Curbside Classic: 1957 Nash Ambassador – Getting Its Kicks on Route 66

57 nash

(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.

1929 Nash Brochure 06 467

Nash introduced the Ambassador name in 1927 (1929 shown) as a trim level of the Advanced Six.  It was Nash’s most upscale offering.

1932 Nash Ad-01

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.

1933 Nash Eight-03

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.

1937 Nash-02-03

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.

1937 Nash-30-31

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.

1939 Nash-24

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.

1941 Nash Press Pics-18a

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.

1941 Nash Press Pics-16b

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.

1947 Nash-06-07

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.

1949 Nash Ad-02

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.

1950 Nash Ambassador Centerfold-02

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.

1956 Nash Full Line-02-03

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.

Nash 5

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.

Hudson V8

An AMC 327 V8 as found in a 1957 Hudson

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.

Nash 2

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.

Nash 3

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.

Nash 4