How Nash Cars Work

1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 Nash Cars

The 1936 Nash 400 New Six shown here featured the 234.8-cid engine, introduced in 1934.
The 1936 Nash 400 New Six shown here featured the 234.8-cid engine, introduced in 1934.

Like most automakers, Nash was damaged badly by the Depression. Though it regularly built over 100,000 cars a year in the late '20s, it wouldn't repeat that figure in the '30s, and thus ranked 11th, 12th, or 13th in industry production, with the exception of 1932, when it placed seventh in a down year for the industry.

Also like many others, Nash hit bottom in 1933, output totaling less than 15,000. With a new approach desperately needed, a planned 1934 restyle was postponed a year while Nash pinned its hopes -- and resources -- on new low-priced LaFayettes.

Nash built its millionth car in 1934 while trying to summon better times with a drastically reduced line consisting of the 116-inch-wheelbase Big Six, 121-inch Advanced Eight, and 133/142-inch Ambassador Eight, all with ohv Twin Ignition engines. But production didn't improve much, and Nash lost over $1.6 million.

Hydraulic brakes arrived for 1935 models, reduced to just a four-door sedan and six-passenger victoria in each series. Ambassador also lost its smooth 322-cid engine, sharing the Advanced Eight's 260.8-cid unit.

But the belated restyle appeared that year as "Aeroform Design," and it was good. Highlights included sweeping skirted fenders, a handsome Vee'd radiator, and a louvered hood. Prices spanned a range of $825-$1220. Happily for Nash, sales turned up. Registrations for the calendar year went from just under 24,000 to a bit over 35,000.

Things were even better for 1936, reaching 43,000 with the help of new low-priced six-cylinder "400" models, standard and Deluxe. That year's Ambassadors comprised two Sixes and one eight-cylinder "trunkback" sedan, all on a 125-inch wheelbase. Prices were $835-$995. Sixes shared the "400" engine: the 234.8-cid unit introduced back in '34, now with 90 or 93 bhp.

Hopes for the revived LaFayette weren't entirely realized. An ostensibly separate make, it was, of course, planned as a junior-edition Depression-beater. Trouble was, the Great Depression was easing by the time the car debuted in 1934, which made the line far less necessary.

Indeed, LaFayette attracted only 5000 first-year buyers and another 9400 for '35 before unexpectedly sky-rocketing to 27,860. They had ordinary styling on a 113-inch wheelbase, and popular body styles were offered at $585-$715. But the cars were "built down" to achieve those prices. Their powerplant, for instance, was the old 75-83 bhp 217.8-cid six from 1931-33.

Accordingly, LaFayette was made the lowest-priced 1937 Nash, taking over an unchanged chassis from the previous year's "400s." The Ambassador Six returned on a 121-inch platform and was increased to 105 bhp. Ambassador Eight continued with its 125-inch chassis and a 260.8-cid Twin Ignition eight that now made 115 bhp.

This range of engines and wheelbases continued through decade's end. Styling was cautious, even imitative. The '37s, for instance, were much like Chrysler/DeSoto Airstreams: slightly lumpy, with similar barrel grilles. But they seemed to satisfy buyers. Nash had its best year of the decade in 1937, building 77,000 cars to earn $3.4 million.

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