Motoring Memories: Nash Airflyte Bathtub, 1949 1951 motoring memories classic cars car culture
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When automobile production resumed following the Second World War, Nash was slower offering its new post-war models than the other small companies. Studebaker led with its dramatically new 1947 models, followed in 1948 by Packard and Hudson with its famous “Step Down” design. Nash and the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) took until 1949 to introduce their full line of new models.

The 1949 Nashes were a dramatic departure from the pleasant but staid-looking models they replaced, and carried the fenderless pontoon-body, fast-back shape further than the competition.

With rounded lines, permanently skirted wheels and tucked in rear-end, the new Airflyte Nash was unflatteringly called an “inverted bathtub.” Nash, however, claimed twenty per cent lower aerodynamic drag than the average car, which gave better fuel economy and a quieter ride, although the enclosed front wheels did compromise the turning circle.

In spite of their unusual styling, the new Nashes had some advanced features including full unit construction that Nash pioneered in the American industry, in its 1941 600 model. It was also among the first with a one-piece curved windshield.

Nash replaced its “feet-in-the-trunk” folding rear seat-bed, which dated from the 1930s, with a front seat that reclined level with the back seat. This “Nash Twin Bed” turned the cabin into a cosy little berth that made parents of teen-age daughters seriously suspicious of Nash-driving suitors.

Another futuristic idea was a teardrop-shaped, self contained “Uniscope” instrument pod mounted atop the steering column. And its “Weather Eye” fresh air heating/ventilating system was considered the best in the industry.

Nashes came as the 2,845 mm (112 in.) wheelbase 600, and the 3,073 mm (121 in.) wheelbase Ambassador, both pre-war names. Suspension was independent in front and a solid axle at the rear with coil springs all around. Mechanix Illustrated’s witty Tom McCahill (11/’48) said the Ambassador could “skim over bumpy block roads like a sponge full of oil on ice.”

Engines were carry-overs from pre-war. The 600 had a 2.8-litre (172.6 cu in.), 82-horsepower, side-valve six while the Ambassador’s was a rugged seven-main-bearing, 3.8-litre (234.8 cu in.), 112-horsepower, overhead valve six. Transmissions were three-speed manuals with optional overdrive.

Neither were Olds “Rocket” 88s in performance. McCahill reported zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 20.1 seconds and a top speed of 119 to 124 km/h (74 to 77 mph) for the 600. He found the 112-horsepower Ambassador better, reaching 96 (60) in 17.4 seconds with a top speed of 138 to 143 (86 to 89 mph). Good durability, low drag and stable handling gave Ambassadors some success in stock car racing. Production of 130,000 made Nash 10th in the industry.

The 1950 models were carry-over designs with some trim changes. The 600 was renamed the Statesman and the engine’s stroke was increased 6.35 mm (.25 in.), giving 3.0 litres (184 cu in.) and 85 horsepower. A new cylinder head for the Ambassadors provided a slight power increase from 112 to 115, and a GM-built Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was now optional. Seatbelts were offered, an American industry first.

In 1950 Nash moved some production out of its Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters by building Canadian Statesman models in Toronto, where it would continue until 1957.

To complement the big Nashes, the compact Nash Rambler arrived in 1950, first as a convertible, and soon followed by a station wagon. It was also assembled in Canada.

The little Rambler’s “Airflyte” styling echoed that of its big brothers and it proved economical enough to top 30 mpg. It was an immediate success, the only compact produced by an independent carmaker to endure. Rambler would, in fact, ultimately save the company.

The 1951 Nashes got new vertical-bar grilles and stretched rear fenders that relieved the hunched-up rear-end look. Hydra-Matic was now available in the Statesman model.

Nineteen fifty-two was Nash’s 50th anniversary, dating from the original Rambler built by the Thomas B. Jeffery Co. They marked the occasion with restyling influenced by Italian designer Pinin Farina.

Although they were attractive enough models, Nash lost its characteristic bathtub look and began blending into the automotive landscape. While some critics had scorned the original Airflyte’s round, bulbous styling, at least it was in tune with the times and was distinctive.

This design carried Nash through to the merger with Hudson in 1954 that created American Motors Corporation, following which cars from the Nash side of the house would predominate. AMC’s products became a mix of Nash, Hudson and Rambler model names until 1957, when Nashes and Hudsons disappeared and all AMC cars except the tiny Metropolitan became Ramblers.

The 1949 to ’51 bathtub Nashes were comfortable, economical and reliable cars that were industry leaders in many ways. They were daringly different in styling and McCahill summed them up as “standouts in looks, luxury and riding ability.”