Happy 100th Birthday, Nash Motors!

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Sure, none of the original players are walking the earth, but we can still celebrate the corporate creation of Charles W. Nash, the man who quit General Motors in its infancy to form his own car company.

Nash Motors wasn’t a Big Three player, but it did make its mark on the automotive landscape. During a wild ride of mergers, acquisitions and changing product direction, the independent automaker spawned a number of innovations that became industry firsts.

Nash Motors was born on July 29, 1916, when Charles W. Nash bought the Kenosha, Wisconsin-based Thomas B. Jeffery Company, builder of Jeffrey and Rambler brand vehicles.

Nash was once president of General Motors (1912-1915), but grew sick of the power struggles and yearned to form his own company. With cash to work with, Nash simply bought another automaker and changed its name. The first Nash-branded vehicles hit the market in 1917.

Focusing on value, Nash was the Hyundai of the inter-war years, offering vehicles that seemed like they should cost more than they did. The first acquisition came in 1924, when Nash bought out LaFayette Motors. By the end of the Roaring Twenties, Nash’s company was the country’s fourth largest, and he managed to keep his shirt during the stock market crash and Great Depression.

Better designs, bigger six- and eight-cylinder engines, and the positioning of the Nash Lafayette as the company’s premium model came in the 1930s, when Nash stepped down as president (while staying on as chairman). The company needed a guy Nash could trust at the helm, so it sourced George Mason from Kelvinator after buying his refrigerator company.

Nash-Kelvinator, born in 1937, created the first modern vehicle heating/ventilation system (1939) and air-conditioning system (1954). The company bought into streamlining in a big way with its “upside-down bathtub” 1949 Airflyte models. It also helped spawn some of the Baby Boom generation with its signature fold-flat seats, which created an interior boudoir — a long-running feature that caused gnawing unease in parents of girls dating Nash drivers.

The domestic car industry’s first successful postwar compact, the Nash Rambler, carried the company into the 1950s, and a merger with Hudson came just before Mason’s death in 1954. The company, now called American Motors Corporation, needed guidance, so Mitt’s dad stepped up to the plate.

George Romney was big on small cars, so the Nash and Hudson brands were left to die in 1957. Rambler became its own make, as did the tiny, masculinity-destroying Metropolitan (1954–1962). Romney’s plan was to slay the company’s larger cars, then move the compacts up in size, positioning them as affordable alternatives to their larger Big Thee rivals. The bet paid off, and Rambler saw record sales during the short, but sharp, 1958 recession.

Political ambitions called, and after Romney left the company in 1962, AMC was left with an arguably less visionary president. The Rambler name was phased out during the ’60s, replaced by the AMC badge. The company also returned to the full-size vehicle market (the forgettable Ambassador), and after 1970, began a slow transition into weirdness. The second-generation Matador, Gremlin and Pacer were clearly the result of an LSD-spiked water cooler.

A partnership with Renault (which eventually owned 49 percent of AMC), chronic financial trouble, and a 1987 buyout by Chrysler spelled the end of the line for the company started by a pissed-off dreamer with good money sense.

It’s Friday, it’s hot, so pour one out for Charles W. Nash tonight.

[Images: 1937 Nash Lafayette, Riley/ Flickr; 1953 Nash Rambler, Alden Jewell/ Flickr]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Jul 30, 2016

    I'm home, waiting for my bride to get home...kids are out of town for the weekend...party on!

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jul 31, 2016

    Not all the early '60s Rambler Americans had the flathead six. There were some '61 American 440s with the OHV six. My first car was a hand-me-down '63 Classic 770 with the aluminum block OHV six, and my mechanic was working on a '61 American 440 that had the same engine, except it was cast iron. He said it was the factory engine. AMC was producing the OHV six in the late '50s for the classic and deluxe lines and was putting them into the top of the line American 440 in 1961.

  • Lou_BC "In 2007, 85% of Americans drove themselves to work and 6% rode with someone else. But by 2018, while the 6% of Americans who carpool has remained constant, there has been a decrease in the percentage of those who drive themselves to work, edging down to 77%." .................. If people can't recharge at home, it would be logical to set up charging infrastructure at workplace parking lots. That would cover 77% of the population. An 8 hour workday should be adequate to keep an EV charged.
  • Jeff Dirty Harry with the blue Ford Custom 500.   "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth, I've forgotten myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?"
  • Picard234 You mean you built a time machine....out of a DeLorean!?
  • Lou_BC Too much money.
  • Lou_BC "The Cannonball Run" "The Gumball Rally""Corvette Summer""Duel""Gone in 60 Seconds"