just above the traditional "Low-Priced Three" was the 117-inch-wheelbase Lafayette, offered in rock- bottom Special and more-popular Deluxe models. Lafayette had been the "volume" Nash since 1937, a basic auto priced to sell in high numbers.

The premium Nash also reprised two series for 1939: Ambassador Six, priced in the $925 to $1,050 range, and the Ambassador Eight at $1,175 to $1,295. Both offered a "trunkback" four-door sedan, a four-door Slipstream fastback, two-door Slipstream Victoria sedan, three-passenger business coupe, five-passenger All-Purpose coupe, and a gorgeous convertible coupe.

Trunks were "concealed" on all but the trunkback sedan, which had what Nash called a "built-in trunk." This visually recalled the add-on trunks of the 1920s, but it was fully integrated with the body. The more-traditional style sold slightly better than the sleeker Slipstream four-door, but both were popular with families.

Coupes appealed for sporty style, workmanlike utility, or both. Convertibles were more glamorous than ever with Nash's rakish 1939 styling, but these also offered a practical standard touch in fold-down "opera seats" for two rear passengers (shared with All-Purpose coupes).

Interiors continued the Nash tradition of quiet elegance. Advertising touted Ambassador's "Soft, billowy seats ... more comfortable than your favorite armchair" and "Upholstery so sumptuous you can sense its costly, long-wearing quality at a touch."

Instrument panels were fashionably adorned with chrome accents and woodgrain Tenite. Gauges with indirect night lighting were grouped ahead of the driver. Most knobs and switches were in the lower center of the dash, which had a convenient ashtray at each end. Drivers looked out a windshield that was 3.5 inches wider than before.

Nash proclaimed its 1939 Ambassador the "Most Modern Car in the World." Famed radio commentator Boake Carter said, "It bores through space like a silver bullet." Despite such hyperbole, there was much that was familiar. Wheelbases, for example, were unchanged at 121 inches for Ambassador Sixes, 125 for the more-luxurious Eights.

Also retained were splendid "Twin Ignition" inline engines with overhead valves and sturdy seven-main-bearing crankshafts. Twin Ignition signified two spark plugs per cylinder, which ensured more complete combustion.

The six again checked in at 234.8 cubic inches and 105 bhp, the eight at 260.8 cid and 115 bhp. Both were buttermilk smooth and able to run flat out all day without strain. Although not often appreciated then -- or now -- the Nash straight eight was among the best such engines of its day.

Three-speed manual transmission remained standard, but a column-mounted gearshift, a hot new idea in 1939, was available at slight extra cost. Also optional was overdrive, which Nash termed "Cruising Gear" or "Fourth Speed Forward."

A boon for highway travel and overall fuel economy, it lowered engine speed by 30 percent, saving up to 25 percent in gasoline costs and reducing both engine wear and oil consumption.

Another returning extra was Nash's "No-Rol," which "prevents the car from slipping backwards yet requires no foot for braking." Continued from 1938 was Nash's unique starting system that required pushing the clutch pedal to activate the starter, thus eliminating accidental lurching from the transmission being engaged.

Also reprised were rigid X-braced girder-type chassis with a front sway bar -- "ride stabilizer" as Nash termed it -- plus double-action shock absorbers claimed to be "40 percent larger than average ... probably the largest shock absorbers ever used in a car."

Appropriately for uplevel models, the 1939 Nash Ambassadors were well-equipped. Among the standard features were dual windshield wipers and sun visors; locks for steering, ignition, and glovebox; twin taillamps; dual horns; front-door armrests; robe cord; and passenger assist straps.

Eights added "trumpet" horns, wheel trim rings, front-floor carpet, an electric clock, glovebox light, and a flexible-spoke steering wheel with horn ring. Sedans included dual rear ashtrays and cigar lighters. Naturally, Nash dealers offered various accessories such as fog lamps, exhaust-pipe extension, a "master" bumper bar, and a DeLuxe radio with fingertip tuning and cowl antenna.

Nash continued to emphasize "travel features" for 1939, especially its advanced heating/ventilation system. Introduced the previous year as "Conditioned Air," this now added a thermostatic control to become the Weather-Eye Conditioning System. "A Twist of a Dial Turns January into June," Nash boasted.

Weather-Eye all but banished drafts, steamed-up windows, and stale interior odors by continually drawing in outside air through the heater. This also allowed the air to be warmed to a desired temperature and even partly dehumidifed en route to the cabin. The system even slightly pressurized the passenger compartment to keep out drafts.

Besides its enhanced climate system and excellent highway mileage, the Nash Ambassador encouraged four-wheel wanderlust with improved in-car sleeping accommodations: a "big, soft Convertible Bed -- ready for you in five minutes." One ad bragged that the 1939 Nash was so all-day comfortable "It'll Lead You Astray." Another predicted "You're Going to Take a Journey."

Because parents with teenagers were appalled at the idea of a rolling "hotel room," Nash tactfully portrayed its Convertible Bed as promoting thrifty family togetherness. Ads and brochures illustrated how the car could be made into a sort of camper -- although not in the way most people know now, where the front seatback drops down to mate with the rear cushion. That wasn't used until 1949.

Here, the rear seatback was folded up and a cushion put down so that mom, pop, and a couple of children could lay with their legs stretched into the trunk. This worked well enough, but was somewhat less convenient than the later arrangement. Interestingly, Nash also offered a $28 package for converting four-door sedans into a single-litter "ambulance" in less than five minutes. This was promoted as ideal for "Police ... Doctors ... Industries."

The economy rebounded smartly in 1939, and Nash benefited from a general auto-industry upturn. Revenue was $72,534,000 for the fiscal year that ended September 30. Car sales, including Lafayettes and some 1940 models, improved to 60,348 units from 41,151 in fiscal 1938.

Model-year car production climbed to 49,312, but just 11,999 were Ambassadors. Senior convertibles were especially rare: only 100 Sixes, and a mere 34 Eights. And despite the rosier economy, Nash-Kelvinator lost nearly $1.6 million in 1939, although that was certainly better than the previous year's $7.6 million shortfall.

See what 1940 had in store for the Nash Ambassador on the next page.

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1940 Nash Ambassador

Nash planned little new for 1940, so the production changeover went very smoothly and quickly, and sales for an assortment of Nash vehicles -- including the 1940 Nash Ambassador -- were under way by mid September 1939. A month later, the company claimed its largest order bank in 10 years.

The main news generating buzz was a well-considered facelift, again supervised by independent designer George Walker and featuring the round, sealed-beam headlamps adopted by most 1940 U.S. cars. These were 50-percent brighter than the previous square lights, yet they delivered less glare to oncoming drivers.

The 1940 Nash Ambassador
The 1940 Nash Ambassador

Front-fender caps on Nash vehicles were reshaped to suit. That, in turn, led to enlarging the nose-flanking "catwalks," which made space for larger vertical-bar grilles. Inside was a flashy new instrument panel with ribbed chrome trim and transparent plastic gauge covers that magnified the dials for easier reading. The clock and radio dials were redesigned, too.

Both Ambassador lines offered the same models for 1940, but there was a spectacular new open style: the Special Cabriolet. The work of noted California designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, this custom-built convertible stood just 53 inches tall, thanks to a body that sat lower on a regular ragtop chassis. A unique cut-down windshield helped, too.

The result was a quick, clean look enhanced by rear fender skirts, scooped-out door tops, and the removal of most exterior chrome -- including the door handles. The cockpit was richly upholstered in leather and cord cloth. Pleated top-grain leather capped the doors. Also standard was a tachometer -- then rare among U.S. cars -- plus white-sidewall tires, back-up lights, and Weather-Eye.

The Special Cabriolet was claimed to do between 95 and 100 mph, mainly because it weighed about 150 pounds less than regular ragtops. But it also cost more, so sales were almost nonexistent: Just 20 were built and only 11 delivered. According to a Nash memo dated April 23, 1940, the nine unsold cars were converted back to standard Ambassador convertibles!

Nash continued its eye-catching color advertising in 1940, but with new headlines like "This is the Life -- and it's Yours!" and "You'll Find a Road of Mystery!" Nash was a big winner in that year's Gilmore Economy Run. An Ambas­sador Eight led the large-car class at 21.43 miles per gallon; an Ambassador Six posted 23.05 mpg. (Lafayette scored 23.76 mpg.)

Meantime, the sales brochure made a telling new point about Nash's Twin Ignition engines: "The Government requires twin ignition on all transport airplanes. In motorcars you will find it only on the Rolls-Royce and the Ambassador Sixes and Eights." Take that, Detroit.

As before, the low-cost Lafayette accounted for the bulk of Nash sales for 1940. Ambassador production rose sharply, but still totaled less than 16,000 units. Convertibles were almost "carriage-trade" items: Just 206 of the Sixes, and a mere 93 of the Eights. Indeed, the latter was so rare that for two of the exterior-color choices -- Lagoon Blue and Romany Red -- the factory produced only one eight-cylinder convertible each!

Nash-Kelvinator enjoyed a small increase in dollar sales for fiscal 1940, reporting $73,489,574. More important, the company returned to profitability with net earnings of slightly more than $1.5 million. That profit would have been far greater, but Nash had plowed a great deal of money into developing an entirely new car that would pioneer unibody construction in America.

This debuted for 1941 as a Lafayette replacement named Ambassador 600 that claimed to go 600 miles on a 20-gallon tank of gas. A new generation of more traditionally built Ambassadors would carry on at the head of the Nash family through 1948, but then even they would be swept up in the new wave represented by the 600.

Continue to the next page to get the specs -- from engine size to total number produced -- on both the 1939 and 1940 Nash Ambassador.

For more information on all kinds of cars:

Specifications for the 1939-1940 Nash Ambassador

The stylishly designed 1939 and 1940 Nash Ambassadors were Nash Motors President George Mason's answer to the Great Depression's woes. Get the specifications for both 1939 and 1940 models of Nash Ambassadors with the charts below.

A 1940 Nash Ambassador
A 1940 Nash Ambassador

1939 Nash Ambassador Six (wb 121)

Model Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
trunkback 4d sedan 3,470
$985 3,900
convertible coupe, 5P
3,430 $1,050 100
coupe, 5P
3,360 $960 350
2d sedan
3,420 $955 402
business coupe, 3P
3,370 $925 213
fastback 4d sedan
3,450 $985 3,535
Total Ambassador Six

8,500

1939 Nash Ambassador Eight (wb 125)

ModelWeight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
trunkback 4d sedan
3,820 $1,235 1,910
convertible coupe, 5P
3,740 $1,295 34
coupe, 5P
3,710 $1,210 118
2d sedan
3,770 $1,205 69
business coupe, 3P
3,720
$1,175
63
fastback 4d sedan
3,800
$1,235
1,305
Total Ambassador Eight


3,499
Total 1939 Nash Ambassador


11,999

1940 Nash Ambassador Six (wb 121)

Model
Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
trunkback 4d sedan
3,385
$985
7,248
convertible coupe, 5P
3,410
$1,085
206
coupe, 5P
3,295
$960
516
2d sedan
3,350
$955
554
business coupe, 3P
3,290
$925
323
fastback 4d sedan
3,380
$985
3,653
Total Ambassador Six


12,500

1940 Nash Ambassador Eight (wb 125)

ModelWeight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
trunkback 4d sedan
3,660 $1,195 2,086
convertible coupe, 5P
3,640 $1,295 93
coupe, 5P
3,575 $1,170 123
2d sedan
3,620 $1,165 26
business coupe, 3P
3,555 $1,135 44
fastback 4d sedan
3,655 $1,195 878
Total Ambassador Eight


3,250
Total 1940 Nash Ambassador


15,750

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