Form, function, Farina: The mid-50s Nash

    IT'S NOT just the ornateness of 1950s cars – the swaths of chrome, the bold  colours – that sets that automotive decade apart.
    Equally notable is the period's diversity of body lines. Round roofs, flat roofs. Fins and scallops. Fenders that stand proud, fenders that ease into hoods and doors. So many shapes to see.
    Though not always to savour.
    It was inevitable that the '50s, while producing so many classic vehicle designs, would also yield some duds. The economy was expanding, society was evolving, technology was advancing – and designers, while given great scope, were under enormous pressure, year after year, to create the new and different. Not all of their efforts could succeed.
   I've long put the mid-1950s Nash, tub-like and squint-eyed, in the dud category. Lately, though, I've started to, well, not quite like it ... but respect it.
   My change of heart stems from a discovery that Nash's signature ovoid styling was rooted in more than just a desire to look different from the Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths. Nash Motors engineering chief Nils Eric Walhberg, I've learned, was a pioneer in the quest for improved fuel efficiency. It was he who dictated the bulbous body lines and front and rear wheel skirts that reduced aerodynamic drag, even if they did make the cars look like upended basins.
   Walhberg was definitely a function-first guy.
   Another major influence came from a different direction. Nash Motors, with only a small design staff of its own, engaged famed Italian stylist Pinin Farina to work up a design for its 1952 large sedan.
    Farina's submission, however, was a disappointment. According to this report by Consumer Guide, it looked "soft" and unsuited to American car proportions. Seeing it, Nash's executives opted to go with a design from their own staff, but one that incorporated the oval grille, reverse-angled C-pillars and other elements of the Italian's prototype. Walhberg's wind-cheating features, of course, were also preserved.
    For a car penned by committee, Nash's 52 flagship sedan (the Statesman in base trim and the Ambassador in a longer-wheelbase version) wasn't so bad. Its face, with wide-set headlamps flanking the big, vertical-barred grille, was indeed stately, and its profile was cigar-sleek.
    For 1955 came another remake. Nash was now part of American Motors Corp., and needed to be differentiated from its new Hudson sister line. To achieve this the designers moved the headlamps inboard, setting them within a grille placed between fenders that looked like sharp-edged pontoons. The sedan's tall sides, accentuated by a character line that rose from rear to front, made the car look even more pinched.
   The odd countenance could well have been taken from Farina's original prototype, since it bore close resemblance to the 1952 Nash-Healey sports car that was built in partnership with Britain's Donald Healey and also was  designed by Farina.
   A year later, the knife-like fenders were blunted with prominent turn-signal fixtures, and the slab sides softened with zig-zags of chrome. For 1957, the final year for the Nash marque, the headlamps, now quads, moved back outside the grille. (American Motors would, however, stick with inboard lights on its Rambler until 1958.)
   The much-travelled 1955 Nash you see here – a Statesman, I think – has had two major design alterations during its years of service. The front wheel openings have been enlarged – radiused, as the customizers say – probably in conjunction with some internal modifications to reduce the Nash's notoriously large turning circle.
    More noticeable, though, is the crude addition of a second set of headlamps, pressed into the leading fender edges outside the grille.
   Perhaps the owner simply wanted more light. I suspect, however, that his real intention was to make his mid-50s Nash look more appealing. Not sure he succeeded, but I admire the attempt.


Paul said…
Happy New Year,Rob.Last year I saw a video on YouTube called "Porsche in Cuba"--not only did they show some old Porsches but there was also what looked like an outdoor car show in Havana(?)--one of the cars on display was a black 1957 Chevy Bel Air sedan with QUAD headlights--it looked real nice! Check it out if you haven't already.
Ralphee said…
Robert, thanks for this remarkable piece about a remarkable car! You hardly see any of these Nash in Cuba, and perhaps one reason is that it was a "dud" (as you so nicely have put it) already when new. But the amazing thing about it, I reckon, is how the original design of the Nash evolved into the Rambler in the later 50s, with tremendous success. In this light, the dud was maybe not so dud after all...
Caristas said…
Thanks, gentlemen, and Happy New Year. Paul, I'll hunt down that video -- sounds most interesting. Ralphee, I think one of the problems was that the Nash was too big of a car to support what was really a subtle design. The Rambler was a better fit!

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