(first posted 7/30/2015) Normally I am not one to gawk, but this time I did. Even my non-car enthusiastic co-worker was curious as he turned us around to head back.
Seeing older cars running Old Route 66 in the summer isn’t an unusual sight; seeing a 1957 Nash, or any Nash for that matter, is. This particular Nash is special and it’s not simply because it has been pulling a trailer all the way from New York State. It’s special because it is the last Nash.
JPCavanaugh covered Charles Nash and the early history of his company here. This is currently the oldest Ambassador we’ve covered and it’s one we’ve been hoping for. Given enough patience and luck, nearly anything will eventually pop up.
Perhaps because the Ambassador name faded away forty years ago, its easy to forget this name graced some really great and diverse cars in its forty-plus year career. There was that hiatus in the early to mid-1940s, but the Ambassador was hardly alone in its hibernation.
To better put this two-tone 1957 Ambassador in perspective, we need to look at its ancestors.
Nash introduced the Ambassador name in 1927 (1929 shown) as a trim level of the Advanced Six. It was Nash’s most upscale offering.
In 1932, Ford introduced its V8, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President, and Nash made the Ambassador its own series. This series Ambassador came in the variety of sedan, coupe, and convertible body styles that were typical for the times. Nash also introduced its “Synchro Safety Shift” this year, where the shift lever for the transmission emerged from the dash.
Powered by a Twin Ignition straight-eight coming in both 299 and 322 cubic inch varieties, this original Ambassador set the template for the entire Ambassador name – the top tier of the brand with the longest wheelbases and most powerful engines. The Twin Ignition engines had dual spark plugs, points, condensers, and coils all operating from a single distributor. The Twin Ignition engines would remain in various displacements until 1941.
For the highly depressed 1932 model year, Nash was one of only two United States manufacturers to turn a profit; the other was General Motors.
By 1935 the Depression had wreaked its greatest degree of havoc on Nash and their new “Aeroform Design” that year (1937 shown) helped them rebound from their 1933 low of building just under 15,000 cars to having their best year of the decade in 1937. The 1930s were a roller-coaster ride for everyone.
It should be noted Nash was also highly cognizant of there being a lucrative automotive market outside the United States. There were years when Nash exported approximately 10% of its Kenosha, Wisconsin produced cars and at various times Nash built pickups in the Australian ute idiom expressly for the export market.
An exterior redesign for 1939 brought together a whole host of art-deco styling themes. While production was twice that of recession riddled 1938, Nash (who had merged with Kelvinator in 1937) still lost money for the year.
While the changes to the Ambassador were superficial for 1939, the changes for 1941 would be quite structural and would be reflective of the Ambassador for some time.
This was perhaps one of the greatest leaps forward for Nash and the Ambassador. Built with a unitized body, Nash was eagerly seeking ways of extracting weight from the car and to maximize fuel economy – a savvy business move with war in the air. The weight reduction was tangible with roughly 200 pounds being lost from 1940 to 1941. An Ambassador Eight sedan, such as the one seen here, tipped the scales at 3,475 pounds.
Interestingly, while Nash was building unitized bodies, there was still a frame beneath it all. The unitizing of the cars was inspired by train construction. A unit body sitting on a frame had to produce quite a robust car.
As a side note, AMC would raise eyebrows in 1968 by comparing an Ambassador to a Rolls-Royce. Such a comparison was hardly new. In their 1941 pamphlets, Nash would compare its Aeropower engines to none other than those of Rolls-Royce.
This basic body would resume in 1946. The most notable immediate post-war Ambassador was the wood bodied Suburban of 1946 to 1948. Only 997 were built in these three years with an estimated fifteen remaining.
Upon conclusion of the war, all eight-cylinder engines were found to have vacated Kenosha. All Ambassadors were powered by straight-sixes from 1946 until a V8 appeared in 1955.
Nash’s postwar redesign came in 1949, within the same time period as the other auto manufacturers. While it was the most outlandish of the Ambassador line to this point, the Airflyte was also the most successful with the Nash brand selling in excess of 122,000 cars annually through 1955 with a peak of 205,000 in 1952.
Exterior styling for this generation was shared with the lower priced Nash 600. The only physical difference was the Ambassador had a wheelbase of an additional nine inches, all up front.
Despite the distraction of the front fender skirts, the Nash was a study in aerodynamics. A contemporary, and somewhat similarly shaped, Packard had 171 pounds of drag at 60 mph; the Nash had only 113 pounds of drag.
Model year 1950 would bring about the introduction of a General Motors sourced automatic transmission. Once again, Nash compared themselves to Rolls Royce as seen in this ad. Nash was also renowned for its flat folding seats, a feature any similarly equipped Rolls Royce likely wouldn’t tout outside of highly discreet company.
Nash had its 50th Anniversary (by technicality) in 1952. It was counting the time since the Thomas B. Jeffery Company was established, the firm Charles Nash had purchased upon his departure from General Motors. The year was greeted by another redesign, dubbed Golden Airflyte, and this redesign would see Nash through to the end in 1957. This 1956 Nash was arguably the most eccentric of the bunch.
The eccentricity of the front fender skirts and inboard headlights would be gone for 1957, the final year before the Nash name drifted away. Nash had been a part of American Motors Corporation since its merger with Hudson in 1954. With AMC’s new emphasis on small cars, the mighty Nash nameplate was being consigned to the scrapheap of history.
What a way to make an exit.
Every 1957 Ambassador would be powered by a 255 horsepower 327 cubic inch (5.3 liter) V8. This was the first V8 designed under the AMC umbrella and came to market for 1957, replacing the Packard sourced V8 used since 1955. This 327 would be around several more years, as it would power the 1958 Rambler Ambassador.
AMC was moving away from large cars, leaving Nash to fall prey to the changes. The Ambassador name lived with AMC until 1974. Ambassador isn’t the longest running nameplate in United States automotive history, but it is definitely one of the longer serving ones.
This all leads back to our long serving Ambassador.
When I first came upon the car, one man was trying in vain to open the hood while another was fiddling with something in the instrument panel area. While curious, their demeanor and facial expressions indicated my stopping to ask about their Ambassador could have been an unwelcome invasion. I quietly slipped away to attend to my business; I suspected their Nash may not be going anywhere for a while.
Coming back later, I was able to quickly snap these pictures. Finding this Ambassador was certainly a catch; it’s coming all the way from New York state while pulling a trailer certainly makes it seem I was destined to find it.
With some corrosion in the rocker panels, seeing this Ambassador, still being worked like it would have been in 1957, has certainly been one of the most delightful finds so far.
That’s a pretty one! There’s a ’56 Ambassador around Spokane. Not a daily driver, clearly a special-occasion cruiser.
The Nash story has a lesson for modern times. Charles Nash was head of GM, then quit in disgust at Billy Durant’s stock manipulations and unwise mergers. He vowed to run a company without debt, and succeeded. Nash was able to pull through the Depression, and had both the resources and the FREEDOM to develop the 600, because it maintained a cash reserve and didn’t have to obey creditors or Wall Street traders.
Belt and suspenders. Cash reserve, 7 main bearings, dual spark plugs, monocoque plus frame. It’s all the same philosophy.
Hey does anyone know where to find or how to find the weather eye conditioned air system in the 1949 Nash am, the chrome center piece. I’m desperate!
Try Hemmings Motor News.
The ad image of the AIrflyte Ambassador really manages it to make it look rakish, more like a Step Down Hudson or a fastback Buick than a Nash. The actual cars, which seem to have become very rare even for 1949–50, one could call “endearingly dumpy” — there’s no surprise why people at the time thought they looked like bathtubs.
I didn’t realise that the Ambassador name went back that far. I’m guessing that Corvette is the longest running US name, with Mustang and the Olds 98 close behind.
This green, black & white one was in the local 4th of July parade. It makes two tone blue seem pretty tame.
Among cars, yes.*
If you include trucks, “Suburban” and “F-Series” have longer continuous runs.
* Some (not I) dispute the Corvette’s claim to continuous use of the name since 1953, citing the lack of a 1983 model (ignoring a handful of 1983 pilot cars).
I don’t know all the details, but my understanding of the Suburban name, is that GM didn’t register it as a trademark until the early ’70’s; although they did use it in advertising brochures in earlier years. I do know Chrysler used it on many a station wagon up into the ’70’s. My point is that when GM claimed it was the “longest running nameplate” in a TV ad, the claim was a bit iffy.
Chrysler’s “New Yorker” ran from 1939 – 1940. The Chevrolet “Suburban” from 1935 – Present, Kinda qualifies since “suburban” was almost generic for “wagon”, and others used it (MOPAR), I say “kinda”
Awesome article! I have a friend who has a friend, who has a 1946 Nash. It’s a beautiful looking car.
I worked for a Nash nutter for a while he had a 37 flatdeck ute factory built, Ive never seen one of these though the design is certainly polarising, its one weird looking car.
My late grandfather was not a Nash fan…he had one that was apparently a lemon, and the phrase he used was “Nash today, trash tomorrow”. That didn’t stop him from buying AMC products later, specifically a 74 Gremlin (purple with black vinyl seats), 77 Hornet hatchback(brown with brown plaid seats) and 81? Spirit hatchback(white with maroon corduroy seats)
This car’s journey reminds me of the one taken across the Soviet Union in 1958, by a Popular Science writer driving a Rambler wagon:
The look of awe on the children in the photo must be similar to the looks that this Nash gets today…it’s like looking at something of another world.
Shoulda gone with a Chrysler New Yorker wagon. That would have shown them!
Or maybe a Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. Or a 1958 Lincoln.
Better late than never, my Parents 4 years later bought a 1961 Rambler wagon (automatic, 6 cyl) then for some reason bought another in 1963. My Dad started out with a new ’56 Plymouth Plaza (2 door sedan) before he met my Mother, the Plymouth had the flathead 6 and 3 speed manual on the column. My Mother (who just this year stopped driving) learned to drive on her Father’s 1951 Chrysler Windsor semi-automatic, but really has never been comfortable with less than full automatic, hence the automatic in the Rambler (1st car they bought after marriage). I was half the reason for the wagon, the other half was my twin sister. The next 17 years they owned a series of wagons, but sadly none were Mopar. The ’63 Rambler was totalled in an accident in 1965 as we were moving from our home in Catonsville, Md (happened to my Dad outside our hotel after we vacated our former home there). Bought a new ’65 F85 wagon and owned 2 Ford and 1 more GM (Chevy) wagon till the Chevy was totalled in 1984 and my family stopped buying wagons (about the time they stopped offering them new, maybe minus 5 years?)
Walter Chrysler would, when he and Charlie Nash were in a group, say ” Hey, Charlie, show us your first nickel, we know you’ve still got it!”
That says it all about Charlie Nash and the way he ran his company!
58L8134, If you ever get to Kenosha, WI look up Charlie’s house.
Right on the lake, lots and lots of nickels were used.
Not stingy with himself, but frugal in every other way, including his plant and employees! Anyway, he had to have a mansion, after all, he did own a car company and had to entertain other car company executives at times…..couldn’t do that in a modest hovel.
Great spot, and a classic Curbside Classic. New York to Missouri is how far?
The 1956 car with the front fender skirts presumably had either a limited turning circle or a narrow front track?
I found this car in the town of Lebanon, Missouri, in the southwest part of the state; arbitrarily picking Albany, New York, as an origin, it’s about 1200 miles from home.
From what I have been able to tell, the fender skirted Nash’s had very narrow front tracks. A commenter here posted a picture of one a long time ago, but I was unable to find it for use here. His picture, which was head-on to his family’s Nash, made the car look rather top heavy and off-kilter in its width to track ratio.
It did. The track width of the cars with skirted wheels was only about 1,413mm, compared to 1,500mm for the unskirted ’57.
I wonder what the track comparison would be between a skirted Nash and a wide track Pontiac? Only three years space between the two.
They really did nail the styling in the end though, even if the taillight placement does recall the ’52 to ’54 Ford.
The front track figures are 1,618 mm for a ’59–’60 Pontiac, 1,500 mm for the Nash, a difference of 118 mm — about 4.6 inches. For the earlier skirted Nashes, the difference is 205 mm, or more than 8 inches!
The prewar Car of the Future not showing the wheels was over with by the time Nash got to the style. Nash would have done way better if they had canned the idea at least with the new 1952 model if not sooner. The 1957 was an obvious try at making an old outdated too tall body appear relevant. Didn’t work.
The odd thing is the 1957 pulling a cargo trailer in 2015. I would maybe expect something more like this:
What a lovely car ! .
The two toning and accents are very striking , even with light blue and white .
I like this color combo over the gold /black one .
My 1959 Metroplitan FHC is tittled as a Nash , many were .
When new, one could have traveled especially comfortable in this particular ’57 Ambassador. The tiny emblems on each front door signify the presence of factory air conditioning, the All Weather Eye system. It was considered one of the best among early car air conditioning systems.
Hopefully the system is still intact and operational, but seeing the windows down and the rear vent windows open, it may not be.
The Twin Ignition thing is a whole new concept to me. (Please understand that my knowledge of how cars work and such is pretty limited.) My first thought was, “Why on earth…?” A little Googling and down the rabbit hole I went.
Who knew Chrysler is still using the system in their new hemi?
Love this article. I learn so much from this site.
Alfa Romeo has used twin plugs (Twin Spark) quite a bit as well, and if memory serves, late ’90s Mercedes-Benz engines did too (three valves and two plugs per cylinder), the latter for emissions control reasons. I think Mercedes has gone back to four valves and single plugs on all engines by now, but I’d have to double check.
Ford did that with it’s later model 4 in the Ranger IIRC.
Nissan used twin ignition very similar to the Nash set up though since it was the 80’s it was electronic rather than points.
International had twin ignition optional in their LV series engines. It was mainly used in Fire Trucks but they used two separate distributors to make that happen. It was mainly there as a back up system since this was back in the days of points.
Mazda used a twin ignition system with a single distributor in their Rotary engines.
It was mainly there as a back up system since this was back in the days of points.
I think that is correct. Dual ignition was common on early aircraft engines. When Hall-Scott transitioned to truck and marine engines, they carried on with the OHC hemi head and dual ignition systems of their aircraft engines. Points failing, condensers failing, plugs fouling were all vastly more common that now.
Most people think that dual ignition is only for backup in case of component failure, especially in aircraft engines, and that is true to a point. The real advantage is when the spark plugs are located at opposite corners of the combustion chamber. The two flame fronts result in much better detonation resistance, especially with big bore engines (such as aircraft). Nash was probably able to raise compression ratios for better power and fuel economy, even using the low “octane” fuels of the day. They may also may have been able to make the bore/stroke ratio more “square” than was common at the time, resulting in lower ring and cylinder wear.
The Mazda rotary was a special case of a way less than optimal combustion chamber shape, so a second spark, timed later, assured passing emission requirements.
The real advantage is when the spark plugs are located at opposite corners of the combustion chamber. The two flame fronts result in much better
I looked for a cutaway view online of a Hall-Scott Invader, which shows the plugs on opposite sides of the cylinder as you describe, but no luck.
Here is a pic of a Packard 4M-2500, which was developed from a Packard aircraft engine of the 20s. You can clearly see the plugs in the valley, and can just see one of the outboard plugs on the right side of the cylinder. The 4M-2500 was used in WWII PT boats.
Now, engine designers have worked out how to position the cams and valves to leave room at the top of the combustion chamber for a single plug.
For the curious: overall view of a 4M-2500, with supercharger on the front and one huge Holley carburetor.
Wow, that’s a real time-machine! A horribly ugly excuse for a car, but it sure stands out from the crowd, doesn’t it? Those things were built like tanks. Reminds me of mom’s 1979 AMC Concord – that car was also very dated, but it was a tank as well, and very durable.
Still, I admire that Nash and would love to see it up close & personal!
I miss two-tone & even three-tone paint jobs. Dad’s 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer was a three-toner: White roof, black midsection and a sort of peach/pink for the lower body. Erroneously in the past I called it a “La Femme” model, but it wasn’t.
I’m not sure I’d say “horribly ugly”. As far as fifties’ automotive abominations go, the 1957 Ambassador seems to fall more into the ‘unusual’ category to the point where I kind of like it simply because it’s different but not absurdly so. It’s definitely an improvement over the previous year’s weird grille headlights, that’s for sure.
Yeah, cars like the ’55 Plymouth looked better (as did most early to mid-fifties GM and Ford products). Still, if I had to go with an upmarket ride from the period, I’d take one of these, particularly one with working A/C.
On a side note, how did Nash get away with using quad headlights for 1957? Wasn’t that the year that all the car manufacturers had to keep using dual headlights due to a few states still not allowing quads? Or are there some 1957 Ambassadors with dual headlights?
Some manufacturers – Chrysler and Mercury particularly come to mind–used quads where they were legal, and duals with an adapter where they weren’t. Perhaps Nash did the same.
Gorgeous find! I have always wondered if a car styled more like this as a 1955 Nash would have been a decent seller. The odd inset headlights and skirted front fenders were so goofy by 1955-56 (to the extent that they were not earlier). It’s a shame that there was not a way to take the Nash’s size and build quality with the Studebaker’s styling of 1956-57, it would have been a much more appealing car than either of them did on their own.
I think that Nash may have been the best run of all of the independent companies. Charlie Nash knew how to run a car company for profit, and so did George Mason. The fact that the company had the momentum to outlast (as AMC) all of the other independents tells us about the solid foundation that Nash and Mason laid down. Other than some dealers, Hudson didn’t really contribute anything to the merged company.
Somewhere researching this – either in your article or elsewhere – it was stated Charlie Nash really wanted a merger of Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker. His thought was such a merger would be able to address the low, medium, and top ends of the market with ample dealer coverage and factory capacity.
Obviously that did not happen but it does make one ponder the possibilities.
Since writing that, I have read several online discussions that have cast some doubt on that 4 way merger. As I recall, there is a credible argument that the 4 way merger was a sort of years-later excuse offered by James Nance to explain why things went wrong at Studebaker-Packard.
The “grand plan” was described to Richard Langworth by Nance when Langworth was working on his book about Hudson in the early 70s. Langworth said he had never heard of this plan before. Pat Foster, who carries a degree of enmity for Nance has weighed in that the “grand plan” was a figment of Nance’s imagination.
However: a member of a Packard forum I read posted quotes from a 1952 article from Business Week about Nance and Nance mentions the “grand plan” in that interview. The plan may not have been as fully formed as Nance claimed, but it apparently did exist. Packard appears to have backed out when Nance was only offered a spot as President of the Packard division, rather than as President of the entire company. Unfortunately, George Romney declined to sit for an interview with Langworth. Roy Chapin Jr was interviewed, but he was working at a low level at Hudson at that time and, if the plan was being discussed by Hudson management, he was not privy to the discussions.
Nash may have run his company on a cash basis, but by the time 56 rolled around, AMC was swimming in debt. George Romney met with the same people who had just turned Packard down. Romney succeeded in getting a loan. Not as much as he wanted, but enough. After the meeting, Romney confided to close associates that he completely blew smoke in the meeting, but he had more of a turn around plan than Nance did.
Of course, my favorite Nash scenario is where Nash takes over Studebaker, on terms that leaves Nash in charge (Studebaker ended up controlling Packard the way that deal was structured). That gives Nash the Studebaker V8, so Nash never goes near the Packard/Ultramatic powertrain, nor spends millions tooling for the Potter V8. Consolidate auto assembly on the Nash platform in Kenosha. Close the Kenosha foundry, forge, engine plant and axle plant and consolidate those operations with their counterparts in South Bend. Clear the footprint of the Kenosha foundry, forge, engine and axle plants and build a state of the art body plant next to the assembly plant, so they only have to ship stampings from Milwaukee, instead of semifinished bodies.
According to the Ward book about Packard, when Nance was recruited for the Packard job by Hugh Ferry, Ferry told him that Mason had found it impossible to work with Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance, so it would be Nance’s job to bring Hoffman and Vance around to agreeing to the merger. Things must have changed pretty fast in South Bend, because when the S-P merger was done, Hoffman and Vance were gone in a flash, leaving Nance holding the bag.
If I recall correctly, Nash initially approached Packard with a plan for a merger in 1948 or 1949. This was before James Nance had joined the company. Supposedly the plan was considered by the Packard board and rejected. One board member claims that the main reason for the rejection was that the merger would have been too favorable for Nash at Packard’s expense. They weren’t necessarily opposed to a merger.
It was soon after this that George Christopher was forced out of Packard by the board, and the company began a search for a new chief executive that culminated in the hiring of James Nance.
It’s worth noting that after Hudson and Nash merged, Mason and Romney basically shut down Hudson. The Stepdown and Jet were killed at the end of the 1954 model year, and the Detroit Hudson plants were closed. Hudsons became rebodied Nashes.
Nance, meanwhile, never effectively consolidated Studebaker and Packard until Packard was shut down in the summer of 1956 after a consortium of insurance companies rejected Studebaker-Packard’s request for financing. The same insurance companies later approved AMC’s request for financing. One wonders if AMC’s real progress in consolidating Hudson and Nash prior to 1956 played a factor in their decision.
It’s worth noting that after Hudson and Nash merged, Mason and Romney basically shut down Hudson. The Stepdown and Jet were killed at the end of the 1954 model year, and the Detroit Hudson plants were closed. Hudsons became rebodied Nashes.
Platform sharing, like Marchionne is looking for by proposing FCA merge with someone now, is key to cost control by having more units to amortize costs over. The 1948 stepdown Hudsons had run their course and styling trends were toward lower beltlines and larger windows. Hudson had spent the last of it’s development money on the Jet, which was a failure of alarming proportions. The Hudson plant had not been maintained in years and was in very poor condition.
While Hudson and Nash had competed directly with eachother, with cars in the same size and price classes, which made platform sharing easy, there was no such common ground between Studebaker and Packard. S-P produced cute little matrixes showing how parts would be mixed and matched to make Packards, Clippers and Studebakers on the same platform. The fact is that the Studebaker facilities would need millions invested in modifications to accommodate cars wider than what Studebaker was then making, and the mid 50s Studebakers were noticeably narrower than contemporary Plymouths and Fords, let alone anything like a Packard.
AMC kept the Hudson engine plant running through 56 to provide the 308 for the Nash built Hornet and the 202 for the Nash built Wasp. The body plant on Conner was retained for a while in anticipation of stamping orders from Packard that never came. The body plant was later sold to Cadillac, which used it for stampings, apparently into the 80s when Poletown was built.
S-P could never take decisive action like AMC did, partly due to the structure of the merger. While Packard was the more financially healthy of the two, with a higher market cap, the merger valued the companies by book value. Studebaker had a higher book value, so Studebaker holders ended up holding a majority of S-P shares.
One example if the inability to do anything significant to cut costs, the Ward book talks about the argument over proving grounds. The company did not need two, but the Studebaker interests would not agree to close the South Bend track, while the Packard interests refused to close Utica. So the company continued to pay the costs for operating two proving grounds, as it bled to death.
The inability of Nance to take decisive action, while Romney did, was probably the difference between AMC getting the loan, and S-P being declined.
As Steve explains in greater detail, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of doubt as an important semantic distinction between an idea or ambition (which both Mason and Nance had) and an actual plan. Integrating Packard and Studebaker turned out to be an enormous hassle and integrating them and Nash and Hudson would have been even more so.
To amend what Steve said, it’s not that Nance backed out of the merger because he wouldn’t get to be president — I think Nance accepted that Mason would be in charge for a while, but looked at the differences in their ages (Nance was then in his early 50s while Mason was about 10-12 years older) and figured that he could run a division for a couple of years and then inherit the whole show and have a good run at it before reaching retirement age himself. The reason that didn’t happen was not Nance’s doing, but the fact that the Packard board had convinced themselves that merging with Studebaker was the answer. According to Ward, Nance tried to get the board to at least hear Mason out, but they refused to bite.
Romney didn’t talk to Dick Langworth, but did speak on several occasions to Arch Brown — there are several fairly extensive interviews in Special Interest Autos where Romney discusses his point of view on the whole situation in fair detail.
Re whether it was Nance or the Packard board that nixed the idea of merging with AMC, accounts vary.
The events occurred in early 54, weeks after the Nash/Hudson merger was announced. Some accounts say that Mason offered to make a presentation at Packard, which was rebuffed. Other accounts say the presentation was made, then Mason’s plan was rejected.
Personalities torpedoed the plan more than logistics. Nance and Romney crossed swords repeatedly. Romney complained that Packard was not buying enough parts from AMC. Nance replied that AMC’s prices were uncompetitively high. AMC offered to buy V8s from Studebaker, but Nance blew off the inquiry. Nance wanted to buy Nash 196 6s to replace the underpowered Champion 6, but Romney replied that they would be selling so many Ramblers they would not have any engines to sell. Hoffman and Vance had been too willing to give the workers everything they wanted, and more, which left Studebaker with a cost structure wildly higher than anyone else. Barritt had been rebuffing Mason’s merger proposals for years before it became blazingly apparent that Hudson was doomed.
The product lines could fit together well, with just a bit of thought.
-Merge Studebaker with Nash as described above.
-Merge Packard with Hudson. Packard was losing it’s body vendor as Briggs was bought out by Chrysler. Hudson had a body plant. Hudson needed a new, more contemporary platform. The large Hudsons were the same size and price as Packard’s mid-market Clipper line. So: build Hornet and Wasp on the Clipper platform, while moving the Clipper itself upmarket, to where the Executive was positioned in 56. Consolidate body building in the Hudson body plant. Consolidate final assembly at the Packard plant in E Grand.
Then merge Studebaker-Nash with Packard-Hudson. By 58 the combined company has 3 platforms: 100″ wb Rambler American, the new Rambler that was introduced in 56, replacing the Studebaker and Nash brands, and the luxury car platform shared by Hudson and Packard. Three engine families: 1 six, a small V8 family and a large V8 family. Central foundry and engine plant in South Bend. Two major production plants: Kenosha and Detroit, satellite plants in Hamilton, Ontario and El Segundo, CA
El Segundo??? Yup. New construction, state of the art plant Nash built in 48, then sold in 56 when the company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. 500,000 sqft.
New Nashs at the end of the line in El Segundo
The main AMC plant in Kenosha in the 70s.
I am inclined to accept the version that the Packard board ultimately torpedoed the idea of an additional merger with Nash and Hudson rather than Nance. As long as George Mason was alive, such a merger seemed to be in Nance’s personal interests, he had supported the idea before, and he proposed it again afterward, so I can’t see why he would do an odd volte-face at that moment.
The practical dilemma with the merger plans (this has been on my mind because somebody the other day commented on this on my own article on Packard in the fifties) was twofold: First, they would have been geographically complicated — e.g., if you wanted to merge Nash and Studebaker, would you do the stampings in Kenosha or South Bend, where would you assemble the cars, and how would you transport the pieces? Second, to really implement a shared body of the kind they envisioned would have involved complete retooling and significant plant updates (especially in South Bend). Neither Studebaker, Packard, nor Hudson had the money for that, and while Nash was able to afford its own retooling, expecting their finances to stretch that far would have been tricky.
I think that’s a big part of the reason Romney subsequently decided to dump the big Nash and Hudson lines in favor of consolidating around Rambler; even sharing bodies and engines between Nash and Hudson, one major line (plus the American, which was originally a rehash of existing tooling, and the Metropolitan, which was essentially a captive import) was easier to afford than two or three.
Incidentally, I don’t really buy the common refrain (driven by the typical car enthusiast’s almost stereotypical hatred of unions, something I do not share) that Hoffman and Vance were over-permissive with the union local. The difference in wages was really quite modest, and something that Studebaker had accepted as insurance against a strike, which Hoffman and Vance knew would be catastrophic — GM or Ford might hold out for a couple of months of stonewalling, but Studebaker certainly couldn’t afford that (as Nance found out the hard way when he tried to butt heads with the union). The big problem for Studebaker was that their plants were not laid out very efficiently, so the number of labor operations and labor hours per unit were much higher than at GM or Ford; even if Studebaker had paid the same or lower wages, their labor costs would still have been much higher.
That gets back to the basic problem of the merger concept. If the companies could have pooled their money and set up new or completely modernized factories with all-new tooling for shared bodies and production logistics (including transportation) that made sense, they could have made a go of it as they envisioned. Unfortunately, the reality was more like a marriage between people who live on opposite sides of town, whose respective houses are each too small for both people’s stuff and, and who are both already upside down on their mortgages — kinda sucks a lot of the romance out of it.
regarding Studebaker and the union: enormous inefficiencies had crept into Studebaker’s production system. Management made an appeal to the workers, iirc in a stadium at Notre Dame, in the summer of 54, to take pay cuts to bring pay rates into line with the rest of the industry, otherwise the company was going to go broke. The local President supported management and the workers accepted the pay rate cuts.
The other problem was productivity. (I am quoting the figures from memory, rather than looking them up) At the time of the merger, it took Studebaker about 150 man hours to build a car. Nance set out to get that down to 104, which would be competitive with the big three. The Packard crew also brought the typical Detroit model of confrontational relations with the union, rather that the historical Studebaker model of cooperation. Meanwhile, the President of the local who had helped push through the pay cuts had been voted out of office and replaced by a more confrontational administration.
Nance got production time down to 105 hours, before Packard shut down and Nance’s crew departed. Harold Churchill, a long time and highly respected Studebaker engineer then was elected President. Churchill got the labor time down to 90 hours.
Facilities: The Studebaker facilities were laid out, to my eye, randomly around the complex, which resulted in a lot of double handling of material. The stamping plant was next to the assembly building, but the body plant was a block and a half away. In 52 a conveyor was installed that took the stampings to the body plant and brought the finished bodies to the assembly plant. The body plant itself had been built among the old wagon works buildings and was 6 stories tall, so the bodies spent a lot of time riding elevators between floors. Churchill put out appeals to employees for ideas to improve productivity. One idea was to extend the body line from one floor of the body plant onto the roof of a neighboring building to eliminate one elevator ride. I don’t recall the exact number, but the savings from that one idea were very significant.
Nash facilities: Charles Nash had lashed the company together from several different operations. Besides the main plant in Kenosha there was a body plant in Milwaukee and another plant in Racine. The Racine plant was sold to a tractor manufacturer who needed it for war production.
The Milwaukee body plant carried on into the 70s. While Studebaker had to give it’s bodies multiple elevator rides, then a conveyor ride to the assembly plant, AMC had to ship semi-finished bodies between cities. That is why my scenario has all the movement of power train operations to South Bend, to clear footprint in Kenosha for a body assembly and paint facility. Milwaukee would be fine as a stamping plant, as stampings can be shipped far more efficiently that semi-finished bodies.
In 1952, Mason bought the “lakeside plant” in Kenosha to gain more production space. The lakeside plant had been built near the turn of the century by Sealy to make mattresses and furniture. Like the Milwaukee body plant, it was expedient, but saddled the company with another inefficient plant.
As bad as Studebaker’s facilities were, Nash’s were worse. The ideal would be to take the best of both: Studebaker’s excellent foundry and large engine plant, with it’s state of the art V8 production line, with Nash’s all ground floor final assembly line, configured for unibody construction, and add a state of the art body assembly and paint plant in Kenosha.
In comparison to Studebaker and Nash, Packard’s East Grand plant was a model of efficiency. The body trim line ran north along the Concord St side, with trim shops in the wings feeding parts directly to the line. Bodies then rode bridges across Palmer and E Grand to the body drop and final assembly still running north along the Concord St side. The only hiccup at Packard was the decision to outsource body building to Briggs, which resulted in semi-finished bodies taking a truck ride from the Briggs plant to E Grand. Nance had wanted to bring bodybuilding back in house as the savings would have been substantial, but the capital cost of building and equipping a body plant was prohibitive.
Photo: the AMC lakefront plant. When production of the Alliance started, AMC installed the presses in the main plant, but the stampings were trucked to lakefront to be assembled by state of the art robotic welding equipment. Then the bodies were taken to the paint line, which was installed on the roof of the old buildings. The trim line snaked through these buildings, then the bodies took a truck ride back to the main plant for final assembly.
Cool car, too bad no current car company runs itself in cash with no debt. They even exported them to Europe. My German grandfather had one, a Nash, not sure whether an Ambassador, in the 30s in Germany. I asked my mother if it was driven during the war, it would seem an awkward car to have when Americans are bombing. She said no, that it was in storage as nobody had gas. Post war he switched to Opels.
I have alays been attracted to what some people would call “unusual” or “offbeat” cars, and this Nash is no exception.Another fine CC article and a great way to begin my day with that first cup of coffee. Great pictures and ads too. This must really be a cool ride with its factory air conditioning.
Great find and pictures.
Not only the Nash, but the Pontiac Grandville in the background too!
I was just about to point that out too. Quite the twofer shot.
When I first encountered this Nash, there was a 1972 Plymouth Road Runner parked next to the Pontiac. It looked really 1973 in that parking lot.
I think the bathtub Nashes had a narrower front track (this was covered somewhere else on CC a while back) but I do wonder if the track was widened when the front fender cutouts were raised in 1957.
According to Standard Catalog of American Cars, it went from 55 1/2″ to 59 1/16″. But it still looks narrower than you’d expect.
Great writeup. I wish two tone paint would make a comeback. Many current cars could look great with two tone paint schemes. Maybe some of the contributors to CC who used to do photoshop work on cars could give us some examples.
I’ve written a little bit about our family history with Nash (Dad worked for a dealership for a time in the early 50’s) in response to JPC’s excellent article on the 53 Statesman a while back:
Dad’s first Nash was a 47 fastback, I think a 600, pictured here. It was a two-tone blue four-door. The photo with the 47 way in the background is iconic for me as it also displays my first Radio Flyer wagon and Dad’s Farmhall tractor. There’s also a shot of my grandmother’s 1949 bathtub Nash, I think a Statesman. We also had a 49 Ambassador and 52 Statesman, and my grandparents and aunt and uncle bought new 53 Statesmans.
Nash had a good run but couldn’t keep up with the times. And despite good quality overall, they rusted out faster than just about any car. To say nothing of how underpowered all were, with the exception of the Twin-H Power optioned Ambassadors and Nash Healeys of later years (and the final models with V8s). Nash did excel in first offering features we take for granted today, such as full underhood A/C, reclining seats, and decent economy combined with good passenger space.
The overdone 57 pictured was a sad but still somewhat noble end to a great marque. Great find.
Even after WWII, The big Nash must have been considered a prestige car. In old radio detective shows (almost all of them), A shapely blonde (“dame” or “doll”) was usually leaving a crime scene in a (sleek/long/shiny) new Nash! (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe,Richard Diamond ETC )
Don’t forget all of the Nash cars used in the Superman TV series. The film noir detectives weren’t known for high incomes so I wouldn’t say Nash was viewed as a prestige marque. I wonder if the company aggressively pursued product placement.
Lucky Lott and his Hell Drivers also used Nashes in their driving thrills show.
Yeah, I think that was primarily a sign of aggressive or enthusiastic sponsorship/product placement.
In my comment about detective shows (radio,not TV or film) I was referencing either clients and/or suspects, I realize “Private Eyes” weren’t exactly wealthy, Sam Spade was notorious for owing Effie (his secretary) back pay, and other cars were mentioned (Caddy,Ford ETC) but of the “independents” it seems to be Nash, Usually “Big Nash”, so I assume Ambassador.. Also Imports never have names just “furrin’ job”!
Got it. Good example with Sam Spade. I think I was overreacting a bit because Nash was frequently marketed to middle or working class families, e.g., the reclining seats and optional Nash air mattress meant that you might save the expense of a night in a motel on the road. For sure the company also pursued the upper middle class with the Ambassador Country Club, Nash-Healy, and the Rambler as a “second car.”
I just heard a “Philip Marlowe” epsisode called “Hard way out “,Sure enough “The dame” had a Nash that “did everything but draw her tears “, LOL -She was the wife of an embezzler, and a swell looker, Natch…..
All the Nash plants are gone. The lakefront plant, which was originally built by Sealy to make mattresses and furniture, was torn down to make way for condos.
The main Kenosha plant was used as an engine plant by Chrysler until 2009. It has since been closed and torn down.
All that remains at the Kenosha site is a historical marker.
Not Sealy. Zalmon G. Simmons began mass-producing mattresses in Kenosha in 1876. I thought the year was 1959 when Simmons left and AMC took over the ‘Lakefront Plant’, but I don’t have any source to verify that. Simmons served for a time in the state assembly and later as mayor of Kenosha. Donated funds for Kenosha’s Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library. Simmons Island (now a peninsula due to fill), most of it a premier city park, is across the harbor from the site of the factory.
Nash-Kelvinator rollout of new cars and appliances–I *think* these are the 1956’s, but can’t tell for sure:
If the A/C is still working, I can think of few cars from that time I’d rather drive across the country. I always had a soft spot for these, but they were always mighty rare to see, even in the early 60s.
If the A/C is working, it was one of the best in the business at the time. Also, the Nash was a comfortable road car, no doubt about it.
Even in the middle part of the country where I grew up and where Nashes were quite popular, they were increasingly rare by 55-56 and I almost never saw a 57. People realized the brand would soon be gone and the Big Three prices were so competitive that Nashes were less appealing.
A great article and reminder that Nash, for many years prior to getting into the whole compact car thing, had built ‘regular’ cars before the Rambler arrived on the scene.
Great article about a car that isn’t seen even at classic car shows anymore.
If I recall correctly, the 1957 Nash was the first production car with quad headlights. It beat the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham to market by a few months.
Opening up the front wheel wells immensely improves the car’s overall appearance. One wonders if this change would have helped boost sales for 1955.
Opening up the front wheel wells immensely improves the car’s overall appearance. One wonders if this change would have helped boost sales for 1955.
The 55 Hash had open wheelwells, and imho, a much more attractive face than the Nash. Didn’t help sales though. Wiki shows 55 Nash sales at 96K. up from the price war devastated 91K of 54. Meanwhile the 54 stepdown Hudsons rang up 50K, while Hudson overall only sold 45K 55s, and a lot of them were Ramblers.
The 1955 Nash figure would include Ramblers, too. How many 1955 Nash sales consisted of Ramblers? I would think that, at that time, people who wanted a Rambler would be far more likely to visit their Nash dealer than their Hudson dealer.
A fair question, and data of questionable provenance is available.
According to classiccardatabase.com, with obvious repeated numbers excluded as double counting, I get this breakdown for 55:
Nash Ambassador: 35,714
Nash Statesman: 14,272
Nash Rambler: 71,964
Hudson Hornet: 13,130
Hudson Wasp: 7,191
Hudson Rambler: 25,139
So the senior Nashs outsold the Hudson versions by 2 or 3 to 1
At the time of the merger, there were about 3,000 Nash dealers and 7,000 Hudson dealers.
For giggles, here are the numbers for 56, when Hudson adopted more controversial styling.
Rambler n/a, though given the total of 22K in Wiki, and the Hornet and Wasp numbers, Hudson Rambler sales were probably 9-10,000, or about the same ratio of Rambler to senior cars as at Nash dealers.
For fun, I took a look at where Studebaker’s core market was:
55 sales: President: 24665, Commander 58791, Champion 50374
So Studebaker’s “full size” car strength is at the cheap end of the range, just the opposite of Nash, By that time a Commander was nothing but a Champion with a V8.
While the President was within a couple inches of the Ambassador in wheelbase and length, it was 7 inches narrower.and $400 cheaper. The Commander and Champion were within a couple inches of the Statesman in wheelbase and overall length, but, again 7 inches narrower. A Champion was $300 cheaper than a Statesman.
It would have cost millions for Studebaker to reconfigure their body plant to accommodate the 78″ width of the senior Nash bodies. Even the little 100″ wheelbase Rambler was 2″ wider than a “full size” Studebaker, so even it may not have fit in building 84’s ovens and paint booths. Right to the last in the mid 60s, Studebakers never got more than 71 and a fraction wide.
So I suspect this is how an AMC composed of Nash and Studebaker would work out:
Nash: borderline luxury mid market, most volume in the Ambassador powered by a Studebaker 289, with optional supercharger, supported by a high trim Statesman powered by a Studebaker 259.
Studebaker: cheap full sized car. President dropped. Commander and Champion on the Statesman platform, with cheap trim. Commander powered by either 224 or 259 V8. Champion powered by the Nash 196.
Rambler: compact line carried by both Nash and Studebaker dealers.
A CC first for me, I believe I saw the featured car yesterday. I was westbound on highway 54 in Missouri, about four miles east of Preston. This was about 1:00 PM CST on July 31. This distinctive stacked duel headlight face was coming at me and as we passed I caught the blue two tone and that distinctive spear. And, it was pulling a white box trailer.
I can’t add much more than it was back on the road, possibly headed toward Camdenton, MO and the Lake of the Ozarks.
In isolation from its 1957 peers, this is a decent looking car. But, the whole package was very dated by then, especially compared to what was happening at Ford and Chrysler, and it seems frumpy compared to most of the GM offerings.
I saw this car in Lebanon, about 25 miles south of where you were, but it was a couple of weeks ago. However, I have since been forwarded a video clip from Facebook of the owner talking about his trip to the west coast from Buffalo, New York. You definitely saw this car!
Cool. I tried to study the signs in your photos to see if I could figure out the town and could not. It would be interesting to see that video and know what his goals are. It occurred to me that he might be headed toward Bagnell dam for a photo op or just bragging rights that he crossed it. I’ve only been over the dam once, three years ago in the dark, I don’t know if there are any ways to position a car for a scenic shot. I spent last week at a rented house very near Old Kinderhook, about 5 – 7 doors north of Cave Marina. On this trip I never got further east than Camdenton for groceries and supplies.
I hope his All Weather Eye was working, some serious heat and humidity there!
If I’m not mistaken, I believe the 1941-48 Ambassadors continued body-on-frame whereas the 600 (which would evolve into the Statesman) were complete unibody cars . . . .
This pictures that you took were of my dads car. He has a bunch of “orphan” cars ranging from the 1920s to the 1970s. He drove the pictured Nash from south of Buffalo, NY to California and back. He did have some car troubles but I am sure if you did go and ask about the car, he would have been more than welcomed to talk with you. He loves talking about his collection and especially about the car he is driving that day.
We’d love to hear more! I grew up in Kenosha. My parents always had Chevies, but I came to respect if not always love the friends’ and neighbors’ AMCs, even owned one myself.
We will be driving the Nash to Hartford WI. in a couple of weeks to another Nash Show.
Trailer will be in tow.
Curious detail about the ’57 Nash, in addition to the stacked quad headlights, the roof shell stamping was flattened a couple inches, with less dome to make the cars look lower. The tooling to do so, even with the handful of Hudsons off the same body, could hardly been amortized when the end of production came.
The Nash Ambassador gave its model name to live on, in aid of retaining loyal Nash customers who still wanted a ‘full-sized’ car, not a compact Rambler. One wonders how many realized the ‘Ambassador by Rambler’ was nothing more than the latter with a long snout?
And I think in some years only the Ambassador had a V8 under the longer hood rather than the six of the lowlier Ramblers. And at least some years of Ambassadors didn’t have longer hoods or wheelbases. Both factors seemed to change year to year.
The Ambassador was consistently sized and/or contented to appeal to their upmarket customers. It evolved dependent upon who was directing the company. The important aspect was it always gave the loyal AMC buyer a model they could proudly point to as the best the company offered. Also one they could options to meet their taste for the luxuries they desired.
Had AMC made a greater effort to more carefully craft and consistently equipped the Ambassador to be perceived as a quality compact luxury car, its corporate fate when that became increasing important could have been much better.
Great feature on a model not easily found these days.
How about a 56 with air conditioning? Sold new in southern Alberta, now available for a new owner. Gotta like the bright, cheery colours
I like everything about these cars except the Continental spare tires. Those are absolutely horrible, even if they are original. Continental tires are applied to too many restored vehicles and they are, in my opinion, absolutely hideous.
I agree with your comment on continental kits.
Back in the day they were not so common on fifties cars that I saw in my travels as a kid and certainly less so through the sixties. It was a fad not many young men could afford.
What’s the dealy-bob behind the generator on the engine in the hydra-matic ad? It seems to run off the back of the generator. Fuel pump? No line connected to it.
@ Roader :
that’s the water pump .
I was called in to diagnose a ‘rod knock’ in a Rambler Custom Convertible and it turned out the freshly rebuilt generator had a bent pulley that caused the pump’s impeller to bang rhythmically against the housing…
The idea here was to promote better cooling by putting the cool water inlet in the center of the block .