Vintage Promo Shot: George Petty and Nash’s Flying Lady – The Least Expensive Date You Ever Had!

“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?