1950-1952 Rambler

It's easy to think back on the Nash Rambler only as a quaint little 1950s economy car; pleasant and frugal, but slow and about as exciting as tapioca pudding. But that point of view is wrong.

Rambler Image Gallery

The Rambler had a unique look and appeal that matched its quality engineering and performance.
The Nash Rambler had a unique look and appeal
that matched its quality engineering
and performance. See more pictures of Rambler cars.

It's not the way people viewed Ramblers when they first appeared. As a matter of fact, top automotive writers who tested the Rambler when it came out thought it was one of the hotter-performing cars on the market -- meaning fast.

After test-driving a Rambler convertible, Motor Trend's Walt Woron stated "it is definitely not a small car in performance and comfort."

Tom McCahill, Mechanix Illustrated's bombastic but well-liked road tester, put a Rambler wagon through its paces. He wrote, "I was frankly amazed at the pick-up .... Zero to 60 in 16.9 seconds wasn't bad but the real surprise was going zero to 30 in 4.4 seconds! This is jump starting in any league." McCahill also declared himself "highly impressed with the way this wagon held the flat corners of the Nash test track at high speeds."

If anything, Speed Age writer Ted Koopman was even more enthusiastic, calling Rambler "the nearest approach to the MG produced in America today. The Rambler corners and accelerates nearly as well as the best MG. On winding roads the Rambler will give any car a bad time."

To find out more about the development of the low-priced Rambler, continue on to the next page.

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The Low-Priced Rambler

The low-priced Rambler wasn't designed to be a sports machine; it was Nash's latest assault on the market dominated by Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth.

Something every automotive executive learns early in his or her career is that the surest ticket to success in the car business is volume. Sell lots of cars and you make lots of money. The more cars you sell, the more money you make.

But to sell cars in really high numbers you need to be in the "popular-price" bracket -- and success there calls for a good car at a low price. Henry Ford's the best example of that. He built a great low-priced car and it sold like hotcakes. Chevrolet aped his success. So did Plymouth.

George Mason, chairman of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, understood that age-old truth. He also knew Nash already had made several attempts to sell in the lower-price ranges.

The 1921-1924 Nash Four line included models under $1,000, as did the 1925 Ajax, a brand built by Nash. The 1934 Lafayette was aimed at the very heart of Chevy/Ford country with prices as low as $585. But ultimately, none of those products survived over the long haul. So how to compete?

During the mid 1940s, Nash executives examined the situation in depth. Vice president Albert M. Wibel, a former Ford executive, felt that Nash should bring out a car like the current Ford, an opinion shared by Henry Clay Doss, vice president for sales. In fact, most Nash executives felt the best option was to introduce a car that would compete head-on with the Big Three's lowest-priced cars.

Mason, on the other hand, felt the only chance Nash had to break into the low-priced market was to field something more than just another "me-too" car. He directed his engineering department to come up with a new car to outflank the Big Three.

Engineering vice president Nils Wahl­berg and chief engineer Meade Moore were anxious to show what Nash could do. The engineers already had many of the basic elements they needed right at hand.

Nash had introduced unibody construction on the 1941 Ambas­sador 600. It was much safer than body-on-frame assembly and provided substantial weight savings.

Airflyte construction (Nash's term for unibody) dispensed with the conventional frame to trim more than 200 pounds, providing both better acceleration and fuel economy. It also offered a better ride and improved handling because of its inherently higher torsional stiffness. Mason felt those benefits greatly outweighed unibody's higher tooling cost.

Despite his size -- he must have weighed something approaching 300 pounds -- Mason was a confirmed small-car enthusiast, and he wanted the new Nash to be smaller than full-size. A more compact size would save on material costs, while optimizing fuel economy, another of Mason's passions.

Then, too, Mason felt Nash should be different from other cars. Wahlberg believed superior engineering would enable Nash to field a car combining family sized interior space with trim exterior dimensions. They set to work on an all-new design. They called it the "X-car."

A 100-inch wheelbase was settled on because it provided room for five passengers, the minimum number considered necessary for a family car. After experimenting with a variety of new engine designs, engineers decided to go with the six-cylinder engine already being used in the 1949 Nash 600. This was a conventional L-head type displacing 173 cubic inches and good for 82 bhp.

Although larger and more powerful than what was originally envisioned, the powerplant was dependable and known for excellent fuel economy. Since the new car was going to be significantly smaller and lighter than the Statesman (as the 600 was renamed for 1950), it should be capable of outstanding acceleration in addition to good gas mileage.

Six experimental cars were built: two convertibles and four two-door sedans. Following two years of testing and refinement, the design was released for production.

Mason had one lieutenant whose belief in the new car's potential was even great­er than his own. In 1948, George Rom­ney, head of the Automobile Man­ufacturers Association's Detroit office, turned down an executive position offered by Packard after Mason showed him prototypes of the X-car. Romney instead joined Nash as Mason's assistant.

"I was shown prototypes of the Rambler, and was convinced that here was something different, unique," he told this author. "I felt it was the car of the future."

Romney reportedly suggested naming the new car Diplomat, a thematic tie-in with the Ambassador and Statesman nameplates. But instead it was decided to name the new car Rambler.

One story claims Chrysler had already registered the Diplomat name (it appeared on Dodge's first hardtop coupe in 1950); another says simply that Nash executives voted to go with a beloved nameplate used by Nash's predecessor, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, from 1902-1913. The new Rambler would debut in 1950.

To learn about the 1950 Rambler, see the next page.

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1950 Rambler

Though the 1950 Rambler weighed in at just 2,430 pounds, Romney claimed that its "Airflyte construction practically doubles torsional rigidity." He also bragged that "because of the lighter weight resulting from Airflyte construction, we have been able to achieve to an extraordinary degree both excellent economy and excellent acceleration."

The 1950 Rambler was loaded with standard accessories.
The 1950 Rambler was loaded with standard features.

Despite its compact exterior, engineers felt that Rambler would satisfy the needs of many families because it wasn't a Crosley-like midget. It provided generous interior room. Rambler was small, but it wasn't tiny.

The biggest problem Nash faced was building enough cars to meet expected demand. Raw materials and components, then regulated by the government, were doled out according to historic production; in other words, the supply of materials to build new cars was figured on how many cars an automaker had built in previous years.

This meant Nash got only a fraction of the materials it needed to produce Ramblers in large volume. Mason decided to produce only one body style initially, the most expensive one, the convertible. Further, Mason directed that Ramblers be sold loaded with equipment.

Since Nash could build only a limited number of cars, they'd have to fetch a higher price to be profitable. As a result, nearly every option would become standard equipment and the base price adjusted upward.

Wide whitewall tires; electric clock; custom steering wheel, wheel discs, and upholstery; pushbutton radio; Weather-Eye heater/defroster; directional signals; foam seat cushions; courtesy lights: All were standard, making Rambler one of the best-equipped cars of 1950. A three-speed manual transmission came standard, with overdrive as an option.

Rambler's rounded body styling was pleasant, looking for all the world like a downsized Nash Ambassador. The trademark enclosed wheels didn't restrict cornering as much as one might think; Rambler's turning radius was smaller than every other American car except Crosley.

Interior trim was elegant. Styled by Nash consultant Madame Helene Rother, formerly a chic fashion designer in Paris, Rambler's expensive fabrics and coordinated colors were designed to appeal to the feminine eye.

The instrument panel was beautiful. A version of the Nash Uniscope gauge cluster sat directly in front of the driver, with the radio in the center of the dashboard.

Speaker openings were framed by two rows of chrome "buttons" flanked by large black control dials, all very stylish and modernistic. Atop the center of the dash sat the clock.

Of course, the most unusual feature of the Rambler convertible was its fixed side roof rails. These were incorporated to ensure safety and rigidity in the unibody.

According to Ted Ulrich, Nash's chief body engineer, "Permanent overhead rails provided ample beam strength without extra underbody structure." Better door fit and a quieter ride were other advantages.

Production began in February 1950, and Rambler was introduced to dealers during announcement meetings held in late March and early April 1950. Public introduction was April 10.

As noted, the only model available at first was the convertible priced at $1,808, which should put to rest that old chestnut that Ram­blers were the cheapest cars on the market.

By comparison, a Chevy DeLuxe two-door sedan was priced at $1,482 and a Ford Custom Tudor was $1,511. For what Nash charged for a Rambler, a buyer could have an Olds­mobile Futuramic 76 Deluxe coupe with a few bucks left over.

Of course, Rambler was a convertible, traditionally among the most expensive of body styles. In an apples-to-apples comparison with Big Three ragtops, Rambler was lower-priced.

The high price brought on by the high level of equipment was also meant to limit demand, but that didn't seem to happen. Buyers flocked to showrooms and, before long, Nash executives were swamped with phone calls from ac­quaint­ances needing help locating one of the popular cars.

Toward the end of the year, Nash technical advisor L. H. Nagler joked that "[Nash] officials never realized they had as many friends as those who have shown up during the last six months!"

Explaining Rambler's virtues, George Romney noted that low-priced cars had grown significantly larger in the previous 20 years. Rambler was finding favor with buyers, he felt, because unlike tiny European cars, Rambler was sized for American tastes.

In fact, he said, "On three basic counts, the Nash Rambler is a full-size car. First, in wheelbase and length, it is about equal to what 'big three' models used to be. [Truthfully, one would have had to go back to the Ford Model T to find a 100-inch-wheelbase car from either Ford, Chrysler, or General Motors.]
"Second, as compared to their present models, while its wheelbase is about a foot shorter; its overall length is two feet less; and its weight nearly 500 pounds less, it has comparable passenger roominess and comfort. Third, its performance factor is on a par with the larger models, regardless of make or size, and it has superior economy."

Sure, there were glitches early in production. Service bulletins indicate some problems with the top bows cutting into the roof fabric and troubles with the front cross member. But Rambler's basic engineering was first-rate, and it proved to be a sturdy, well-built machine.

In June, a Custom two-door station wagon joined the Rambler line, priced the same as the ragtop at $1,808. This was another of what Mason called the "fringe models," higher-priced styles rather than the basic two-door sedans that dominated the low-priced field back then. For an extra touch of class, the Rambler wagon featured Di-Noc simulated woodgrain trim around the side windows.

When Nash closed its 1950 fiscal year on September 30, it reported its best year ever up to that time. Car sales -- 178,827 versus 139,521 for the prior fiscal year -- were running at twice the pace of 1941.

Public acceptance of the Rambler was outstanding, although its late start re­stricted 1950 model-year orders to just 11,428. (According to company documents, almost 400 of that total came from nonproduction prototypes and a run of California-built convertibles with what appear to be 1951-series model numbers.)

Owners loved their Ramblers. "What do I like about it?" asked one. "Everything." Another happy owner bragged about "plenty of power and I especially like all the accessories built in."

Still another reported, "I have had a bad accident in this car; the heavy car that hit me is junk, while the Nash held up very well." In a poll, owners reported gas mileage averaging 23.5 mpg in town and 27.4 on the highway, far better than competitors.

Continue on to the next page to read about the 1951 Rambler.

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1951 Rambler

By 1951, Rambler wagon bodies were being produced in a new factory, a wartime aircraft-engine plant purchased from the War Assets Administration. The new plant and better availability of raw materials meant Nash could produce many more Ramblers and offer additional models.

The 1951 Rambler two-door Country Club hardtop was a popular choice for buyers.
The 1951 Rambler two-door Country Club hardtop
was a popular choice for buyers.

Accordingly, the Rambler convertible and station wagon were joined by a hand­some Country Club two-door hardtop in Custom trim, priced at $1,968. Also joining the line was the Suburban, a family station wagon in Super trim priced $108 less than the fancier Custom wagon.

A stripped commercial model called the Deliveryman -- ideal for light-delivery uses such as florist shops -- was a third wagon model, though it was not heavily promoted. It featured two-tone rust-colored vinyl upholstery and grained Masonite interior side panels.

Curiously, the company also produced 50 Rambler two-door sedans, although these may all have gone to export markets. (Production records don't state where they were shipped, but the only photos we've been able to locate appeared in British and Canadian magazines.)

Rambler production soared in 1951, with slightly more than 70,000 units produced. All Ramblers continued to feature a radio and heater as standard equipment, even the Deliveryman.

Follow the development of the Rambler by continuing to the next page to learn about the 1952 Rambler.

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1952 Rambler

Nash retained the same basic models for the 1952 Rambler. Sales of convertibles fell dramatically this year; perhaps the novelty had worn off. Buyers apparently were enamored with the Country Club hardtop though, and production of that model rose to 25,784 units.

Limited availability of the 1952 Rambler only increased its appeal.
Limited availability of the 1952 Rambler only
increased its appeal.

A new high-line station wagon model called the Greenbrier debuted. It included Custom trim and special two-tone paint -- at first only shades of green, though other choices soon became available.

But Rambler production fell sharply because of several factors. First, the U.S. military involvement in Korea caused the government to once again restrict the supply of raw materials. Frustrated Nash officials watched helplessly as production was unable to meet demand.

Then a strike by steelworkers shut down production from July 3 to August 18. Then, too, the 1952 Ramblers weren't introduced until April 1. In the end, Nash produced only 53,000 1952 Ramblers.

After three years on the market, Nash realized its Rambler needed a bit of freshening, so a restyling of the exterior was scheduled for 1953. Four-door sedans and wagons on a longer wheelbase would follow in 1954.

Rambler had proven to be a success in its first years, even though events kept it from reaching its full potential. Yet, despite its excellent sales and undeniable appeal, no one could have guessed that Rambler would soon overtake the larger Nashes in sales or that the Rambler name would eventually replace Nash. But that was coming.

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1950-1952 Nash Rambler Specifications

The 1950-1952 Nash Rambler gained instant popularity with buyers who liked its looks, as well as loyalty among customers who appreciated its quality engineering and performance. Here are the specifications for the 1950-1952 Nash Rambler:

The Rambler had a 100-inch wheelbase, small for its time.
Ramblers had a 100-inch wheelbase, small for the time.

1950 Nash Rambler Vehicle Specifications

Vehicle Specifications
All Models
Wheelbase, inches

1950 Nash Rambler Models, Prices, and Production

Model Weight, pounds
Custom Landau convertible coupe
2,430 $1,808 9,330
Custom 2-door wagon
2,515 $1,808 1,712
Custom 2-door sedan*
-- -- 6
Super 2-door wagon (5,114)*
-- -- 1
Custom 2d wagon (5,124)*
-- -- 1
Custom convertible coupe (5,121)**
2,430 $1,808 378
Total 1950 Nash Rambler


*Believed to be nonproduction prototypes.

**Produced at the Nash assembly plant in El Segundo, California. Model numbers in the 5,100 range for these cars and the two station wagon prototypes imply that they are 1951 models, but they were all included on a company report of 1950 model-year production.

1951 Nash Rambler Vehicle Specifications

Vehicle Specifications
All Models
Wheelbase, inches

1951 Nash Rambler Models, Prices, and Production

Model Weight, pounds
Super Suburban 2-door wagon
2,515 $1,885 5,568
Super hardtop coupe
-- -- 1
Custom convertible coupe
2,430 $1,993 14,881
Custom 2-door wagon
2,515 $1,993 28,617
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
2,420 $1,968 19,317
Custom 2-door sedan
-- -- 50
Deliveryman 2-door utility wagon
2,415 $1,637 1,569
Total 1951 Nash Rambler


1952 Nash Rambler Vehicle Specifications

Vehicle Specifications
All Models
Wheelbase, inches

1952 Nash Rambler Models, Prices, and Production

Model Weight, pounds
Super Suburban 2-door wagon
2,515 $2,003 2,970
Custom convertible coupe
2,430 $2,119 3,108
Custom 2-door wagon
2,515 $2,119 15,464
Custom Greenbrier 2-door wagon
-- -- 4,425
Custom Country Club hardtop coupe
2,420 $2,094 25,784
Custom 2-door sedan
-- -- 1
Deliveryman 2-door utility wagon
2,415 $1,842 1,248
Total 1952 Nash Rambler


Sources: Manufacturer model-year production reports; Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, John Gunnell, editor, Krause Publications, 1987; Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®, Pub­lications International, Ltd., 2002.

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