“This new Nash Flying Lady was created especially for the 1950 Airflyte (both Ambassador and Statesman models) by the famous George Petty of Petty Girl renown… You can get this stunning ornament (for any Nash Airflyte model) from your Nash dealer – she’ll be the least expensive date you ever had!” – Nash Airflyte Magazine, Fall 1949.
As the postwar sales heated between Detroit’s makers, each brand reached for a sales angle. Either in product or marketing. In the case of Nash, quite a bit of both. The ‘bathtubs’ looked like nothing else, and much ‘futuristic thinking’ went into their design.
On the marketing front, the exotic European connection in the form of Pininfarina appeared (the world’s foremost custom car designer!). ‘European taste’ for the Americans, even though having little of it in reality. Not that Pinin minded; he must have gotten a decent amount of cash for his involvement.
Not all was exotic European escapades or futuristic ideals. In 1945 Nash brought in some American glamour by hiring renown Esquire pin-up artist George Petty. His assignment? To design Nash’s now-famous hood ornament: The Flying Lady. The real life model behind the piece? None other than George’s own daughter, Marjorie Petty-Macleod.
While George Petty worked with a variety of models, his daughter had already served as subject of inspiration. Most notably on the Esquire pin-up “I’m the one with the part in the back.” An image known nationwide, as it ended up decorating the flanks of the famous Memphis Belle B-17 bomber.
There was a time when talents such as commercial illustration were a means to fame. Although that was the exception, not the rule. Before Esquire appeared in the picture, George Petty was an ordinary freelance advertising artist; painting calendar girls for regional magazines and attending his own studio.
While doing an Ok business, Mr. Petty’s fortunes definitely changed when the first issue of Esquire appeared in October 1933. The magazine’s centerfolds popularized Petty’s pin-ups to the point of becoming an American staple; the Petty Girl. Esquire and the media promoted the illustrator as an arbiter of female beauty and lavish lifestyle.
Not that reality had much to do with such frivolities. From all evidence, Mr. Petty was a disciplined worker, delivering quality work on a steady basis.
Much plays in the public’s imagination in regards of the ‘excessive’ lives of artists, often confounding subject with process. As far as is known, pin-up artists such as Petty or Gil Elvgren were respectful with their modelling subjects. Regardless of the risqué nature of their material, successful pin-up artists operated as serious commercial enterprises. After all, you think they could reach grueling deadlines while frolicking around with their models?
In the case of Elvgren, his studio operated in strict business hours, where understudies helped with early sketches and concept ideas; situations were set up and photos taken for later use. Competition between providers was fierce, and new ideas were welcomed, to the point that models themselves suggested scenarios; after all, how many ways there are to draw cowgirls in cute shorts?
In any case, Nash struck a marketing coup with Petty’s involvement, and brought some of that known Petty Girls’ glamour into Nash. A deserved collectible item, and a beauty to behold. Though from my perusals on Ebay, it’s no longer “the least expensive date you could ever have.” Nowadays, it takes quite a bit of cash to take the little lady out.
(Nash hood ornament by Ralf K, from the Cohort)
A bit more reading:
Curbside Classic: 1950 Nash Statesman Airflyte – Did Someone Say Bathtub?
The first family car I remember was a 1950 Nash AMBASSADOR. The Airflite design was frequently called an upside-down bathtub, just as 1950 Packard was called a pregnant elephant. That AMBASSADOR with seven main bearing six cylinder really could take flight. Special feature was front seat 💺 folding back to make a bed. Purchased in late 1950 for 🤔 $3000, family kept it until 1959 with no issues beyond regular maintenance. Motor was so smooth you could barely hear it. Might have kept it longer, but Mom developed arthritis. Lack of power steering made parking difficult. Traded for 55 DeSoto with Powerflite. Both cars had substantial beautiful hood ornaments! 👍 😎
Driving a Mack always brought comments about having to look at a bulldog’s ass all day. I can only imagine the comments made while driving this Nash.
“…..cowboy girls in cute shorts”.
Wouldn’t that be a “cowgirl”?
Yeap. It’s fixed now.
“…magazine’s centerfolds popularized Petty’s pin-ups to the point of becoming an American staple.”
So THATS where the staple in the centerfold came from…
I wonder how long the model could hold that pose?. She must have had good abs.
Any relation to Richard , of car number 43 fame ?
I do not need a hood ornament like that because when I drive, I always lay across the hood like that with my feet up against the windshield. I clench a lit cigar in my teeth, so as we accelerate, I can leave a cool smoke trail.
As a collector of both automotive treasures and vintage erotica, early on I added the Petty/Nash hood ornaments to the collection back when I could find them as N.O.S. pieces in the box, and of course being Nash parts in the 1980s they were dirt cheap.
Another pin-up artist who featured automobiles in his work was Art Frahm. Mr. Frahm published a series of prints featuring lovely ladies who experienced a sudden loss of elasticity in their pink panties. Many of these embarrassing situations, happening in public places, featured 1950s automobiles & trucks.
One of my favorite versions is “A sudden letdown”, featuring a Studebaker Transtar tow truck in the background, and the embarrassed lady is attempting to change a tire on what can be loosely described as a 1957 Studebaker sedan. [See photo]
An Art Frahm bio mentions he was a car enthusiast, and that may help explain the regular appearance of vehicles in his work. Other non-erotic examples include his “Safety” series showing school kids being protected by police officers with various vehicles including school buses, fire engines, and construction trucks prominently displayed and the vehicles are accurately detailed.
And speaking of Illustrators & cartoonists who were also car guys, did you know that Charles Addams, the creator of “The Addams Family”, used to own an Alfa-Romeo 8C 2300 Castagna-bodied roadster, 2 Bugattis, a ’33 Aston-Martin, and a 1927 Mercedes Benz Supercharged 220hp open tourer, a car he raced in the 1948 Watkins Glen Grand Prix and other races?
Pete Vack’s Veloce Today had an excellent article on the REAL Addams family cars:
I remember coming across some of this information when I was writing up a 1953 Nash Statesman I found at a local show (https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/car-show-classic-1953-nash-statesman-amcs-dna/)
It surprised me quite a lot that what was probably the least sexy car of the early 1950s (which is saying something) sported the pinup girl hood ornaments. It seems that Petty Girl hood ornaments went away pretty quickly after George Romney took over at Nash.