(first posted 5/8/2012) This was the wave of the future in 1949. While US automakers were still selling every facelifted prewar car they could make – and at a healthy profit – it couldn’t last. While no cars had been built during WWII, stylists were coming up with all sorts of wild creations on paper, of new, futuristic, streamlined cars of the near and not-so-near future. The all-new 1949 Nashes took streamlining perhaps as far as it could be taken, for its time.
While Studebaker had beaten every other car maker to the punch with its revolutionary ‘coming or going’ 1947 models, the Nash ‘Airflyte’ models that were unveiled in late 1948 were like nothing seen before. They were drastically, unapologetically aerodynamic, with smooth envelope bodies and nary a hint of separate fenders.
It was quite a change from the 1947-48 Nashes, which like many other 1946-48 cars, were lightly facelifted prewar cars. Models like the 1947 600 utilized bodies that had been in production since 1941.
The futuristic touches continued inside, with a ‘Uniscope’ instrument cluster. This bullet-shaped pod was attached to the top of the steering column, with all gauges build into a single glassed-in section.
These new Nashes had unit-body construction, a one-piece curved windshield, and continued a unique Nash feature: seats that converted to a bed for campers and cheapskates who didn’t want to pay for a hotel room. The front seat folded completely flat, forming a continuous section all the way to the rear of the car. You could even order accessory screens for the windows for fresh-air snoozing without the hassle of mosquitoes.
Obviously, the sheetmetal was the big deal; it looked like nothing else on the road. Both front and rear fenders were skirted, which made the cars even more modern looking, but the resulting narrow turning radius probably made these cars a pain to park, not to mention when having to change a flat tire.
The smooth body design not only looked aerodynamic, it was aerodynamic, with very low drag. Wind tunnel testing of the new Nash produced just 113 pounds of drag at 60 miles per hour, a very good figure for the time. A 1949 ‘pregnant’ Packard was also tested, but had a much higher drag of 171 pounds, despite having a very similar fastback design.
1949 Nashes came in 600 and more luxurious Ambassador models. 600s were powered by a 172.6 CID six cylinder, good for 82 hp at 3800 pound feet of torque. Ambassadors received a larger 234.8 CID six with 112 horsepower and a nine inch longer wheelbase. All that extra length did not translate to greater passenger room, however, as it was all forward of the windshield. The cheapest ’49 was the $1786 600 Super 2 door sedan, while the most expensive was the Ambassador Custom 4 door sedan, which retailed for $2363.
Starting with the Super, the line moved up through mid-line Super Special and top trim Custom levels, in 2-door Brougham, 2-door sedan and 4-door sedan varieties. Broughams were virtually identical to the two-door sedan, but featured more luxurious, individual rear seats with built-in armrests, as this photo from the Nash section of Old Car and Truck Pictures shows (there are lots of other cool Nash and Rambler pics there, definitely worth checking out). Very clubby – I like it!
87,145 600s and 42,826 Ambassadors were sold for the 1949 model year. The rarest variant was the flossy Ambassodor Custom 2 door Brougham – only 17 were built!
1950 Airflytes were much the same, which was to be expected for a model that was brand new a year earlier. There were some changes though. The 600 series was renamed the Statesman, and its L-head six received a quarter inch bump in stroke, which resulted in an additional three horsepower and increased displacement to 184 CID. The backlight’s size was increased for better rear visibility as well.
Perhaps the biggest news was in the Ambassador line, which was now available with GM’s Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Ambassadors also got a slightly longer hood in addition to the larger rear window shared with the Statesman. The Ambassador engine received a new cylinder head as well, which increased power to 115 hp. All Airflytes received slightly larger bumper guards, and were optionally available with seat belts – their first use in an American production car.
Nash used a variety of advertising to tout the Airflyte. Apparently they contracted with longtime Field & Stream columnist and illustrator Ed Zern for a series of fishing and hunting-themed ads. I thought this ad with the fish was kind of cute, and Nash poking a bit of fun at itself with its fish-shaped cars is endearing to me – not seen much these days, when the point of modern ads is typically “I am the greatest.” Lots more of these Ed Zern ads can be found here on oldcarbrochures.com.
Because Nash had an exclusive on its convertible seats, it was marketed to sportsmen as a hunting rig, as this 1950 advertisement shows. How many fishermen and hunters actually bought an Airflyte for that reason is lost to time, however.
Of course, Nash also talked up the Airflytes modern styling and unit-body contstruction, which Nash likened to aircraft design. It certainly looked like nothing else on the road. Well, almost nothing else on the road.
Also in 1950, the Nash Rambler debuted, looking much like a 3/4 scale Airflyte. This compact car, the brainchild of Nash president George Mason, was revolutionary in being a compact luxury car of sorts, with a host of standard equipment, chrome trim and nice upholstery. It would soon overtake the standard Nash line in total sales, but that’s a story for another time.
Which brings us to our featured CC, a 1950 Statesman Super 2 door sedan. If you watch the History Channel, this car may look familiar. American Pickers, a show dedicated to finding cool old stuff, is in nearby LeClaire, and this Nash is sort of their mascot. I have seen it a few times, but a couple of weeks ago, returning from lunch in Clinton (The Candlelight Inn, worth a stop if you’re ever there), I decided to get some photos of this car.
The above ad is appropriate in our featured Nash’s case, as I haven’t seen anything like this – in person, anyway. I go to a lot of car shows and car cruises, and while I’ve seen Metropolitans, Americans and even a Marlin, I can tell you I have never seen an Airflyte.
The Airflyte’s turtleback design makes it look smaller in the photos than it really is. My first impression was of a giant Volkswagen Beetle with a chrome grille.
That Uniscope instrument cluster really caught my eye, too. It may have been form over function, but I think it’s pretty cool. Apparently Nash buyers disagreed, because when the Airflyte was facelifted in 1951, it received a conventional instrument panel.
According to the nice lady at the store, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz found this ’50 Statesman Super at an old gas station near Belle Plaine, Iowa. It is essentially a static display, as most of the powertrain and interior are absent. It’s still a very cool car though. This particular Airflyte model sold for $1,713 when new, and it was the most popular two door Nash that year, with 34,196 made. The Statesman Super Brougham, with its cool rear theater seating, retailed for an extra $22 but was much rarer, with only 1489 takers. How many are left today? Well, this one at least!
Being a Statesman, it has a much shorter nose than its Ambassador siblings. I can’t help but think what this car would look like in bright red with wide whitewalls, a tan interior and maybe a mid-’60s AMC 327 V8. Would such an engine fit?
As for the Airflyte, its time was just about up. As the 1940s turned into the 1950s, fastbacks were becoming passe, as was gently rounded styling. The 1951 Airflytes got a toothier grille, more chrome and more squared off rear quarter panels with little finlets instead of 1949-50’s radiused sheetmetal. The Uniscope was also toast, replaced with a conventional gauge cluster set into the instrument panel.
In 1952, redesigned ‘Golden Airflytes’ would have new notchback rooflines, but were still clearly Nashes, with the carryover skirted front fenders. The fastback era was over, at least until the Pony Car Revolution of the 1960s.
Yes, the fastback version of the Airflyte did not last long, but its modern styling and unique features make it a worthy special interest car today, and certainly a great CC find. Thanks for saving one, Pickers!
I recall seeing many of these in the St. Louis/Jennings, MO area when growing up. I can honestly saw I never liked them – the styling just did nothing for me, but dad’s 1950 Plymouth, while not a work of art, certainly swayed my opinion – until I saw my aunt and uncle’s glorious Chrysler offerings in the early 1960’s, square steering wheel and all!
When the “space age” dawned – in automotive design, that is, not to mention the real space age along with the Jetsons, these things looked to be from the 1800’s! A surrey with the fringe on top looked more modern!
Having said all that, these were certainly not without their merits. Those individual rear seats looked awesome – were they really slightly canted inward, or is that the camera playing tricks? Whatever, I like it.
The sad reality was that by the time my automotive eyes opened, most of thse cars looked to be in about the same shape as the lawn ornament pictured!
As mentioned, my buddy and I, when seeing one, cringed at the thought of having to change a tire in the snow on a winter day! Glad none of these were in our families.
A bit of irony: A family friend’s name was Ford. The father worked at the nearby Chevy plant and the family car was a Rambler!
EDIT: I hate being the first one to post…also, I’d like a better shot of that 4-6-4 New York Central streamlined Hudson!
Irony about the loco is, the NYC Dreyfuss Hudson was a 1939 design, dated by then not only in its Art Deco style but its technology, since there was no question by 1950 that Diesel was the way forward, for passenger service at least. And the Alco PA would’ve made an excellent example (aside from its frail 244 prime mover).
Steam wasn’t dead yet in 1950, though it was clearly on the way out. The last few examples of the Norfolk & Western’s “J” class steam locomotives were 1950 builds, for example. Even those, though, were a prewar design (the first few were built in ’41.) A PA or an E-series (1950 would be an E8 I think?) would be a perhaps better comparison, though.
My neighbor across the street bought a 49/ 600 2dr sedan, which was black with a red roof and I thought it was soooo cool. The Nash dealership that year (49) had one of their cars covered in paper, running all over town for the week before the 49 release. It had signs saying, “Your new Nash, what all the others wished they had built.” Lots of people laughed loudly when they finally got a good look at it. Noreen Motors, (Bozeman Mt.) the Nash dealership did pretty well the next few years, selling a lot of the product.
My experience with Nash cars was great and I always thought they were very comfortable and quiet. My last one was a 1954 Ambasador 4dr custom with the “spare in the air”. Sold it to the president of the Nash Owners Club of America. I hope it is still going to meets.
These have always reminded me of a 1940s era cartoon car. Like you, I cannot tell you the last time I saw one of these, and certainly not in the wild.
For whatever reason, Nashs never really drew me in. I think that these are cool in a way that I think all old cars are cool, but there was nothing that really distinguished these. Although I cannot say that I really like the uniscope, I could see where it would discourage a guy’s right-seat passenger from commenting on your speed. 🙂
This piece dredged up a memory. When I was a kid in the mid 60s, the next door neighbor was an attorney with 3 kids. The youngest was my age, but the two older ones were much older, one in college. One morning I got up and there was a ratty looking two-tone ivory and eggplant Nash in the driveway. I think it was maybe a 1951. The college kid brought it home the night before. His dad was absolutely furious. It disappeared within a few days.
A great find and a well-written piece. Thanks for giving my day such a good start.
The future as it should have been . . . . . . until GM styling went and screwed up the whole market. Instead of aerodynamic bathtubs, we got tailfins.
Can I have a bathtub with tailfins please?
Nash made that in 1955-1957 on the Ambassador and Statesman, Carcounter.
Yes, of course. But they weren’t fastbacks and had a horrible (IMO) spare wheel at the rear. I was aiming more for the 40s Cadillac fastbacks, only with late 50s/early 60s tailfins. Somewhat like this:
Probably the closest thing you’re gonna get is this:
I am thankful to Harley Earl for making style important, thus rescuing us from a future filled with amorphous blob cars…. for about 35 years anyhow. 🙂
Very near to my ideal dream car! Long wheelbase, short overhangs, fastback boot, all check. Now just needs some tail fins and a large six cylinder! Don’t care much for the enclosed front wheels, though I love the clean rear `built-in’ skirts. With modern puncture-resistant tyres, who needs to change wheels that often?
Edit: What’s the strange beast that lurks between the Nash and the steam streamliner in the poster with the aeroplane?
It’s a an imaginary futuristic bus, but not anything that ever got built. Odd, since it’s next to production machinery, and that they chose a steam engine, handsome as that NYC engine is, rather than a diesel streamliner. Oh well; artists will be artists.
The bus may be based (or direct copy) of a concept by a designer; it looks somewhat familiar, or it may just be his own.
The quad headlamp treatment and the fluted side panels (Mmmmmmm…) are lifted from the GM Parade of Progress Motorama-mobiles. The rest I’m not so sure about. It seemed strangely familiar to me too, that’s why I asked. Definitely not production.
BTW Steam FTW
Yes, that one is close; but there were numerous other renderings back then on the theme of streamlined buses; this one seems to be a composite of some of the various ideas being thrown around.
I don’t think any of the renderings went as far as the GM PoP Futureliner buses, which actually *were* produced for shows, and were completely functional! See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtHMwK1ZAag
There was a episode of Speed Racer called “The Mammoth Car”. The Mammoth Car looked a lot like that bus. 🙂
I think the Mammoth Car from Speed racer was inspired by two concepts from the 1960’s…one by GM called the Bison, and one by Ford that I think was just called the “Turbine Truck”.
Re: Car counter/strange beast Looks like someone’s idea of a bus and a train. If it really existed Paul will do a CC on it soon I bet.
Old man I cut lawns for had one of these. I have ridden in it plenty of times. It always struck me as being a really nice car. By the time I was buying cars they were almost gone. I had a bunch of 53 fords starting out. The looked good in my youthful opinion and were cheaper than nash or hudson. Then came rambler and these might as well not have been because they sure were scarce.
I don’t change many tires. Never did have to. I probably wouldn’t have liked it much when I did.
Funny, WS, you just reminded me of something: Isn’t it weird that back in the days of tubes and hot-patches, we seemed to get more flat tires? The advent of tubless tires appeared to change all that, making flats a much rarer occurrence.
I recall my dad saying that my great aunt bought a new 1949 Nash. It was such a lemon that Nash actually took it back and gave her a 1950 model to replace it.
My father worked with a man that bought a new 1949 Nash.
He was in a very bad rollover wreck not long after, he claimed that the car saved his life.
I know of a Nash Ambassador similar to the one pictured, but it is a four door sedan. It’s spending the rest of it’s life in the back lot of an old mechanic’s shop here in Albuquerque, NM. The paint is faded and the interior is seriously dry rotted, but other than that it looks like it could be driven with very little effort as is.
Nice Patina, can’t believe I’m the first to say that.
I’d go for the 4.0 Jeep six with a 5 speed, I think that AMC 327’s are a very heavy engine, being a thickwall casting.
I have seen this car on American Pickers. And a very strange car it was. My aunt and uncle had this very model, the 1949 Statesman Super, in the yellow color pictured. My uncle was somewhat eccentric, and it fit him to a “T.” They drove it from new until about 1955. Their daughter (my cousin) remembers going camping on family vacations all over the West in those days, she has often recalled sleeping in the fold-down seats. She still refers to it affectionately as the “Schmoo.” I was just a little boy, but I was fascinated with the Uniscope, such a wierd looking instrument panel. My uncle was constantly putting water into the car, I think it must have been a malfunctioning water pump that he babied along for years, my aunt would get so furious sitting by the roadside while he fussed with jugs of water.
Great writeup, fond memories.
These cars (and the step-down Hudsons) loomed large in my childhood, because I was so obsessed with streamlined cars. By the time I arrived in the US in 1960, they were old and not that many around. It was sad for me to realize that they were a dead end. But that made them even more fascinating, in a way. I wanted one then. And I’d be very happy with one, still.
I would be very happy with a Hudson Hornet, with the big six. Twin H-Power! I was greatly surprised and pleased to find a Hornet in a main role in Disney’s Cars, and played by Paul Newman too. I’m (still) really obsessed with streamlining. I would even get the damned streamlined toasters, if I could find ’em. One of the articles that really drew me to your writing in the first place was your series on Auto Streamlining (on TTAC), which I came across while searching for streamlining on the WWW.
Love the “moral” in the first Ed Zern ad. “It is better to be tetched than ketched.”
Wow- I always liked the bathtubs and the interiors seem to be the best I’ve seen. Seats that make into a bed and a Tucker-like instrument pod!
That Brougham twin seat looks like something you’d find in a Boeing Stratocruiser, which I bet was the inspiration, and its a Brougham truly worthy of the trim level.
Imagine if Packard had done ‘lounge seating’ in their bathtub coupes- that really would have made them worthy of the name. It is a shame they were outclassed by a refrigerator company.
That 1950 ad portraying other modes of transportation has an airliner which looks like a DC-6 with a Stratocruiser nose. Too bad they chose not to use the Constellation instead, the best-looking prop airliner, or better yet, the even more futuristic DH106 Comet, whose prototype first flew in July ’49.
No Packard owner would ever sleep in their car !
According to Michael Lamm, the Uniscope instrument pod (suggested by George Mason himself, who also insisted on the skirted front wheels) was discontinued because of service issues. Basically, it clustered all the cables for the instruments in the column — if something got frayed, broken, or shorted, getting at it was a pain.
Another Nash oddity of this time was that both engines had an integral intake manifold: it was cast as part of the head. On the Ambassador, there was a bolt-on mounting plate for the carburetors, but with the Statesman, the carburetor bolted directly to the manifold, so you were basically stuck with a single 1V Carter.
The 1950 Ambassador engine has another distinction: Donald Healey installed one into a modified Healey Silverstone chassis and ran it in both the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The prototype Nash-Healey’s engine was very close to stock; the main distinctions were a new exhaust manifold, a different cam, a milled head for slightly higher compression, and a pair of S.U. carbs. The 1952-54 Nash-Healeys went to the bigger 4.2 L version and made quite a good showing at Le Mans in 1952 and 1953.
Earlier Nash engines had the carb bolted to the engine + the exhaust pipe bolted to the side of the engine. I’m guessing that they had overheating issues. Later Nash went to an exhaust manifold that was basically a piece of pipe with holes that was clamped to the engine. Did they burn out pretty quickly? Of course they did.
I’ve always been wild about these Airflytes. My mind must have been imprinted by the Airflyte we had when I was just three…I barely remember it. I sure wish I could see one up close.
Soon after moving to the Pacific Northwest in ’80, a perfect maroon and grey Airflyte knocked my eyes out, just rolling down 15th Ave. in Seattle. I knew then I was in Curbside Classic heaven. Haven’t seen one in years.
What a car! This car is the greatest step forward of its time. Tremendous bold streamlined design. Modern body construction, modern ventilation, safety too.
I’ve long had an unreasonable craving to build an electric Airflyte. Imagine this big cloud coasting silently down the street. At 3000 pounds and decent aerodynamics it’s not a bad candidate for electrification.
I used your 113 lb drag at 60 mph figures to calculate a drag coefficient of 0.36. Comparable to many modern sedans. Though its 34 sq. ft. frontal area gives the Airflyte a hefty drag area of 12 sq. ft., up in minivan territory. All the same, I really want an electric Airflyte.
Let’s not forget Nash’s contribution to the Baby Boom from those famous fold-down seats. Am I the first to mention that obvious fact? You guys are so polite.
The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be.
Will you call it an Electro-lyte? 🙂
At one point, Nash held some sort of contest to find children conceived in Nash cars…it was an old joke even in the fifties!
Ha! Surely not for real, not in the prim fifties. Nice joke though.
What would be a good prize? How about a certificate good for a brand new Nash when they turn 18?
When I was a little kid, my Dad did some work at his friend’s Nash dealership off and on during the 50s and he got our family involved in Nash ownership for a few years. We had a 1950 Ambassador 4-door (prior to that, a much more handsome 1947) and my grandmother had a 1951 Statesman. Our bathtub had the Hydramatic, which turned out to be so unreliable that Dad wouldn’t buy another automatic for many years. I think he had trouble with the Uniscope as well.
The skirted fenders gave Nashes, including the later 1952 and 1953 Statesmans owned by my folks, grandmother, and aunt, terribly wide turning circles that made parking a chore. These Nashes were underpowered and rusted like crazy. But they rode well and had comfortable, spacious interiors and good gas mileage for the time, especially with overdrive. The WeatherEye heating/fresh air system was among the best in the business.
I never liked the bathtubs and really appreciated being out of their dark tunnel interiors when we moved on to the “Pinin Farina” 1952-53 models. The dashes of those cars were quite nicely designed and had simple gauges (no Uniscope!) and the pull-out drawer glove compartment. We had the Nash accessory air mattresses for the reclining seats. One toy I regret no longer having is a cardboard Nash dealership with tab assembled features, including the cars – very cool.
Dad brought home quite a few demos over the years, including a Nash Healey and an Ambassador Lemans Country Club 2-door hardtop that had a tweaked dual carb version of the six that performed much better than the standard one. It was a beauty in, IIRC, red with black top, wire wheel covers and wide whites, and black and white interior. I remember well when he brought home a 1955 Ambassador with the lights tucked into the grille: it looked a lot more modern to me as the 1952 design seemed to age as quickly as did contemporary Hudsons. Nash had a big presence in the midwest in the 40s and 50s. They also had a plant out here in LA and sold quite a few cars on the west coast.
Looking at the styling and the advertising for the Airflyte Nash is interesting, they were designed by people in the 40’s imagining what cars of the 1950’s would look like, they imagined that the streamlined fast back trend would continue into the next decade, and just like that the jet age/space age styling themes took them by surprise. Kinda like Chrysler in 1960-61 they kept designing finny cars, “zap” and “pow” styled carswith wrap around windshields, and then the clean early 60’s Bill Mitchell and Elwood Engel designs started to appear.
Exactly. The Airflyte looked like every wartime artist rendition of the glorious future after the WWII was finally over. It was outdated when it came out. The mostly covered wheels were part of the look. I think if they didn’t have them (Mason’s fault, apparently) particularly on the Pininfarina replacement they might have made it.
Turns out the 1949 Ford shoebox was the actual wave of the future, other than cheaping out on the two-flat-planes windshield. Otherwise it set the basic pattern for sedans really up to today.
Otherwise it (1949 Ford) set the basic pattern for sedans really up to today.
Which one better set the pattern for modern sedans? When was the last time you saw a new genuine three-box sedan? The Airflyte’s covered wheels were a temporary fad, but its fastback was just way ahead of the times.
These cars remind me of the old Superman TV series. The cop cars were bathtub Nashes and their tires squealed on dirt roads or sandy beaches.
Lots of pictures from Superman here:
Here’s a Nash police car from Superman, cutting a sharp corner. Check out that front tire angle.
Nice write-up, not sure I’ve ever seen one of these, but they remind me a lot of the 1947 Standard Vanguard
I’m not a fan of the enclosed front fenders though, apart from the restricted turning angle they also necessitate a narrow track width which makes for poor handling.
What great old cars. All the chatter about the fold-down seats reminds me of the Delbert McClinton song the Blues Brothers did, “B-Movie Box Car Blues”:
“Next I caught a ride with a gambler’s wife; she had a brand-new lay-down Rambler…
Parked outside’a town, laid the Rambler down, she said she sure would dig it if I wrote her…”
It kinda looks like a chopped Volvo PV 444/544 with skirted fenders.
I guess I may be one of the few commenters who’s actually ridden in one of these. It was a 1949 600 4-door with a three-speed transmission, and the main thing I remember about it was that first and second gear seemed to provide only added gear noise and not much in the way of forward thrust. It made my 1947 Chevy seem powerful by comparison.
The red and black 1954 Nash mentioned above is something I’d certainly be interested in driving. For some reason the 1952-1954 stying appeals to me.
When my dad was in college, Hiram ’49, we had a maroon Nash. The fold down seats helped stretch our G.I.Bill budget when visiting the grandparents in New York City. The Pennsylvania Turnpike seemed shiny and new. I liked the tunnels. The orange roofs of the Howard Johnson’s restaurants beckoned us to overnights in the parking lot, bracketed by dinner and breakfast. Preschoolers love ice cream and my favorites of the famous “28 Flavors” were vanilla and pistachio.
My top favorite American car of all time!
I *love* all Nashes made from ’49 to ’56, .
Our next door neighbor when I was a child had a ’51 Ambassador in 2-tone green, between the ages of 3 and 10 I rode in it many times. Their other vehicle was a Willys Pickup with the sidemount spare, BTW. I always admire their taste in cars… 🙂
They were old then and are gone now, and my dad owns and lives in their house now. Not the Nash or the Willys though, no idea what happened to those.
It isn’t true that the skirted front wheels caused a large turning circle, though I often see that repeated. In fact, the front track was narrow enough to keep the rubber away from the steel. May not have done wonders for handling, but having only ridden in it I couldn’t say… Tire changes were somewhat reasonable because of that, too.
In fact, in the movie “Suddenly” starring Frank Sinatra, there are about six Nash Statesman Police cars, and there’s a scene showing one doing a U-turn on a 2-lane highway — looks about par with other cars of it’s time.
I believe that movie is in the public domain, and can be watched or downloaded here: http://archive.org/details/suddenly_avi
I found the Popular Science article from this car’s introduction in late 1948.
“It was only a matter of time until one of the established automobile makers put skirts on its cars’ front wheels to match those on the rear. The 1949 Nash has them.”
This photo from the article shows the front track is 5 inches narrower than the rear, like Btrig says. “Company says this doesn’t materially affect car’s stability.” No, it’s not a wide-track Pontiac, it’s a narrow-track Nash.
Look at the article for lots of photos and text, including one showing the front tire being changed.
“Lounge interiors, contributing to the trend toward regarding the family automobile as an extra room for the home…..”
Wow nice find, thanks! Another great Nash site is at
“An extra room for the home” — prophetic of future Broughams and today’s rolling nerd-caves.
The frame bows out like it was designed to accommodate rear seat footwells, but I don’t think there were any.
It’s a unibody, so no “frame”. Those are reinforcing ribs on the floor structure.
A little known fact is that Nash ran “factory” Ambassador cars in the 1950 and 1951 NASCAR seasons, using drivers such as Curtis Turner. Turner won the 150-lap race at the Charlotte Speedway on the 1st of April.
Here is a picture of Mike Klapak’s Ambassador #35 at the Dayton, OH track in 1951:
Very nice cars..
Charles w. nash (RIP)
Vintage Automibiles Brochur Cards – 504 piece
Just found this in a field here in SW Florida
SAw one in Stroudsburg PA. in the late `60s,green with a tan fabric interior.Was amazed to see it had individual back seats like the current `67 Charger. That unipod instrument cluster was really cool. There was one in the West Village in Manhattan in the early n`80s,all gray. Near Hudson and Jane st, by a small park. This was a `49 and the owner kept it like new. Wonder if its still there. Nice looking car that sort of reminds me of one of those Marx lithographed friction tin police cars or Dick Tracy police car toy from the early `50s.
Rubba-dub-dub… in an old Nashtub >>>
As noted in my post above from a few years back, I grew up with Nash cars around for a period of time. Here is a mini-series on YouTube about a rescued bathtub Nash that includes some interesting details as the car is brought back to life:
That’s one cool Nash. Those de-laminating white walls remind me of the “whitewall paint” that I used on my Sears bike tires in the late ’50s. It stayed on just about as well. I think it was a J.C. Whitney item.
Attached is a slightly more recent picture of the same car when we passed through there around New Year’s 2014. I remember actually mentioning the car to Tom afterwards and he sent me the link to this article that he’d written that I had completely forgotten about! It’s a very nice looking shape and just seems like it would float down the road.
The blue shed behind is the main shop for the TV show but they just added a brand new building to the left as we well with tons of logo merchandise etc. for sale. Seems like they are doing very well for themselves, good for them. And LeClaire is a gorgeous little town right on the banks of the river, well worth a rest break when heading through the country on I-80.
There is something iconic and quintessentially American about the humpback shape of the Airflyte, as well as a few other cars of the era. With so many cars today verging toward a variation of a fastback, I wonder if we’ll see any American car designers try out a neo-humpback. It would have to be retro and new at the same time… kind of like Chrysler pulled off with the 2005 Chrysler 300. I could perhaps see Buick trying something like this.
I find the idea of a neo humpback very interesting too. The part that scares me is how a company like Ford could take the original smoking hot sexy two seat Thunderbird, and then morph it into that retro guppy looking thing so many years later. Sometimes the past is best left in the past.
Bathtub Nashes were still cars of my formative years, fifty years plus ago. The local used car dealer had a bunch in his junkyard of unsalable cars removed from his sales lots over time. He was an old-time “$5.00 Down, $5.00 A Week” operation in a rural small town where the incomes in general were low.
To see many Nash Airflytes in one place these days, check the Nash Car Club website, when their Grand Nashionals are in your area, make a point to attend. They’ve met at Batavia, NY twice in the last decade, forty-five miles from home, I’ve got to see some nice rare Nashes!
If you check out Jay Leno’s garage he has a nice segment on a 52 that he bought a few years ago, It is an original maintained car. He liked it but said it was pretty slow. I remember reading an article in Old Car Weekly on this model, and they showed the twin lounge seats. These would make a lot of sense for chauffeur driven car. I imagine it would be perfect for a “Lincoln Lawyer” type of operation. That seat makes the coved Thunderbird seat look like a joke, looks even better than the Cadillac Talisman set up.
Those have to be the largest rear side windows ever fitted to a coupe – did they retract?
Used to be a ’50 Statesman coupe in Stamford, CT when I lived there in the late 80s. Pre-digital days, so I never got a pic, but it seemed to be in use.
Never new about the Brougham with the club seats – are they actually angled towards each other, or is that a photographic artifact?
Very nice article – I used to think these Nash bathtub models were ungainly but I’ve changed my view over the past several years.
I do like the rear of the 49/50 models – they remind me of the rear of a similar vintage Flxble Clipper bus…….
The front seat can accommodate four? This was clearly the era between the introduction of the big car and the rise of fast food.
Tom has brought some carefully-focused attention to a somewhat undeservedly forgotten car. I’d never noticed, for example, that all the extra wheelbase was in front of the cowl on the Ambassador vs. Statesman. AMC did almost exactly the same thing on the stretched Rambler which became the 1958 Ambassador, where it made even less sense, as Ramblers usually had the long 6 cylinder, while Ambassadors were all V8s with shorter blocks that year…The ’50 Rambler was an even tidier package than that Statesman, though. I recently had a chance to inspect a ’51 Rambler AIrflyte wagon with a modern (BMW) Mini Cooper S chassis tucked underneath. Both cars share the same 100 inch wheelbase, but not quite the same rear track, as you will see. The owner uses it as his daily driver, and its friendly shape makes a more memorable impression than most of the computer-generated modern designs that share the road with it…
Not necessarily only for lover’s lane.
That Uniscope instrument cluster is a dead ringer for the cyclops setup in the VW New Beetle. It had a big central speedo with little tach and fuel dials below. I’d been addicted to fancy dash displays ever since my Mom bought a’66 Mustang and I insisted she order the optional five-gauge cluster. My New Beetle showed me the beauty of simplicity. Minimal instruments sat discreetly below the biggest, broadest of windshields, with everything engineered to help you pay attention to the road. Exactly the opposite of every contemporary car…
Thanks for bringing this essay back to CC. I very much enjoy reading about auto history and progress. Yes, they were bathtubs but also mechanically advanced in some respects. That 1950 rear seat interior with two armchairs is remarkable. It reminds us of luxury cars of the twenties.
I could see myself riding down a highway in one of these road balloons, but I cannot see myself hauling it out for daily jogs. What made it special was its long distance comforts. Yet, as a daily commuter, a Nash of this generation, would be like riding around in a small RV. In my opinion, this is a problem for Nash – a comfort, long distance cruiser, or a nimble daily driver. Nash never quite figured out what it was during the post-war years.
Thankfully, Mason created the Rambler, which met daily driver needs. Mason clearly understood many things, among which was a need for differing vehicles for differing needs. He ended up with big road balloons, a cheap daily family car, and then a two seater commuter car. The man was smart.
As for this car, it could be wonderful, but if I had a roadworthy one, I wouldn’t use it for what it was designed to be – a floating road balloon for cross-country trips.
There is an old joke re Nash owners; you know…they were stereotyped as being older, kind of curmudgeon-like, conservative, and maybe not possessing the best of driving skills…
“Hey, I just had a fender bender with another car”.
“Let me guess…it was a Nash, and the driver was 70, and wearing a hat”.
“How did you know?!”
Another vote for Suddenly (1954) as the ultimate bathtup Nash police car collection.
And seeing them racing around on the film, could there have been heavy=duty police suspension options in ’52-54?
Also, several other early to mid-Fifties noir films have Nash police cars, making me wonder whether they were a thing in real life.