By on August 20, 2012

Why does a car need wheel openings in the front fenders, anyway? The Nash Airflyte, aka the “Bathtub Nash,” proved that long, low, and wide (and a postwar American car-buying public starved for anything with four wheels and an engine) would move the iron off the showroom floor in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I’ve been thinking about building an Airflyte-based project car lately, so I returned to the Brain-Melting Colorado Junkyard to do some window shopping.
It turned out that the yard’s owner wants to keep this ’51 for himself, so I had to content myself with shooting photos instead of wheeling and dealing for a purchase. Fortunately, I’d brought the DSLR and a 25mm lens instead of my usual battered point-and-shoot, so these shots are a little sharper than what you’ll get in most Junkyard Finds.
The days of the flathead six as the standard powerplant for full-sized American cars were coming to an end by 1951, with just about all the Detroit major players working on (or, in the case of Cadillac and Oldsmobile, delivering) overhead-valve V8s.
Through the dust, you can just make out the gorgeous font used for the speedometer numbers.
AM radios were ungodly expensive options in this era, and you had to wait quite a while for the tubes to warm up before you could listen to Ike Turner singing the first-ever rock-and-roll song.
I’m a little disappointed that this car is unavailable, but I’ve got about a thousand more to choose from in this yard.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1951 Nash Airflyte...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I was in diapers two years after this Nash was produced, Therefore, too young to have driven a Nash of this era. I do recall however having to drive a 1959 American – in which the flat head six was soldiering on.

    Some of that classic post WWII streamlining on the Airflyte to still made it the to plane-Jane for the times 1959 American that I drove in high school. I like the late 1940′ies roof line better even with the restricted rear window visibility.

    I’m sure those front fender cowls extended the turn radius somewhat, but who cares. Power steering was by arm strong. So, one had to plan his or her u-turns carefully.

  • avatar
    C170guy

    Appreciate the crisper pictures.
    I do like an inline 6 with a big rusty condenser.

    Kelvinator, huh? Like the old fridges that would last more than a few years? Is this car an appliance? Would that be a bad thing?

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      Nash and Kelvinator were the same company. Charles Nash wanted to retire as CEO and tried to hire George Mason to succeed him, but Mason wouldn’t leave his job at Kelvinator, so Nash worked out a merger deal so he could run both companies.

      Kelvinator produced air conditioning systems for Nashes, and later, Hudsons, into the early years of American Motors. They were exactly as cold and as powerful as you would expect from a company that made freezers for a living.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    My father told stories of his teens as an Italian-American in the late 1950s in Paterson, NJ, and how one of his acquaintances loved the bathtub Nashes.

    He told of how the guy, whose brain was not wired exactly sane, loved the Nashes due to their strong body structure and for being very cheap used cars (very out of style) in Northern NJ during that era. Story was that my father had been forewarned not to go for a ride with the crazy guy in his latest Nash beater during the hot days of summer time. The guys M.O. was to be drinking a pint bottle, drive over into the more ghetto part of the city, pull up to a street corner with a crowd of young guys hanging out, and then yell insults about their racial or cultural heritage out the window of the Nash . The insulted guys would run and get into their cars to chase the Nash guy, who’d then proceed to try and roll the Nash over during the chase- probably something to do with the Nash’s turning radius made this more possible. Apparently, back then, the mere fact of a roll over accident would discourage the pursuers from remaining around to beat down the driver.

    My father said that he lost track of the Nash driving nutcase when he (my father) decided that he didn’t want to run with that type of crowd (hoods) and made the decision to study more in high school to try to go to college.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      I have always like these Bathtub Nashes, though I have not seen one since the early 1980′s. You are right about them being unpopular. Today they seem to be much rarer than the contemporary Bullet-Nose Studebakers and Step-Down Hudsons. Those cars gained a following early on and have survived in decent numbers whereas the Nashes have all but disappeared.

    • 0 avatar
      Slab

      I grew up in northern NJ in the early 60s, and I cannot remember seeing any of these. And I was a car nut from the womb. Oh how style dictated so much at the time. Then, a 5 year old car was out of date. Today, 15-20 year old cars blend nearly seamlessly into the mix.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Reminds me a bit of that ’91 Caprice you just previewed.

  • avatar
    Guildenstern

    I kept looking at this and felt I’d seen something like it before. Then I remembered, The Cab from Fifth Element. Not exactly I know, but very reminiscent.

  • avatar
    monomille

    Mighty nice. You could still get halfway there on skirts with the Hudsons and those fabulous twin H-power air cleaners could be adapted somehow to a more modern engine.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    The man across the street had one of these and it sure was a quirky looking machine for its day. I remember his next car was a Henry J which to me was a real come down. I suppose that was America’s first compact car.

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    As a project car, the Nash has some unique mechanical bits, and parts are somewhat difficult to source, but that just means that it’s a little more challenging. A restored and repainted Nash of this era has a somewhat Art Deco look that attracts attention in ways that many more glamorous oldies cannot.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Very cool. I saw a green 4-door version of this in New Orleans a few months back with CO plates. Faded paint but no visible rust! It was just awesome.

  • avatar
    360joules

    Begs for an Offenhauser swap….

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    My father had a couple of these. Back in the 50′s it was routine to take a car to be serviced every month. Nashes needed wheel alignment, Chrysler products burned oil, GM cars squeaked, and I think Ford heaters didn’t work.

    The Nash had reclining seats so we went camping on vacations. My parents slept in the car and I had a pup tent.

    Thank you for the pictures.

    • 0 avatar
      GoesLikeStink

      My parents, from Kenosha Wis, told stories that that the girsl parents would not let their daughters go out with boys who drove Nashes, because of the “make-out seats.

  • avatar
    carve

    THAT, is a slab-sided car. Interesting otherwise though. I’ll bet rearward visibility is even worse than most modern cars. They were SO CLOSE to inventing the hatchback.

    Those front wheels probably barely turn. I’ll bet changing tires is a PITA.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Not to threadjack, but did anyone ID that black roadster?

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Looks really complete, and not that far gone at all. I can see why the yard owner wants to hold onto it, looks like a pretty straightforward restoration – or at least as straightforward as you can get for a quirky postwar independent.

    My dad used to talk about a kid that lived on his street growing up whose parents always bought Nashes, apparently the rest of the kids made fun of him for that. Kids can be so cruel and ignorant.

  • avatar
    skor

    Restore this car, and the hipster chicks from Brooklyn would be all over you.

  • avatar

    “Why does a car need wheel openings in the front fenders, anyway?”

    It looked good but consumers didn’t like the Nash’s larger turning radius nor how the skirted fenders made changing tires more difficult.

    Here’s how the “step down” Hudson competed with the “bathtub” Nash:

    http://hetclub.org/burr/sales/1949_june_salesfacts_hudson_vs_nash.pdf

    With the long hood of the Nash Ambassador, I’d put in a modern V12, but I don’t know if you could do anything about reducing the turning circle.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Weren’t the Nash’s reclining seats a hot ticket at the drive-in back in the Fifties? My unfortunately-large reservoir of useless knowledge remembers a “Happy Days” where Potsie was all excited that his drive-in date had a Nash with “those seats.” You know…wink-wink, hubba-hubba and all that.

  • avatar
    Eric Jones

    My grandparents bought Nashes in the ’50s; their first new car was a sea-foam green 1950 Statesman, which was the lower airflyte trim, as opposed to the higher-priced Ambassador. My mother has told me stories about how it was woefully underpowered, and my grandfather would often have to back down not-terribly-steep hills, simply because the car lacked the oomph to make it to the top. Because of the famous Nash folding seats though, when they bought a new ’55, the ’50 became the fishing/camping car, and was eventually sold to a farmer for some kind of use in his hayfield. They’re neat old beasts, that you really don’t see much. Though, whenever I see a Honda Crosstour, I always sort of think of it as a 21st century Airflyte… I guess it’s the fastback styling on a big sedan.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Looks like about 4 head gaskets stacked up….I had a Rambler American and THAT was its weak point.It seems the head would warp easily and putting on a new head gasket on a flathead was about a half hour job..but I was too young and poor and stupid to have the head planed.
    Ahhhh,youth!
    Other than keeping it full of water and oil..it was indestructible…and I mean this!
    You could not hurt this motor for anything!!!
    and try speed shifting a 3 on the tree….ha..ha!
    I want my back!
    Should have killed myself many times over…Who said cars have to be fast to be fun???

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Three on a tree? No big deal. Used to have a ’49 Chevy truck. Actually grew to like that column shifter. Drove it daily.

      When I was in Italy I drove Ducato vans from the 80s and they had five speeds on the column. That worked well enough too. In a tall vehicle I like a column shifter. In a low vehicle with a console of course I prefer the floor shifter.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I totally agree, this one is pretty complete, save for a lens or other minor part, here or there.

    Some of the plastics look a bit sun baked and cracked, but probably restorable if you knew how.

    Either that car had been covered for many years, or kept in a barn, or more likely, it got resprayed at some point as the paint, while weathered looks intact, other than some heavier weathering on the roof, but even there, not down to bare metal like some of the other cars there.

    However, all of the chrome bits are quite pitted and/or rusty though.

    Interesting how the speaker grill has paint flaking off and the bezel around speedo is flaking away, but the outside paint is not.

    Nice find!

  • avatar
    Allan850glt

    These early fifties Nashes look pretty sedate when compared to, say the final years, ’56-’57 when they opened up the front wheel wells and gave them some real V-8 power! I myself prefer the final years but these earlier models, albeit somewhat unconventional, were pretty cleanly designed cars. I have to wonder how high you had to get that sucker up in the air to change a tire?? Scary! Your jack fails or something goes awry and unless you’ve got some reallllly quick reflexes, you’re gonna lose a limb! I don’t get how one would consider a Hudson a step-down in comparison though. Especially considering the eventual H-N merger to AMC and they eventually became “Hashes”..

  • avatar
    dneely

    My Dad bought two Statesmen in1951. He and my mother went from Seattle to Kenosh and bought two of them. THey towed one back to Seattle behind the other. Fearing the Korean War would result in difficulty finding parts he put one on blocks in Seattle. We finally put it to use in about 1962 or 1963. Over the years we collecte another 2 for parts and I think nostalgia. I still have 3 of them. Two have been garaged since about 1966. THese were the straight 6 with a 3 on the tree and an overdrive. We made several trips using the folding seats as beds. I have many stories. My dad was so happy when we bought a house on a hill so he could use the hill to start it.

    THe heater had no fan so you had to be moving to get heat and the wipers were vacuum powered so going over the mountains was a series of speed and back off the gas so the wipers would operate.
    In about 1965 we towed a 1926 Model T on the back of a 1927 Model T truck from Dallas Tx. over the mountains to Seattle. That trip permenantly printed the smell of brakes into my brain. We were quite a site. Kinf of like the Clampets moving to Beverly hills.

    Is there a way to put photos on this forum site?


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