Nash Ambassador Automobile | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Nash Ambassador Automobile

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Nash Ambassador Automobile | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeNash Ambassador Automobile

Nash Ambassador automobile, 1948

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1992.156

EnlargeFront of the car

Front view of the model 4868

Nash Ambassador model 4868 on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, Wisconsin. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1992.156

EnlargeCharles W. Nash

Charles W. Nash, c. 1930

Portrait of Charles W. Nash, most likely taken in the 1930s. View the original source document: WHI 40846

EnlargeNash car owner's manual

Nash car owner's manual, 1948

Cover of Owner’s Manual for 1948 Nash automobile. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum accession file 1992.156

EnlargeNash workers at Seaman Body Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nash workers at Seaman Body Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, c. 1948

Workers build Nash “unitized” bodies at the Seaman Body Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, c. 1948. Source: Image from Wisconsin Historical Library Pamphlet 58-2948

1948 Ambassador sedan, manufactured by the Nash Motors Division of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1947-1948.
(Museum object #1992.156)

The Ambassador was the Nash Motors Company's top of the line model in 1948. This model 4868 four door sedan sports a fastback - also known as "Slip Stream" - body and the "Super" option package. It has a 121 inch wheelbase and features a 234.8 cubic-inch, 112 horse power, inline 6 cylinder engine under the hood. The factory price for the model 4868 was $1874, and Nash Motors built 14,777 of them that year. The Seaman Body Company, owned by Nash Motors, manufactured the Ambassador bodies in Milwaukee and then shipped them to Kenosha for final assembly.

The Nash Motors Company was named for its president, Charles W. Nash, a former president of the General Motors Company. Known for his prudent and frugal financial decisions, Nash took over GM?s top job in 1912 after worried investors had ousted that company?s founder, Billy Durant, for his financial shenanigans. Nash returned GM to stability, in part by doggedly reinvesting profits in the company rather than distributing them to stockholders. When Durant, who had been quietly buying up General Motors stock, regained controlling interest in the company in 1915, Nash began looking for a company where he could run the show.

Nash found that company in Kenosha. In 1902 bicycle manufacturer Thomas B. Jeffery had introduced the Rambler, the second mass-produced automobile in America. In 1906 Jeffery's Kenosha plant was the largest and perhaps best equipped automobile factory in the nation. By 1916, however, the company had fallen into debt. Nash purchased the Jeffery plant and assets on July 13, 1916 and incorporated the Nash Motors Company on July 29, 1916. Two days later he resigned from General Motors.

By 1925, motor vehicle manufacture ranked as Wisconsin's largest industry, and Nash was the largest auto maker in Wisconsin. The company employed thousands of Wisconsin residents and helped support many state businesses: in 1926, Nash bought supplies from 209 different Wisconsin companies, spanning the state from La Crosse to Rhinelander to West Allis.

Nash Motors first used the "Ambassador" name to describe a trim option on its 1927 Advance Six models; the Ambassador became a distinct model beginning in 1932. Known as "Kenosha Duesenbergs," Ambassadors offered high quality, power, and comfort. Charles Nash?s aversion to debt served him well during the Depression. The company remained profitable for most of the 1930s, but did so by drastically reducing production and employment: Nash manufactured almost 117,000 cars in 1929; in 1933, it made only 14,973.

Despite the company?s success and profitability in the 1920s and early 1930s, Nash Motors lacked the financial resources of its non-debt averse major competitors, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. By the late 1930s, Nash management realized that the independent firm could not compete head to head with the giants of the industry, and decided to offer a car unlike any made by the Big Three.

In 1941, Nash Motors introduced a popular new model, the ?600,? named for the number of miles it could travel on a 20 gallon tank of gas. The 600 was the first mass-produced automobile to use "unitized" (or unit-body) construction, in which body panels were welded directly to the frame. This produced a lighter, stronger car with increased rigidity and better gas mileage. The 600, which included other attractive features and sold for a modest $750-$850, was a huge success, selling 80,000 units.

Because strong postwar sales meant the company could sell all the cars it could make, Nash stuck with minor changes to the Ambassador?s pre-war styling through the 1948 model year. 1948 Ambassadors were the last Nash automobiles to be built using separate bodies and chassis. Nash committed itself to unit-body manufacture for all its models, and in 1949, a completely restyled Ambassador was introduced, built with a unitized body.

Charles W. Nash died June 6, 1948, at age 84. Under his successor, George W. Mason, his company continued to struggle against its larger competitors. Mason orchestrated a merger with the Hudson Motor Car Co. in May 1954 to create the American Motors Corporation. Safety and economy remained major marketing themes for Nash and AMC. The Nash Ambassador remained part of AMC?s product line through the 1957 model year, and AMC periodically revived the Ambassador name for various models through the 1974 model year.

This Nash automobile is currently on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.

[Sources: Noer, Thomas J. "Charles W. Nash: Self-Made Man" in Nicholas C. Burckel and John A. Neuenschwander, eds., Kenosha Retrospective: A Biographical Approach (Kenosha: Kenosha County Bicentennial Commission, 1981); Hokanson, Rudolph. What Nash Motors Means to Wisconsin: Facts Worth Knowing About Our Great State (Milwaukee: Nash Motors Co., 1926,)WHS Pamphlet 56-1926; A Century Of Craftsmanship: How Nash Bodies Are Built: The Action Story Of A Great Milwaukee Industry (Kenosha: Nash Motors Co., 1948), WHS Pamphlet 58-2948; Kowalke, Ron, ed. Standard catalog of American cars, 1946-1975, 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1997).]


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Posted on August 03, 2006