Nash had a very attractive product line for 1941 -- some of the most exciting cars in the company's history. Although the biggest news for the year was the innovative new 1941 Nash Ambassador 600, strategy-wise that car was just one leg of a three-legged stool.
The 600 was Nash's entry into the market's lowest-price segment, and its mission was to attract a new crop of buyers, folks who traditionally shopped at Big Three dealers. But Nash also had a loyal owner base and a strong image with the public as a well-built, medium-priced automobile. For those traditional buyers, Nash offered big new cars that represented the other two legs of that product plan stool: the sumptuous and courtly Ambassador Eight and Ambassador Six models, proud flagships of the new Nash line.
Nash president George Mason had long wanted to move the company into the low-price market but realized it would take a radical new product to make inroads into the Big Three's territory. Ordinarily, that would have forced Nash to tool up for two separate types of cars: a budget-priced car to battle the Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth; and a traditional big-car line. That would have been an expensive proposition. The problem was solved by developing the unit-bodied 600 on a 112-inch wheel-base and using the same basic body, with a stretched wheelbase, for the line of big Nashes.
The 600's basic unitized body structure was developed by Nash's Ted Ulrich, who had been hired away from the Budd Company. Although Nash can't be credited for being the first American automaker to use a unibody, it was Nash that introduced the modern Budd-type fully unitized body design and was the major factor in its universal acceptance in the industry It's still the standard today.
As used on the 600 series, the body was a pure unitized design, with the usual separate frame discarded in favor of a series of heavy sheetmetal stampings welded together to form a rigid unit chassis. But for its "big guns," Nash chose to hedge its bet on unitized design by utilizing a conventional frame underneath essentially the same unit body (though there were some differences under the skin). This would provide the biggest Nashes with an even more rigid foundation and ward off any potential fears from buyers that the new cars might be a little too far out engineering-wise.
The 1940 Ambassador Sixes had been built on a 121-inch wheelbase, while the big Ambassador Eights rode a 125-inch wheelbase. For 1941, however, both senior lines were built on a 121-inch chassis. The new cars featured all the traditional Nash virtues: spacious interiors, high-quality fit and finish, and innovative engineering.
Also traditional was the Eight's engine. This was the 260.8-cubic-inch, nine-main-bearing Aeropower straight eight that produced 115 horsepower at 3,400 rpm. A noteworthy feature was its novel use of two spark plugs per cylinder, a setup Nash termed "Twin Ignition," to promote more complete combustion and ensure against misfires.
A holdover from America's classic era, the Nash Twin Ignition Eight was recognized as a smooth, powerful performer. Prospective car buyers were urged to "Listen to the soft, deep whisper of its 115 hp. Compare...its thrilling performance against the L-head sixes or eights that sell in this popular price field. Compare...the long life of its nine-bearing crankshaft against the usual four or five as in most cars. Compare...the fineness and staunchness and honest engineering represented in Nash rifle-drilled connecting rods, complete cylinder cooling, full length water jacket." Still, the 1941s were the final series to feature engines with Twin Ignition.
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1941 Nash Six and Eight
The 1941 Nash Ambassador Six and Eight models were so named for the number of cylinders in their engines. The Six was powered by Nash's dependable seven-main-bearing, 234.8-cubic-inch, 105-horsepower, Twin Ignition Aeropower six-cylinder. Like the Eight, this was an overhead-valve engine, a Nash tradition that perhaps evolved from founder Charlie Nash's former management position at Buick. With full-pressure lubrication, rifle-drilled connecting rods, and four-ring pistons, the six was a strong, quiet powerplant that allowed adequate acceleration coupled with excellent fuel economy.
These sturdy engines were carried in bodies that looked almost identical to those of the smaller 600 series. The big Nash models wore much longer hoods and front fenders because of their longer wheelbases, and had full rear-fender openings, not the semienclosed rear fenders used on the 600.
The senior Ambassadors came in several body styles, including models that were shared with the 600 (although the seniors carried much more standard equipment). The Six series featured a fastback four-door sedan, called Slipstream, in Special and Deluxe trim, and a four-door Trunk sedan that came only with Deluxe equipment. Two business coupes were also listed, plus a Brougham coupe and a two-door Slipstream sedan available solely as a Special.
Deluxe Slipstream models had foam seat cushions, nicer upholstery than Specials, front quarter-window ventilating locks, and front-floor mat-carpet inserts. To that, the Trunk sedan added a deluxe steering wheel and a rear center armrest. More exciting, though, was news that the Ambassador Six could be had in a body style not available on the 600 series -- an attractive convertible coupe.
The Ambassador Eight series came in an abbreviated lineup that included the Slipstream four-door sedans in Deluxe and Special trim, plus the four-door Trunk sedan, Brougham coupe, and the handsome convertible. All of the senior Ambassadors came with top-quality cloth seats except for the ragtop, which was upholstered in leather.
The new cars bore a strong family resemblance to the 1940 Nash line. The front end featured a high prowlike hood, flanked on either side by chrome "waterfall" grilles nestled just above five chrome bars that likewise were separated by the pointed front end. Nash name script was inscribed in the front bumper. Nash set the headlamps into the fenders, with oval headlamp rings that carried turn-signal lenses on their upper edge.
Overdrive -- which Nash dubbed "cruising gear" on the optional equipment list, but referred to as "Fourth Speed Forward" in sales catalogs -- was available on any model for $53.90. So, too, was Nash's Weather Eye heating and ventilating system, which was considered the best in the industry (and cost $30.10). Two-tone paint was available on all models except the convertible. All senior Ambassadors came with dual windshield wipers, sun visors, and horns.
Pushing for sales volume, Nash president George Mason showed restraint when it came to pricing the new cars. The Ambassador Six started at $855 for the business coupe and ran up to $1,095 for the cabriolet. The Eight series began at $1,051 for a sedan, running up to $1,215 for the cabriolet. Nash revised prices, mostly upward, several times during the year.
The complete Nash lineup was displayed in a beautiful sales catalog that proclaimed on its cover "There's a New Thrill!" There really was -- and Nash could point to registrations showing a whopping 35 percent increase (including sales of the 600) over the prior year as proof that the public loved the beautiful new line. Company profits for the fiscal year were a healthy $4,617,052.
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The 1942 Nash models carried a few alterations. Most of the appearance changes were at the front end. Nash made the new hood and grille blunter than the pointed snout of the prior year. The dual waterfall grilles were gone, replaced by a central grille with five chromed louvers. Just below the louvers, the Nash name was spelled out in large block letters.
Turn signals were now on top of the fenders and the hood had a stylish "N" badge. Three chromed bars, thicker than the five smaller bars on the 1941s, spanned the area just above a new, heftier bumper. All in all, it was a very handsome facelift.
Nash did a bit of model shuffling, too. The Special business coupe was dropped from the Six series and the Special Slipstream four-door sedans were dropped from both the Six and Eight series. The Eight now included a business coupe and a two-door Slipstream sedan, Sadly, neither the Six nor the Eight was offered as a convertible model for 1942.
Nash wasn't shy about touting its 1942 models, claiming that "For sheer beauty of form...for magnificent size and room and comfort...and for surging extra power at your toe-tip...no car at anywhere near the low price can match this supreme product of 25 years' fine car building." From Nash's point of view, these cars were "fitting big brothers to the sensational Nash Ambassador 600."
The new models were previewed by Nash distributors and branch managers at a showing in mid August 1941 in Hot Springs, Virginia. According to one press release, the distributors "roared their spontaneous approval when they first glimpsed the clean newness of the 1942 cars."
There was a down note to the introduction: Like the rest of the auto industry, Nash had sharply curtailed production because progressively more of its attention was turned to the production of defense material, and thus dealers wouldn't be receiving as many cars as had been hoped for.
With every possibility indicating that increasing defense needs would further cut into car production, Nash's General Sales Manager, W. A. Blees, cautioned the distributors to make sure each dealer ran a tight ship, with particular emphasis on the service, parts, and used-car departments. In lieu of a sufficient supply of new cars to sell, these departments were likely to become important profit centers.
Japanese forces launched a murderous sneak attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, drawing the U.S. into World War II. Within weeks, all automobile production in America ceased as auto plants were quickly changed over to full war production.
Assemblies of Nash automobiles ceased in January 1942. Only 5,428 Nash cars were built that calendar year, but in all, more than 31,700 1942 models (of all series) were produced before the wartime interruption. These included a significant milestone: the last straight-eight-engine car produced by Nash. The company wouldn't offer another eight-cylinder car of any type until the Packard V-8-powered 1955 models.
For a small independent, Nash's war record was remarkable. The company produced more than $670 million in war goods, including aircraft engines, propellers, bomb fuses, transport trailers, and some of the first helicopters used in wartime. Nash also ran one of the most endearing series of wartime advertisements in the business -- dedicated not to selling cars but in tribute to the brave servicemen "over there."
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When the war finally ended in Allied victory, Nash was one of the first automakers to convert its plants back to building autos. On October 27, 1945, the first 1946 Nash models rolled off the assembly line.
As with most other manufacturers, these postwar models were warmed-over versions of the 1942 cars. However, there were several important differences. First, Nash made some notable appearance changes. Most altered was the grille area. The grille louvers were now broader than those of the 1942s, and the Nash name no longer rode beneath them. New rectangular turn signal lamps sat in the space between the headlamps and the grille, and slightly altered headlight rings were installed.
Four thin chrome bars sat just above the bumper, replacing the three heftier bars that formerly occupied that space, and the center section now jutted outward a bit. Nash somewhat revised the bumper guards and hood ornament, and adorned the front edge of the hood with a handsome new Nash emblem.
Bigger than all that, however, was the change in models. No longer were there separate Six and Eight series; now only one Ambassador was offered, powered by a six-cylinder engine (the former Ambassador 600 series was renamed simply 600), Though displacement of the six stayed the same, a slight compression boost nudged advertised horsepower to 112.
The Ambassador was offered in a slimmed-down lineup that comprised the Trunk and Slipstream sedans, and Brougham coupe, all only in Deluxe trim, plus a new model, the Suburban, offered on a limited production basis. The reason for only offering top-line models was simple economics: The postwar demand for cars was so overwhelming that people would pay almost anything for a new car so there was little incentive to produce lower-profit base models.
The glamour car of the 1946 range was the elegant new Suburban. Nash produced it by skinning the doors, quarter panels, and decklid of a regular Slipstream sedan in real wood, making it look much like the Chrysler's famed Town & Country. But this was by no means an attempt by Nash to create a new high-volume market segment; the Surburban's price was a lofty $1,929 and Nash built only 275 for the model year. Not surprisingly, Suburbans today are considered one of the most desirable of the 1941-1948 Nashes.
The rest of the line was priced at $1,453 for the Brougham coupe, $1,469 for the Slipstream sedan, and $1,511 for the Trunk sedan. During the fall of 1945, Nash built only 6,148 cars, though for fiscal-year 1946, Nash production totaled 72,861 cars (including 600s).
The Automotive Golden Jubilee, celebrating the first 50 years of America's automobile industry, was held that year and Nash history was well represented in the grand parade that wound through Detroit on June 1. Included among the cars that parade viewers got to see were 1902 and 1909 Ramblers, a 1918 Nash, and a 1923 LaFayette. Also on parade was a factory-fresh 1946 Ambassador Brougham.
Charlie Nash and 13 other automotive pioneers became the first inductees into the Automotive Hall of Fame. And, out of thousands of hopeful entrants, Mary Grace Simescu, a secretary in the Nash-Kelvinator advertising department, was chosen queen of the jubilee.
George Mason was in an expansionist mood and he began to make Nash a larger company. Nash purchased plants in El Segundo, California, and Toronto, Canada, and, in anticipation of increased car production, began construction on a new 204-acre proving ground in Burlington, Wisconsin.
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The 1947-1948 Nash lineup effected a transition for the company to the first post-war model. For 1947, Nash showed almost no appearance change from the prior year -- the upper grille was a bit broader, but that was about all anyone could notice. Frankly, there still wasn't much need of anything more drastic; this was the second year of the booming postwar sellers' market and the main concern, as in 1946, was simply to build as many cars as possible, since thousands of buyers were waiting. The company managed to produce 115,914 cars for the fiscal year, passing the 100,000 unit mark for the first time since 1929.
Nash was chosen to provide the pace car for the 1947 Indianapolis 500 race. As Nash lacked the convertible model traditionally selected for this role, the field was led by a canary yellow Ambassador sedan with energetic Nash president George Mason, himself an old dirt-track motorcycle racer, at the wheel.
But big changes were the order for Nash and its cars for 1948. The material shortages and work stoppages of the previous two years eased a bit, allowing Mason to broaden the lineup. A gorgeous convertible, the first model of that body type since before the war, was introduced. Ambassadors were now offered in two series, Super and the fancier Custom.
The two-door Brougham coupe and the four-door Slipstream and Trunk sedans came in both series. The Suburban was available only in the Super series, while the droptop came only as a Custom. Of these two most-expensive Nashes, only 130 Suburbans and 1,000 convertibles were built that year.
About the only appearance change to the Ambassador was the deletion of the full-length chrome bodyside strip used on previous models. A short chrome strip now graced each side of the side of the hood, as did Super or Custom script. Sales were good. Fiscal-year production edged up to 119,862, though that included 749 trucks built primarily for export markets. These were the first Nash trucks since the Twenties.
An era ended with the 1948 Nash Ambassadors. It was the last time Nash would build a production model with a separate frame, or offer a wood-trimmed car, and it was the last time America would see a Nash Ambassador convertible (though a Rambler Ambassador ragtop would debut in 1965). Charles Nash passed away quietly that year and the chairmanship of the company was placed in Mason's able hands. The company reported outstanding earnings -- a profit of more than $20 million. An all-new type of Nash was waiting in the wings. So, too, for a time was even greater success.