By on July 29, 2016

1937 Nash Lafayette

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.

1953 Nash Rambler

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]

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30 Comments on “Happy 100th Birthday, Nash Motors!...”

  • avatar

    “so pour one out for Charles W. Nash tonight.”

    Does one need to be outside when one pours one’s premium gin out? I should like to know the correct procedure.

    I also suspect most here are too old to understand such an urban reference.

  • avatar

    In reference to the Australian Ute article, here is a Nash Australian Ute

  • avatar

    I drove a 75 Matador Brougham 4 door for a couple of months in the late 70’s. A friend had bought a new Chrysler and did not trade in the Matador so he lent it to me. It had its share of problems. Build quality was poor. It was indeed weird looking. It was built with a mix of parts including a Chrysler transmission and Ford electronics. Handling was worse than Ford or GM products of the day.

    • 0 avatar

      as i recall, all cars were crap in 1975

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty much. There may have been a few exceptions but overall it was a dark time for automotive enthusiasts.

        • 0 avatar

          In 1977 my sister’s in-laws lent me their ’74 Chrysler Town & Country wagon with the 4bbl 440 engine. It rode like a cloud, and like a cloud, it didn’t want to stop or change direction. With gas approaching 70 cents per gallon, I couldn’t afford the 6 mpg and gave it back, renting a Dodge Aspen instead.

    • 0 avatar

      My family owned a 74 Matador sedan when I was a kid. I wouldn’t call it especially weird looking (except for the protruding front end), but it certainly was stodgy. That old fashioned design made it much more space efficient than most mid-sized cars of its day, which is why my family bought it. The trunk and back seat were enormous, and it fit into our small prewar garage. Build quality was pretty atrocious (e.g. misaligned hood that they could never get right, rear seat a couple inches off center) but it seemed neither more nor less reliable than other cars at the time and it gave my parents many years of good service before they handed it down to my sister’s family, who eventually ran it into the ground.

  • avatar

    All little boy fridges used to dream of being a KEL-VIN-AY-TOAR!

    It was a close parallel to meat children of the same era wanting to be cowboys or GI Joe.

  • avatar

    I had a rental Gremlin in about 1972. It was the worst car I have ever driven in 50+ years of driving.

  • avatar

    My Dad bought used 1952 Nash in ’54.
    Things I remember were:

    It was light green.

    One day as we were going around a corner my brother leaned on the back door and fell out into the street (largely unharmed).

    Didn’t start reliably in the Cleveland winter. Much work with the local garage on that issue.

  • avatar

    Too bad they didn’t make it .
    1930’s Nash products (they made trucks too) were very good and sharp looking .

  • avatar

    I still drive my 4.0 Jeeps to honor his legacy !

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Wow, I didn’t realise they had CUVs back in the olden days.

  • avatar

    JEEP used the rambler OHV 6 cylinder for about 20 years. The engine was bullet-proof. As a kid i worked in a gas station on the weekends. This was in NYC and the area i worked in was Fresh Meadows. Mostly apt houses and everyone parked on the street. My job was when a customer called the station that their car would not start i would go out and help them, I learned a lot about cars in those days and how bad 6 volt batteries were. What i really remember was some people would only tip 2-3.00 dollars and some really nice people would give me a $20,00 bill.
    It was having my own private business. The gas station paid me a flat rate and my tips some weekend were over $100.00. Sometimes it was very cold but at the end of the weekend with money in my pocket life was good.

  • avatar

    The Nash Rambler had kind of an interesting history. Debuting for the 1950 model year, it was the first really successful post-war U.S. compact. Others like the Henry J, Hudson Jet, and Willys Aero fell by the wayside. (Though the latter did find a new life in Brazil into the early 1970s.)

    The original 100-inch wheelbase Nash Rambler (the red convertible in the 2nd picture) was discontinued after the 1955 model year in favor of larger models. However the company later decided a smaller model was needed but lacked the funds to develop something new. So the dust was blown off the old dies and the Nash Rambler was reintroduced for 1958 as the Rambler American with minor styling tweaks.

    A major restyling of the outer body panels came in 1961 but it could barely hide the fact that it was still a 1950 Nash rambler underneath, and it stayed that way until the end of the 1963 model year.

    I’m not sure how many other times a discontinued model was successfully brought back to life by a U.S. manufacturer. I guess you could say the Studebaker Lark was somewhat like that since it was basically the center section of a previous full-sized Studebaker with the overhang cut off.

    (I owned a 1962 Rambler American a long time ago and it was pretty crude even by the standards of the early 1960s. Good on gas and reliable as an anvil though.)

  • avatar

    Bathtub Nashes seem like they would be just as much of a pain to get wheels off of as a step-down Hudson.

  • avatar

    I need to cruise up to Kenosha and join the Celebration. Maybe they are having a party on Sheridan Road in front of Walter Reuther High School. Right where the old plant used to be. Actually there is a really good Italian restaurant there now. The Peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan, where the plant was located, has been nicely redeveloped. Lots of nice restored AMCs around here as well.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed. I lived in Kenosha a few years ago, around the corner from Nash Elementary School. IIRC, it had a restored Metropolitan in the lobby and they used the company logo on the school’s website.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here is a fantastic link from Bloomberg regarding the artwork behind the cars of yesteryear.

    Worth a look, the artwork is really good;

  • avatar

    I’m not planning on pouring any OUT tonight, I just grabbed a bottle of Booker’s (126.7 proof) and Wild Turkey Rare Breed (112.8 proof) and I’m going to do some sipping in a little bit…

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    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.

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