1951 NASH

The first Nash automobile appeared on American roads in 1917. For the next four decades Nash the independent manufacturer produced cars.

Soon after World War II, Nash introduced a dramatically different looking car with what was termed “Airflyte” styling. The body was of unit-construction and all four wheels were skirted.

Robert Lockwood, now of Lafayette, Calif., recalls that in his high school days in Berkeley, his father owned a top-of-the-line 1951 Nash Ambassador Custom sedan. When it was new the base price of what Nash advertised as “The World’s Most Modern Car,” was $2,501.

Those halcyon teenage years are long gone, but the memories linger. With the Internet, searching for an old car today is almost painless.

About three years ago Lockwood was surfing the Web when he saw for sale a 1951 Nash Ambassador Custom sedan, much like the one his father owned. The car was in Missoula, Mont. Fortunately, Lockwood had a friend in Montana who lived nearby and agreed to give the Nash an inspection. He reported back to Lockwood that the Nash, painted Chocolate Brown above Light Beige, seemed to be in very nice condition.

“I was looking for something to tinker with,” Lockwood says. “It ran well, so I bought it sight-unseen,” he says.

The story that came with the Nash is that it was restored about 10 years prior in Alabama and used to pay a debt to the owner residing in Montana. Lockwood arranged to have the Nash trucked to California.

When Lockwood first saw the vertical bars in the grille, it was as if he were transported back to his youth. Records indicate the engine and optional Hydramatic transmission were rebuilt, and the interior was reupholstered, too.

On his first excursion in the Nash, Lockwood found the steering was very, very hard. Then he discovered the tires were inflated to only 15 psi. Another discovery made on that initial trip involved the push-button AM radio. Lockwood turned the radio on and nothing happened, leading him to surmise that it did not work. A few miles down the road music began pouring from both the front and rear speakers. “I had forgotten that the tubes had to warm up,” Lockwood says.

In order to assure reliability, the new owner replaced and/or rebuilt the shock absorbers, brakes, generator and water pump. The 235-cubic-inch, overhead valve, six-cylinder engine develops 115 horsepower, sufficient to handily move the 3,445-pound car.

“It’s a big car with big bench seats,” Lockwood observes. The Nash rides on a 121-inch wheelbase. Surprisingly, the skirted front wheels are not hindered in turning corners. “There is not any kind of detriment in the turning radius,” Lockwood reports.

A popular feature of the Nash was a bed. By lifting the rear seat cushion, a pair of metal brackets was exposed that could be pulled forward. After replacing the rear seat cushion, the back of the front seat could be pushed back until the metal brackets supported it. The final step was to open the sloping lid of the trunk, remove the two mattresses and install them on top of the now horizontal seats. The mattresses were only about 3 inches thick, Lockwood says.

Lockwood’s Nash has many interesting features. In the trunk, next to the vertical-mounted spare tire are the two original mattresses. In front of the one-piece windshield is a fixed cowl ventilator that draws air into the Weather Eye heating system. On the end of the turn signal stalk is a small light that flashes whenever the turn signals are activated.

“It is very quiet and runs nicely,” Lockwood says as he sits behind the spectacular pilot panel instrument panel. “I take it slow and easy,” he says. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters

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