Curbside Classic: 1947 Nash Super 600 – A Unibody Pioneer

(first posted 12/26/2017)         It is quite unexpected to see an unmolested and stock car from the 1940s parked out by the curb. A more common but still unusual sighting would be a resto-modded or hot rodded example with a more modern power train. These stock examples still exist but often only show up at classic car shows or events, but this was a genuine curbside find. As a bonus this Nash is quite an innovative vehicle and well worth preserving.

With the 600, which arrived in 1940,  Nash can reasonably make claim to being America’s first mass-produced unit-construction (“unibody”) car. The Lancia Lambda of 1922 is generally credited as being the world’s first unibody car but when determining America’s first the water gets a little more muddy. The Chrysler Airflow and Lincoln Zephyr can make a partial claim to be America’s first unibody but their efforts fell just a little short of the Nash. The Airflow and Zephyr still had a frame but it was welded rather than bolted to the body. So in a sense, the frame was integral to the body but it did not offer any of the weight savings associated with a true uni-body design. A person could in theory separate the frame from the body by removing a few spot welds.

The Nash was different with a body structure that included gussets welded within the body structure to strengthen it. Over 8,000 spot welds were used in the construction of the uni-body. Additionally, the front and rear inner fenders were not removable and contributed to the body rigidity. The result was that the 600 weighed about 400 lbs less than the Big Three cars. Although a bit shorter than them, with a modest 112″ wheelbase, it also had a wider body than the comparable Chevrolet, as it was a more modern design. It weighed about the same as a Studebaker Champion, but that car was narrower, and not as roomy inside. The 600 was arguably the most advanced car design and construction in the US at the time.

The light weight of the Nash made it quite spirited for the day even with a 172.6cid / 2.8L flat head straight six engine. This engine produced 82 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. The transmission was a manual three speed on the column that could optionally be fitted with overdrive. Fuel economy was another strength with up to 30 mpg claimed.

Legend has it the original 600 was named for 30 mpg and a 20 gallon fuel tank. So 600 miles to a tank. Later advertising revised this to 500 to 600 miles to a tank.

Lancia style sliding pillar suspension

The uni-body was not the only advanced feature found on the Nash 600. While leaf springs were still a mainstay of the industry especially at the rear the Nash featured coil springs at all four corners. The front suspension also featured a sliding-pillar design that was licensed from Lancia. This allowed for independent front suspension and resulted in excellent handling as well as ride quality. Unfortunately the design required regular lubrication and soon proved to be a challenge for mechanics as well as owners more familiar with solid front axles. Nash swapped to a more conventional double wishbone design for the later cars.

This 1946 example features the updated front end styling sold during 1942 to 1948 years as well as an attractive two tone paint scheme. The white wall tires are a nice period touch.

Nash offered an option for the rear seat to convert into a bed.

The interior of this example looked to be in excellent condition and a car show sign on the back seat confirmed that a restoration had been performed in the recent past.

Given all the advanced features the Nash 600 has a curiously low profile among collectors. Perhaps if it were built and sold by one of the Big Three it would be better known. Going by the rear license plate frame the owner is in the Nash Car Club and likely knows exactly how special this car is.