Nash and its Airflyte style: avant-garde or bathtub?
Founded in 1916 by Charles W. Nash, former president of General Motors, the Nash Motors Company bought out Lafayette in 1924 before merging with the Kelvinator kitchen appliances manufacturer in 1937. It was the first company to sell cars equipped with the ventilated heating system that still equips cars today. Nils Wahlberg, the company's engineer from the beginning and vice-president in 1931, was the brilliant instigator of the Airflyte in 1949. Ever captivated by the incidence of air flow, he saw that aerodynamics held the future for automobile design.
Not only were the consequences on comfort and driving beneficial, but it also improved consumption. Evolution in this field had been slow over the previous years but the audacity of the Nash Airflyte's style would shake things up. Under the impulse of the fashionable new technology, change was in progress and its benefits were on everybody's mind. Wahlberg, in opposition to the traditionalist course of Nash, judiciously presented the Airflyte as a precursor of modern times. He had the support of his co-manager, Mason, who thought it was time to stand out from the Big Three.
So, the automobile world was taken by surprise in 1949: the Airflyte burst onto the scene with its 600 model and the Ambassador, leaving nobody indifferent. Adepts sang the praises of unrivaled well-being and technology aboard their lounge car; detractors said it had a cartoon-like appearance, and the most caustic called it a bathtub. It has to be said that the Nash Airflyte was the fruit of meticulous and painstaking wind-tunnel studies to adapt the bodywork for minimal wind resistance. This design was uniquely different from the car of the man on the street, making it both remarkable and adulated by many people.
Curves and roundedness were at their peak, both the front and rear fender openings clearly stood out. The enclosed wheels were one third covered by the imposing coachwork, and the Airflyte presented a rather massive front end with a fine chrome grille. The "fashionable" interior was called the Super Lounge, with the predominantly beige trim providing peace. The Uniscope on the steering column grouped the instrument dials and the reclining seats promised rest. The storage capacity was colossal: over 226 L. The renowned ventilation provided optimal comfort. The design of the car also helped to keep noise to a minimum.
Under the hood, the 82 horsepower of the 600 model seriously limited the vehicle but the aerodynamics were enough to palliate this lack of power. Nevertheless, the Ambassador model offered 30 extra horsepower, giving it ample speed. The sedan came in two- and four-door versions, and the range also came in three trim series: the Super, Super Special and Custom, for a price ranging from $1786 to $2363. With a total of 130,000 units sold during the first year, the company won their bet and the investment yielded juicy profits.
In 1950, the 600 became the Statesman and gained a few horsepower, increasing to 85 and 115 for the Ambassador. The same year, Nash purchased the Hydramatic transmission from the GM group in order to offer it as an option. Seat belts also made their appearance, although they were not obligatory. In April, the Rambler joined the Nash fleet and inaugurated a new segment of the history of the American car: the compact was born. In 1951, sales waned after an exceptional year and the novelty effect wore off; even if the grille still harbored an attractive face, the fastback style had lost its splendor. It wasn't until the 80s that aerodynamics would have such an influence on style again. The Airflyte's look marked a generation and offered Nash the finest economic results of its history. The Superman series paid homage to the 1951 Nash Ambassador by giving Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police a model in the colors of his squad.